North Penn knew the challenge it faced in Coatesville quarterback Ricky Ortega, whose gift of improvisation can leave opposing defenses disoriented and confused.
“It turns into the Doug Flutie show,” Knights coach Dick Beck said of his ability to scramble and keep plays alive, “and we’re playing backyard football. We told all the secondary guys, ‘don’t start chasing the quarterback. Let (the front four) go after him.’
“And the (secondary) did a great job of staying with their guys. And the couple times that (Ortega) threw it up, we got interceptions.”
The Knights never let Ortega take over in Friday night’s District 1-6A semifinal contest, and the fact that North Penn threw a blanket over one of the top-scoring offenses around — shutting out the Red Raiders in the third quarter and almost the entire fourth — shows that the Knights’ defense is playing better and better as the team’s postseason run goes deeper and deeper.
Top-seeded North Penn (13-0) now focuses in on No. 10 Garnet Valley and its triple option attack, aiming to build on the momentum that began to steamroll for the Knights in the second half against Coatesville.
In a crucial stretch, while the North Penn offense was piling up the points and breaking open the game, North Penn’s defense in turn was shutting down the Red Raiders, forcing back-to-back punts to end the first half then was nearly flawless in a decisive third quarter.
The Red Raiders’ first three possessions of the second half? Interception, turnover on downs, interception.
“We just knew we had to focus on Ricky Ortega,” said Knights linebacker Owen Thomas, who covered a lot of ground for a defense that forced seven negative-yardage plays and took the ball away twice. “He did a really good job. We had to keep him in the pocket — if he gets out of the pocket, he’s a real dangerous player. He showed that a couple times.
“And the same with (Aaron Young). He’s a heck of a player.”
Young broke out with a 55-yard run midway through the first quarter, displaying the type of breakaway speed that helped bring the fourth-seeded Red Raiders and their dangerous offense to the district’s final four.
Young did some productive running the rest of the night — until Coatesville fell behind by three scores and was forced to pass on just about every down — but the Knights made the longer runs harder to come by.
Linebacker Dan Drop swarmed in and stopped Young for a gain of one during one series and on a 2nd-and-2 late in the first half, the Knights bottled up Young and held him to a one-yard gain, leading to an incompletion on third down and a punt by the Red Raiders.
The secondary was doing its job in the back and North Penn’s front was keeping Ortega in the pocket and constricting the running lanes.
Garnet Valley is next.