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PAC Preview: Durning blazing her own trail at Upper Perkiomen

RED HILL >> Upper Perkiomen’s Kayleigh Durning never knew she made school history.

Neither, did most in attendance at Kutztown as her point after attempts in an eventual 47-12 victory over the Cougars were credited to fellow soccer player Ryan Casola.

Two weeks went by until Durning heard the news, that she, a senior deciding to platoon between the girls soccer and football team had done something that no other female at Upper Perkiomen had accomplished: score a point during a varsity football game.

It was news that had left her floored.

“It’s awesome,” Durning, a student-athlete who boasts a 4.2 grade point average in gifted and Advanced Placement classes, said. “I had no clue about it when it happened. I just found out two weeks ago when it was in the newspaper and Coach (Vince) Leskusky cut out the headline for me. I was like, “Wow, that’s awesome news.’”

Durning’s school record, pointed out by Leskusky and head coach Tom Hontz to The Mercury after Week 2, may never have had happened. Aloof to the team’s needs for a kicker entering the season, Durning was coerced into a field goal kicking competition by her gym teachers late last year. The rest? Well Durning says it best.

“In gym class one of our units is football and at the end we were messing around and some of the gym teachers were having us kick field goals as kind of a joke. They were like, “Hey, Kayleigh, why don’t you take one?’ So I took one and made it, then they kept moving me back and back and I kept making them, too. One of the gym teachers was like, “Hey, you should go out for that tryout.’ At the time, I never even heard about it but he was like, ‘No, no you definitely should, that would be awesome.’ But I was like, ‘I don’t know Mr. (Frank) Mercon, I don’t know about that.’ But he told me that if I wasn’t at the tryout he was going to find me and drag me out to the field. Leskusky wanted me to do it as well because he knew I played soccer, so the two of them were encouraging me to go out there and give it a shot.”

Out of the 11 kickers at the practice, she and Casola earned the nods as varsity kickers and were provided the unenviable task of juggling both soccer and football schedules and techniques. Hasn’t been too arduous says Durning, who’s come to master the art of kicking the pigskin despite some differences.

“Ryan and I are both people on the soccer teams that do free kicks and corners so we have the technique down,” Durning said. “It’s funny with the football kicks, though. Our balls tend to have a natural curve to them just like they do in soccer so it’s a different kind of thing. Also, with the pads on, you have to find your balance differently and with football it’s all about timing. Someone snaps it to you and you have two seconds to get to the ball with no one blocking it, tackling you, etc. With soccer you have more free time, you take the kick at your leisure.”

She’s also starting to master the juggling act of balancing both sports’ game schedules, the most eventful act coming two weeks ago. She left the Tribe’s girls soccer game at halftime against Pottstown (6-1 win), drove the 25 minutes down 663 to Red Hill to change and hop into the car of special teams coach Leskusky who then drove the nearly hour-long trip to Denver for the football team’s away game against Cocalico. She wasn’t needed — Upper Perk lost 56-0 — but she’s shined when her number has been called, nailing three extra points during her varsity time. She’s added a 6-for-6 effort in her JV efforts as well.

Still, though. Nothing tops her first PAT.

“I was so nervous,” she said. “After I made it, my legs were shaking. It was a great feeling but going out there, it was crazy. I was so nervous that I didn’t even remember the kick afterward. I was really focused. It’s like that in soccer, too. They’ll be like, ‘Hey beautiful kick’, and I’ll be like, ‘Cool tell me what it looked like.’”

Her mom, who records each game and most likely has all six of her varsity soccer goals this season on tape, will be able to show her. With the way the Upper Perkiomen offense has been scoring, it’s only a matter of time Durning will see the field again. And she’ll be ready.

“You have to really hand it to Kayleigh,” Leskusky said. “The courage and the character that she has is phenomenal. She’s an outstanding student and role model in school. To come for tryouts, make the team and then commit to the sacrifice of playing the two sports is admirable. She is always available whether it be before or after her soccer practice to come to ours, to play a game and to go out in the field. She fits right in, she’s eager to participate, she doesn’t shy away from anything and she doesn’t make excuses if one of her kicks misses. She’s a real class act.”

Thursday’s Games

Springside Chestnut Hill Academy at Hill School, 4:30 p.m.

It hasn’t been the start The Hill has wanted after starting the season 0-3, including a 35-8 loss to Episcopal Academy last week. The schedule doesn’t get any easier as the Rams host SCHA (3-1), which is in the midst of a three-game winning streak that included wins against George Washington (48-13), Roman Catholic (21-7) and Blue Mountain (20-18). Aaron Angelos and Jack Elliott have split time at quarterback and have looked sharp while running back Aaron Rascoe recently returned from injury and ran for 79 yards on eight carries in last week’s win.

Prediction >> SCHA 28, Hill School 17.

Perkiomen Valley at Boyertown, 7 p.m.

