GRATERFORD >> Excitement quite like this hasn’t been felt in the halls of Owen J. Roberts for a good while. Place the credit onto a football squad that is turning the corner faster than expected under third-year head coach Rich Kolka.
Four and zero. That’s how the Wildcats’ record stands as it takes the journey into The Valley to take on reigning Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Perkiomen Valley Friday at 7 p.m. in one of the biggest games the red and silver has participated in since winning the PAC title in 2010.
The lesson goes: to be the best, you have to beat the best. The Wildcats are about to get a crash course.
“Everybody is extremely excited,” OJR senior linebacker Brendan Krumenacker said. “It’s a big game for the school, the community and this team. This is something we need.”
“We have to come out with this victory,” added defensive back Matt Brownley. “Like coach (Kolka) says, you’re not somebody until you beat somebody. You have to go out and show what you got.”
Truer words have yet to be spoken, because who really are these Wildcats? A strong defensive team, that’s who. OJR comes into Friday’s tilt leading the PAC in every defensive statistical category: total yards allowed per game (127.3), points allowed per game (7.0), rushing yards allowed per game (60.0) and passing yards allowed per game (67.3). Krumenacker’s play, along with the linebacking presence of Dawson Stuart have been keys behind the dominating ‘D,’ as has the play from defensive backs Brownley and Sean Praweckyj and a relentless rush from linemen Ricky Buehler, Jake Puderbach and Aidan Hayward, among others. Time, too, has played an important factor.
“Our first year we were putting the pieces together,” Krumenacker said. “The second year we were learning and now we have it all together. We’re being aggressive, doing our jobs and we can start to add things to our scheme to benefit us. The ability to add wrinkles to our defense is a huge difference that we didn’t have last year or the year before.”
“We have a lot of senior leadership and experience out there,” Brownley said. “Everyone is confident in their own abilities.”
Confidence will be key against a Perk Valley team that comes in winners of three of its first four games. Dominating victories over Downingtown West and Upper Dublin were overshadowed by a 29-0 loss to Pennridge, but the team’s come-from-behind 21-13 victory over Interboro last Friday has the team buzzing as they’ll play on their home field for the first time in 27 days.
“Our student section showed up in numbers to our last three away games,” senior linebacker Brian Fehr said, “I have no doubt that they’ll be there in a big way on Friday.”
“I expect a lot of people to be there,” PV quarterback Cole Peterlin said. “It’s going to be pretty intense.”
Peterlin’s dual-threat capability stands as an obstacle in OJR’s path. He’s been solid in his first year under center, throwing for 621 yards and three touchdowns while running for 299 yards and a score on 55 carries (third best in PAC).
“Peterlin at quarterback is a good runner and a pretty good thrower for a young kid,” Kolka said. “They have a couple guys who can get yards after they catch the ball. They’re a pretty athletic team, don’t let anybody tell you that they’re not.”
Peterlin’s five interceptions stand as a blemish on his report card, but mistakes such as those are what he and the Vikings have been trying to correct through the first four games of non-league play.
“We’re going to try and learn from a lot of our mistakes,” Peterlin said. “We did some things wrong that if we clean up, we can be a better team. Missed blocks, not finding the right open person and getting sacked, it was the little things that we’re trying to fix.”
Whether they clean up all of their mistakes will be seen. What is for certain, however … Friday night is going to be a good one.
“They’re 4-0 and they’re a good team,” Fehr said. “It’s going to be a fun game. I can’t wait for it.”
Owen J. Roberts finished second in the league last year in total defense (247.5 ypg). Three shutout victories helped the average, but what hurt was three blowout losses to Henderson (35-0), PV (43-7), Spring-Ford (58-0). Much had been done in the offseason to counter the big plays and so far it’s paying off.
“We’ve been pretty good this year about tackling in the open field and blitz assignments and our alignment is pretty good,” Kolka said. “We haven’t lined up wrong too many times, which is good. Alignment will kill you way before talent does.”
Isaiah Domine’s 11 catches for 153 yards stands as tops for the Vikings. His size on the outside can help stretch the field against talented OJR corners and help PV establish the run.
Prediction >> Perkiomen Valley 21, Owen J. Roberts 20
Our Picks for Friday and Saturday
The other Pioneer Athletic Conference games on Friday night:
Boyertown at Methacton, 7 p.m.
