DOYLESTOWN >> By the time Justis Henley had connected with A.J. Catanzaro through a tight, little window, North Penn had slammed the door shut on rival Central Bucks West.
Henley’s 15-yard touchdown throw to Catanzaro was the second time the two hooked up for scores Friday night, and this one provided North Penn — the No. 9 team in this week’s Pa. Prep Live Top 20 — a 21-0 halftime lead over the Bucks in front of a packed house at War Memorial Field.
The lead would grow to 28-0 in the third, and with inspired efforts by Henley (177 yds passing, 61 rushing) and Catanzaro (39 yds receiving, two TD’s), the Knights’ Suburban One League Continental Conference crowns looked firmly in place with a 28-14 victory over West.
“It’s a little strange,” Henley said with a big smile, following this warm night on the turf, “because I was supposed to be in A.J.’s position. But things worked out. A.J. played great, ran great routes, caught the ball well and he was my go-to guy tonight.”
An exceptional wide receiver last season, Henley was pressed into quarterback duty this fall and came through with a terrific performance in the conference opener.
“What we tell him is if he gets confused, ‘run for the hills,’” coach Dick Beck kidded afterwards. “‘Start running.’ That’s usually when good things happen but he threw some really nice passes tonight. And I thought A.J. and Jon (Haynes) had good nights running patterns and catching the ball — really good nights.”
Up 14-0, North Penn mixed some short, effective throws with chain-moving runs to move the ball 44 yards to the CB West 15. Only 11 seconds remained in the half, but that was plenty of time for Henley to find his favorite target down the seam.
“I saw a small little window,” Henley said. “The play was designed for A.J. I saw a small little window and I just tried to throw it as hard as I could. He made a great catch and a great play on the ball.”
The pass was right where it had to be, and the 6-foot-2 Catanzaro went up and snared it in tight coverage.
Said Beck: “Justis threw a great ball and A.J. ran a perfect route. And it was great to see (A.J.) high pointed like that, because he’s so long. And he’s got great hands.”
The Knights’ first score of the evening — a 24-yard strike from Henley to Catanzaro — made it 7-0 early in the second quarter.
Then, CB West (3-1, 0-1) used bullish runs by Jake Reichwein to march to the North Penn 27, where the Bucks faced a 4th-and-4. Reichwein got the carry, but was immediately swarmed by the North Penn line and was held to a gain of one.
“The big guy was running at us a little bit,” Beck said. “We get the big tackle and that was a huge turnaround for us.
“I thought we did a much better job tonight stopping the run,” said Beck, whose defensive crew limited the Bucks to 106 rushing yards in the first three quarters before several reserves saw time in the fourth. “I think we need to continue to improve.”
After the stop by NP, Henley and the Knights took over at their own 26. Three plays later, Henley rolled left, delivered a throw to Shamar Edwards, and got to watch the junior wideout take off 64 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead.
“Shamar made a great play on that. It’s always nice when you can just throw a short pass and your receiver can take it the distance,” Henley said.
After another stop by the defense, North Penn (2-2, 1-0 conference) got it at its 41 and began the 12-play drive that was capped off by another Henley-to-Catanzaro connection. Henley had kept the drive alive with a nine-yard run on 4th-and-7.
“Coach Beck knew that my strengths were throwing on the run and getting to the outside,” said Henley, who completed 61 percent of his throws and also gained 61 yards on nine carries. “And he simplified the offense down for me so I just tried to do what was in the game plan and make the simple read, so it wasn’t too bad.”
The Knights were firmly in control. CB West, down 7-0 midway through the quarter, had given up back-to-back scores going into the half.
“That hurt us. If we went into the locker room at halftime down 7-0, it’s a different ball game,” said Bucks coach Chas Cathers, who had guided West to a 3-0 start coming in. “Our defense was on the field too long in the first half and going into the locker room with that score hurts. That’s something we need to work on, to be able to bounce back from a little adversity like that.
“What we take away (from this game) is we’re getting there. We’re on the right path. Our response to what just happened tonight is gonna determine our outcome for moving forward.”
Second-half heroics for the Knights included a one-yard touchdown burst by Khan Jamal that made it 28-0, and a crunching sack, strip and fumble recovery by Julian White, banging the final drum for the North Penn defense.
With reserves in for both teams, the Bucks scored twice in the fourth quarter with a 27-yard run by Chris Arzberger and an 80-yard fumble return by Jack Neri.
But the night belonged to North Penn, and a quarterback-receiver duo that is suddenly becoming a familiar combination.
“We knew conference play started tonight, so we had to come out strong and make a statement,” Henley said of his squad. “And that’s exactly what we did.”
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