Perkiomen Valley’s Jon Moccia breaks a tackle en route to an eight-yard run. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

It’s been a while since Boyertown has scored in a game against Perkiomen Valley … 127 minutes. Lawrence Garnett’s score in the second quarter of a loss to Perkiomen Valley was the last time the Bears found the end zone after back-to-back shutout defeats that included a 30-0 loss to the boys in orange a season ago. The bright spot? Ayden Mathias stood out in that 30-0 loss, rushing for 117 yards on 14 carries, and returns under center this season after a quick maturation through the Bears’ first five games. He, along with skill players Jerry Kapp and Kevin O’Connor, have meshed well and recently lifted Boyertown (1-0 PAC, 1-4 overall) to a 54-14 victory over Methacton last Friday. “After Methacton, we are preparing for this week like all the other weeks,” head coach TJ Miller said. “We have a very good, well coached Perk Valley team ahead of us. We are looking to continue to progress and work to get better. With the defending PAC champion next on our schedule, we really didn’t have much time to celebrate. It was back to work for us.”

Orange Crush >> R.E.M’s “Orange Crush” was one of the finer jams the alternative band put out in the late 80s. In turn, Friday was one of the better performances the Viking defense has put out all season. Four caused turnovers in what ended up becoming a 27-0 victory over Owen J. Roberts has the team amped up and head coach Rob Heist feeling his defense is ready to fly around again. Discipline, amidst the flying, will be needed against a Boyertown triple-option attack that is unique to the league.

“I expect our defense to do their thing tomorrow night and fly around,” Heist said. “We will need to understand our responsibilities and tackle well. I’m looking to our defensive linemen to step up with the loss of Alec Jackson and for Ryan Cerula to step up filling in for Max Nice who is going to miss the rest of the regular season at cornerback.”

Leaders >> Perkiomen Valley’s Isaiah Domine leads the team in receiving with 233 yards and three touchdowns — two coming in last week’s win. Boyertown’s rushing attack is led by the gritty running of fullback Marcus Thomas. He’s thick, he doesn’t fall easy and he’s proven it with 377 rushing yards and four scores on 72 attempts (fifth in PAC).

Prediction >> Perkiomen Valley 24, Boyertown 10

Phoenixville at Pope John Paul II, 7 p.m. at Conshohocken A Field

Pope John Paul II quarterback Matt DeLaurentis (7) throws a pass as he’s pressured by Pottstown’s Jon Oister Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

A “Legacy Game” will commemorate the rich history of PJP that dates back to St. Matthew of Conshohocken, which was founded in 1866. The Golden Panthers will honor all of their legacy schools and alums from Saint Matthews (Conshohocken), St. Patricks (Norristown), Archbishop Kennedy (Conshohocken), Bishop Kenrick (Norristown), Kennedy-Kenrick and Saint Pius X. Fitting, really, because in 50 or so years (if football still exists, who knows?) a legacy game might be in place to commemorate the 5-0 start of the Golden Panthers. PJP isn’t getting cocky, however. Head coach Rory Graver won’t allow it. “We are a humble and hungry football team,” Graver said. “We have been successful this season because we focus each week with a 1-0 mentality. That will be important this week against a good Phoenixville team.” PJP (1-0 PAC, 5-0 overall) enters with the No. 3 offense (341.2 ypg) and defense (203.2 ypg) and will look to down a Phantoms (0-1 PAC, 0-5 overall) squad that is allowing a PAC-worst 441.4 points per game. “PJP is a very good football team and undefeated for a reason,” PHX head coach Evan Breisblatt said. “They are equally good on both offense and defense. We are going in with nothing to lose and going to give them our best shot.”

Mrs. Buttersworth or Aunt Jemima? >> Someone ask Phoenixville lineman Jon Miller what kind of syrup he likes. The amount of pancakes the monster of a kid (6-1, 275) has along the offensive line might make him able to open up his own breakfast joint in town. Or how about his own menu item at “Your Mom’s Place” on Bridge Street? Whatever it is, Graver and the PJP coaching staff know that Phoenixville’s offense (241 ypg) revolves around the big guys up front. “Phoenixville is a well coached, talented football team,” Graver said. “Offensively, it all starts up front with them. They have a very good offensive line.”

Battle of the Backs >> Phoenixville’s Travis Panella comes into the game ranked third in the PAC with 421 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Guess who’s right behind? PJP’s AJ Natale comes in ranked sixth with 352 yards and five touchdowns. Both offensive lines are much improved and will get their share of movement in the trenches. Which defense will crack?

Mr. Efficient >> PJP quarterback Matt DeLaurentis comes into the game having gone 60-plus attempts without throwing an interception. He’s thrown for seven touchdowns to one interception in 2017.

Prediction >> Pope John Paul II 35, Phoenixville 28

Upper Merion at Upper Perkiomen, 7 p.m.

Upper Perkiomen’s Tyrese Reid shoves away a Boyertown would-be tackler during the first half of the Indians’ 42-21 victory over Boyertown. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak to their bordering rival. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

A 44-20 victory over Phoenixville got the Indians (1-0 PAC, 3-2 overall) on the right track after a 56-0 trouncing by Cocalico the week prior. The offense looked good, scoring more than 40 points for the third time this season. Tyrese Reid and Tyler Whary, however, looked really, really good. The bruising Whary pounded out 200 rushing yards on 14 carries with three scores while the blink-and-miss Reid sprinted his way for 128 yards on 12 carries. The whopping 10-plus yards per rush average likely can’t be continued week-to-week but they’ll give it a shot against Upper Merion (0-1, 0-5).