The Warriors stood two yards away from potentially taking a heart-stopping victory over Pottstown. A 15-yard penalty for a sideline infraction was too much to overcome, however, as the Trojans hung on for an eventual 12-6 victory behind a fourth-down stop. Sure, the Warriors (0-4) lost, but the fight exhibited should be a good attribute to hang on to as they host a Bears squad that is looking to give first-year head coach TJ Miller his first victory. Stopping quarterback Ayden Mathias (158 yards on 36 carries) and Marcus Thomas (272 yards on 60 carries) will be key for the Warriors as they look to break into the win column. “We need to sure up our tackling this week,” Methacton head coach Paul Lepre said. “We hope that offensively we can hang on to the ball and move the chains to keep their offense off the field.”
Making Progress >> Boyertown’s non-league slate was one of the tougher ones in the PAC, but Miller and company are seeing improvement despite the 0-4 start. “Our non-league schedule gave us great experience against some really good teams,” Miller said. “Every team we played is a playoff quality team. We were able to see the level of play we want our program to attain. Though we came out of non-league play winless, we saw a lot of progress. We keep looking to build and get better every week.”
Prediction >> Boyertown 28, Methacton 10
Don’t try to stuff the box against Rahsul Faison and the Falcons. Quarterback Jay Sisko can pass, too. For Upper Merion, finding the right defense to stop the dynamic Falcon offense (ranked second in yards, 359, and first in points per game, 39.8) will be paramount to staying close. For Pottsgrove (4-0), recouping after a physical win over Glen Mills is key to head coach Rick Pennypacker. “We are very concerned about Upper Merion,” Pennypacker said. “They have our attention. They have some very good athletes and have been getting better every game. Coach (Victor) Brown and his staff have that team on the right track and I feel this will be a very competitive game. We had a very physical game last week versus Glen Mills and are looking for another tough one with Upper Merion.”
Lessons Learned >> Can’t ask for a better start from the Falcons after an undefeated start to league play. Still some to clean up for the team, however. “Our first four games helped us prepare for our division play,” Pennypacker said. “We were able to make changes before we get into the teeth of our schedule. When you come out of the first four games undefeated, you have to be pleased. But we are making too many mental mistakes and must correct them.”
Prediction >> Pottsgrove 42, Upper Merion 16
The last two games for Upper Perkiomen (2-2) will be best served for the road upcoming as they try to make waves in the PAC Frontier Division for the second straight season. “I’m hopeful that taking on a challenging schedule will benefit us in the long run,” UP head coach Tom Hontz said after his team fell in back-to-back weeks to Upper Moreland, 34-20, and Cocalico, 56-0. “It certainly will keep us humble, and it is disappointing losing some of the buzz we had generated with the 2-0 start, but if it makes us grow as a team and helps us improve for the next part of the season then it may turn out to be a good thing. We are still a very good football team. If we stay together and prepare both mentally and physically, we will be ready for Phoenixville and the PAC schedule.”
Similarly, Phoenixville is looking to do the same after dropping its first four games to non-league competition that’s a combined 12-4 overall. “We have learned a lot about adversity,” Phoenixville head coach Evan Breisblatt said. “Football is a game that brings a ton of life lessons and how to deal with adversity has been one of them. At times offensively we have been very good, but also very inconsistent. Defensively we have missed a ton of tackles, however I thought are defense did better last week causing five turnovers. Unfortunately, we were not able to pull out any wins, but hopefully it has prepared us for a tough league schedule. But, we always try some positives.”
Not So Small >> Phoenixville’s Zion Small leads the PAC with four interceptions.
Prediction >> Upper Perkiomen 35, Phoenixville 21.
A 4-0 start for the Golden Panthers has spirits high, and rightfully so. PJP has been doing it all on both sides of the field and have the stats — and record — to show for it. The Golden Panthers will take on a Pottstown squad that comes in after an emotional 12-6 victory over Methacton. They’ll want to do more for head coach Mark Fischer and the team’s first home win under the lights will be their goal.
“Pottstown is a well coached football team with many dangerous playmakers,” PJP head coach Rory Graver said. “They are very solid on their offensive and defensive lines as well. Offensively, we must protect the football and finish drives. Defensively, we must play assignment football and be fundamentally sound tacklers.”
“Against PJP, we know they are very talented,” Fischer said. “We must first stop their run game. Their QB (Matt DeLaurentis) has a very good arm and is very accurate. His offensive line really protects him well. The PJP receivers make plays down the field, giving us a big challenge.”
