When the PIAA re-classified at the conclusion of last year’s athletic calendar, it affected more than a few traditional Thanksgiving Day football games.
Some were moved to the regular season and other cancelled outright. One of the games that wasn’t altered was the annual Pennridge-Quakertown duel on Thanksgiving morning. It was a tradition that meant too much to both communities and both programs to do away with.
So, Thursday morning at Quakertown’s Alumni Field, the visiting Rams and host Panthers will play at 10:15, just like they have for so many years.
“I was born and raised in Quakertown so whenever you thought of Thanksgiving, you knew there was a game to go to,” Quakertown coach George Banas said. “Whether it was at Quakertown or at Pennridge, that was the game you were going to go to. As far as I’m concerned, that game should always be played and played on Thanksgiving.”
The Panthers have won the last two meetings in the Thanksgiving rivalry, and counting a district playoff win in 2014, three straight in the rivalry. Quakertown’s recent run of success came after a Pennridge winning streak that ran from 2008-2013. Pennridge owns the overall series record at 53-28-5.
Pennridge is well-aware of that three-game losing streak and the Rams seniors are eager to reverse course in their final game. Both of the Thanksgiving losses came after fourth-quarter plays by the Panthers, with last year seeing Quakertown rally back from a 21-0 halftime hole.
“We’re definitely motivated after the last two years,” Pennridge senior linebacker/fullback Joe Robinson said. “There’s a lot of emotion going into this game. For me, playing last year as a junior, and a lot of the other guys who played last year, we have a big chip on our shoulder looking to get this win.”
Rams senior lineman Tom Koch said the losing streak was always something on the players’ minds throughout the season, even as Pennridge battled its way into the postseason. The upperclassmen were relieved and excited to see the game still on the schedule, because it meant they’d have a chance to make up for the last two years.
“It means a lot,” Koch said. “It’s always a big game in the community. It’s a thing where even if we were in the playoffs, we would still play just because of the kind of game it is.”
Quakertown enters the game with plenty of momentum, having won its last five games to close the season after a 1-5 start. The Panthers picked up an extra game with Norristown, also a Thanksgiving Day competitor just to keep sharp after the regular season ended.
“We finally figured out who we were,” Banas said. “We were about to put the pieces of the puzzle together, move people around where we the got the most out of their strentghs and tried to protect as much of the weaknesses that we had. It started to click and I give the kids a lot of credit, they could have given up but didn’t when we were 1-5.”
Closing out games has been an issue at times for the Rams this season and given that the last two Thanksgiving games came down to the fourth quarter, Pennridge has taken preparation seriously. The seniors especially don’t want to go out on a three-game holiday losing streak.
“They know us and know how to stop us,” Pennridge senior Ryan Cuthbert said. “We haven’t gotten much going, especially on offense. Defensively, we’ve been solid except for that second half last year.
“It’s been a point of emphasis all year, we’ve started out games well but as it’s gone on, we’ve fallen off and made mental mistakes. We just want to play a good clean game of football.”
Banas said he expects it to be another close game on Thursday, with some kind of defensive or special teams play tipping the balance to the eventual winner. Cuthbert joked he hopes it isn’t a close game but knows with the recent history it likely will be.
The stands will likely be packed, with alumni from both sides back home for the holiday. Banas said it’s hard to have a true home field advantage in a rivalry game like this, but also feels like the fact is team is the host could help his guys to make one of those plays that swings the game.
“It’s that tradition and those bragging rights with it typically being the last game of the year,” Banas said. “Whether its football or basketball or any other sport, we try to tailor it to the end of the season. For football, it’s how are you going into the offseason and who’s going to have bragging rights between two towns for the next 12 months.”
When Pennridge has the ball
Offensive style >> The Rams threw a massive wrinkle into things in their playoff loss to Neshaminy two weeks back. Senior Jagger Hartshorn, the starter all season, was moved out of quarterback and junior Oliver Jervis got the nod. Hartshorn still factored in the game, lining up at running back, receiver and even a few snaps at QB while also playing safety on defense. The Thanksgiving game is a last chance for the seniors to play, but the Rams may switch things up throughout.
When Quakertown has the ball
Panthers RB Noah Wood vs Rams LB Nick Tarbuton >> A classic case of unstoppable force vs. immovable object, the Quakertown senior running back and the Pennridge junior linebacker will likely meet early and often Thursday morning. Wood is the key cog in Quakertown’s offense, a smaller guy that just keeps going. Tarburton is the physical prototype for a linebacker, big, fast and a sure tackler. Wood has consistently picked up extra yards all season and if Pennridge can stop him from doing that, it could go a long way toward the outcome.
Top Photo: Pennridge quarterback Jagger Hartshorn fends off Central Bucks East’s Brian Stella during their game on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)