TOWAMENCIN >> With his team backed up to its own 17-yard line and knowing a he’d soon be feeling the breath of a ferocious Jaguar blitz, North Penn quarterback Reece Udinski took the snap, calmly rolled right, and cranked one deep to the kid from across the street.
“Ricky’s my best friend,” Udinski said with a big smile afterwards, “and I think that kinda shows on the field. I think our relationship, having grown the past two years, has just been amazing.
“In the offseason we work together almost every day, even in our backyards. So it’s just been amazing.”
Udinski and Ricky Johns transformed Crawford Stadium one big backyard on Friday night. Their 83-yard connection for a score early in the first quarter was part of an overwhelming display, leading North Penn to a 48-38 victory over No. 10 Garnet Valley in the District 1-6A Championship, as the unbeaten Knights advance to next week’s Eastern Final against either St. Joe’s Prep or Parkland.
Johns grabbed eight passes for 209 yards and a TD, added four carries for 39 yards and another score, and Udinski — in a performance that coach Dick Beck said was even more impressive than fullback Pete Stoll’s 250-yard, five-touchdown extravaganza in the 2005 district final — completed 23 of 28 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns, as the Knights go galloping into the state semis with their swords as sharp as can be.
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“Last year at this point, we lost to Upper Dublin and I don’t think any of the seniors forgot about that,” said Udinski, who helped lift top-seeded North Penn to 14-0. “Tonight, to play at Crawford Stadium with an undefeated record, that was something to play for.
“We never looked back and kept pouring on the points.”
In helping to capture North Penn’s first district crown since 2011, Udinski — who started the game a sizzling 10-for-10 — not only stood tall on a big stage but danced on it, expertly moving around the pocket and time and time again putting the ball right in the hands of his receivers.
“There’s been a lot of games on this field but no one has played better than that,” Beck said of Udinski, whose No. 7 jersey was fitting as NP captured its seventh district crown. “He was so on target. He was just zoned in.
“Every read that we went over in practice, he attacked right away. You could just see he was super sharp. I thought Reece did a great job moving in the pocket — that first touchdown pass was all him. He kind of danced around the pocket — his eyes always downfield — and then for him to see Nick, he was like ‘here we go.’”
Udinski found Nick Dillon for a 65-yard score and a 7-0 North Penn lead in the opening moments. After Udinski’s bomb to Johns down the right sideline made it a 14-0 advantage, the Knights made it three possessions, three scores when Dillon charged in from seven yards away, the margin ballooning to 21-0.
After Garnet Valley came right back, cutting the deficit to 21-14 on scores by Jacob Buttermore (11 yd pass from Nick Juliano) and Joshua Ciarrocchi (30 yd fumble return), Udinski and Johns worked their magic again, connecting three times on a key drive late in the first half.
“He’s just my go-to guy and I think that was proven tonight,” Udinski said of Johns. “There were a lot of big third downs and he just came up big.”
The drive was capped off when Udinski found Nick Vasger for a six-yard score, widening the gap to 28-14 before Buttermore booted a 33-yard field goal for GV to make it an 11-point game at the break.
Dillon’s eight-yard touchdown run had North Penn firmly in control early in the third, with a 35-17 lead, but like they had done all night, the Jaguars rallied.
Garnet Valley, showing it did not want its incredible run through the district playoffs to end, got within 11 points in the third (27 yd run by Buttermore) and again in the fourth (34 yd run by Juliano), before closing to within 48-38 with 3:52 to play on a 45-yard rumbling interception return by tackle Joe Thomas.
“Like I told our kids after the game, I’m so proud of their effort,” said Jaguars coach Mike Ricci, “and so proud of our resiliency. And so proud of what we were able to accomplish throughout the season.
“North Penn’s a great team and I thought we gave them everything we could.”
To overcome a team like Garnet Valley (11-3), who had run roughshod through the district bracket, orchestrating upset victories over Central Bucks South, Neshaminy and Perkiomen Valley, it took something special. It took Udinski and Johns.
“Whenever he needs a ride, I pick him up. Whenever I need a ride, he’s got me,” Johns said of how they look out for each other on and off the field. “The way we work together as a family and come out and get these wins, it’s just a great feeling.”