Double Down >> PJP’s Dan Cirino comes in as the league’s leading receiver with a PAC best 20 receptions for 356 yards. He’s also doing it on the defensive side of the ball, recording six tackles and one pass breakup in the Golden Panthers’ victory over Schuylkill Valley last week. Guess who isn’t too far behind him on that list? Pottstown’s Jamal Adams. He comes in with 12 receptions for 213 yards and two scores. The battle between the two should be fun to watch.
Mr. 3,000 >> DeLaurentis, who has 639 passing yards and seven touchdowns this season, recently eclipsed the 3,000 career passing-yard mark and now stands second all-time in PJP history to David Cotellese.
Prediction >> Pope John Paul II 24, Pottstown 12.
It was a coming down to earth moment for Norristown (1-3) in last week’s 44-14 loss to Penn Wood. The positive for the Eagles: the passing game got going as Izaiah Webb finished with a 186 yards and two touchdowns with Zhafirr Satterthwaite recording a season-best 117 yards on two receptions with a score. The negative: they’ll need to go against a red-hot TJ Pergine and Spring-Ford (2-2) team that comes raring to go following a tough non-league schedule that culminated with a dismantling of Exeter. “We played a challenging non-league schedule, so we hope that has prepared us well for league play,” SF head coach Chad Brubaker said. “After getting our feet wet in the first two games, we have stepped up our play, but we are not where we would like to be record-wise. We do not have the depth that we’ve had in previous years, so an injury here and there could potentially hamper our play.”
Saturday Blues >> Spring-Ford will play its second Saturday game this season, and will hope to fare better than its effort in Week 2 where the Rams held off Chester, 28-20. That and the Eagles’ progression through the weeks has caused concern for Brubaker and the Rams entering Saturday’s game. “We’ve played one Saturday game that was an underwhelming performance, to say the least,” Brubaker said. “That is a concern. We need to play well right from the start and not let them build momentum. Norristown has been getting better each week. They can run and do a great job chasing the ball. Last week, they threw the ball much better than in previous games, so that makes them more dangerous, offensively.”
Hot-Hand QB >> Quarterback TJ Pergine comes into Saturday with a league-high 725 passing yards and eight touchdowns. He recently became only the fourth quarterback in school history to eclipse 3,000 yards.
Prediction >> Spring-Ford 35, Norristown 14.
Other Games in The Pottstown Mercury coverage area:
Daniel Boone’s start after the resignation of head coach Bill Parks didn’t go as planned as the Blazers (1-2) couldn’t complete the comeback in a 24-21 loss to Northern Lebanon. They’ll host a Muhlenberg (1-2) team that has struggled to find the end zone in the past two games, falling to Pottsville 26-7 in Week 3 before being shut out by Wyomissing 28-0 last Saturday.
Putting it all together >> Consistency and putting together a complete game will be the target for both teams. Daniel Boone has been outscored by a 24-0 margin in the second quarter while the Muhls have had a tough time starting fast, being outscored 21-0 in the first quarter and in the third.
Prediction >> Daniel Boone 24, Muhlenberg 20.
Episcopal Academy (2-0) comes in hot after downing both Bonner-Prendergast (44-0) and Conwell-Egan (38-21) in back-to-back games. After a week off, the Churchmen are ready to welcome The Hill to town after the Rams dropped the past two to Wyoming Seminary (22-20) and to the Kiski School (33-26). “Our guys really enjoy being together. They are a fun group of kids to coach,” Hill head coach Jeff Hollway said. “We do some really good things at times and some really hurtful things at times. This team has yet to play at their potential.”
Snap the Streak >> The Hill School hasn’t defeated the Churchmen since the 2009 season, where they won a Week 2 matchup, 32-10.
Prediction >> Episcopal Academy 24, Hill School 20.
There wasn’t much to glean from George School’s 46-6 loss to Morrisville to open the season — so far that’s been the team’s only game. George School will look to get back on track as they pay a visit to the Perkiomen School, which is coming off a 60-22 loss to Delaware’s Tower Hill. Depth continues to be an issue for Perk, which will look to get going quickly and not fall behind early. “We keep fighting to the end and supporting one another no matter what the score is,” head coach Tom Calvario said. “We need to stay more focused at practice and it will translate to the game.”
Prediction >> George School 18, Perkiomen School 16.