“Another PAC game,” UP lineman Cole Fryer said. “The biggest thing this week, because Phoenixville drove right down the field on us and scored, is we need our defense to step up. Our offense looked good, defense needs to come out and shut them down.”

Neutral Ground >> Upper Merion, since scoring 22 points in a loss to Radnor, has scored only six points in four consecutive losses that includes a three-game streak of being shut out. The road remains tough against PAC Frontier leaders in Upper Perk and PJP.

Streak Busted >> It’s been a while since Upper Perkiomen started a season 4-2 (2009). That Indians’ squad finished with an 8-4 overall record.

Prediction >> Upper Perkiomen 28, Upper Merion 7

Friday’s Games

Pottstown at Pottsgrove, 7 p.m.

Pottsgrove wide receiver Desmond Austin, facing, celebrates with quarterback Jay Sisko after the two connected for a touchdown in the first quarter Friday against Glen Mills. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Throw out the records. The Backyard Brawl makes its way to Pottsgrove and Pottstown (0-1 PAC, 1-4 overall) will hope that things turn in its favor after having been dealt losses by its neighboring rival in each year since 2002. Still, the feeling of pregame week has players from both schools excited.

“The Pottstown/Pottsgrove rivalry is exciting,” Pottstown head coach Mark Fischer said. “Anytime you play a crosstown opponent, you want to come out and play your best game. Our players are very amped-up for Friday night.”

“This rivalry is a great one,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said. “Our kids are close to their players and many have played youth football together. You can throw out the records for this game as both teams will play their best game. I am sure our kids get more excited about this game but we try to take each game with the same approach.”

Dez Caught It >> It isn’t jus the Pottsgrove rushing attack headed by Rahsul Faison that makes Pottsgrove a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. They can pass, too. Quarterback Jay Sisko has shined in his limited attempts (15-26 413 yards and seven touchdowns). His favorite target: Desmond Austin (8 receptions for 239 yards), who recently received an offer from Division II’s Seton Hill University.

“Our running game has been doing well but I think one of the reasons is that our ability to throw the ball has kept defenses honest,” Pennypacker said. “Our QB (Sisko) has played well and our stable of receivers are fast and are able to stretch the field.” 

Adams Family >> Jamal Adams has been solid for the Trojans this season, catching a team-best 17 receptions for 337 yards (second best in PAC). More importantly, his leadership has been outstanding for the Trojans, says Fischer. “Jamal Adams has been outstanding for us this year,” he said. “He is a spark for us. He works hard and is a constant leader. He is a player we want to get the ball to.”

Prediction >> Pottsgrove 35, Pottstown 17

Methacton at Spring-Ford, 7 p.m.

Spring-Ford’s Justin DeFrancesco runs for a first down during the second half of the Rams’ 49-6 victory over Norristown on Saturday. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

Spring-Ford’s line has constantly improved and continues to get better week-in and week-out, says head coach Chad Brubaker. It was evident in Saturday’s mercy-rule victory over Norristown as they helped open up big running lanes for Justin DeFrancesco, who finished with five total touchdowns. “Our offensive line has been playing better and better,” Brubaker said. “There are still things we need to clean up to become more consistent, but we see progress week to week. They had their best practice of the season Tuesday. They are understanding the importance of intensity and focus play to play. Matt LePore, Noah Silva, Gio Guarna, Simeon Little and Mark Schaffer are seniors that, to achieve our goals, must be good upfront, as they bring along sophomore, Gunnar Romano and junior, James Begg.”

Not all is bad >> Methacton continues to show determination in a season stacked heavily against them. The wins may not be appearing in the sheet for the Warriors (0-5), but this team hasn’t quit and continues to show resolve each game. It’ll be something to build on as the season reaches past the mid-way point.

Prediction >> Spring-Ford 42, Methacton 10

Governor Mifflin at Daniel Boone, 7 p.m.

Governor Mifflin is riding high (1-0 Berks I, 4-1) after falling 42-21 to Cocalico in Week 3. Double-digit victories over Manheim Township and Exeter have the Mustangs ready for a visit to Birdsboro and Daniel Boone, a team that they have beaten every year since 2009 and have shut out four times in the process.

Mr. 1,000 >> Think Pottsgrove’s Rahsul Faison’s 1,044 yards through five games were eye-popping? Mifflin’s Zach Schmidt has rushed for 1,330 yards on 237 attempts. He’s joined by Vince Garipoli, who has rushed for 675 yards on 154 carries in the run-heavy Mustang offense.

On the right track >> A 14-7 victory over Muhlenberg snapped a three-game losing streak for Daniel Boone (1-0 Berks 1, 1-3 overall). Josh Ehst did it all in the victory, throwing for 114 yards and a score while rushing 18 times for 85 yards.

Prediction >> Governor Mifflin 38, Daniel Boone 13

Perkiomen School at Nativity BVM, 7 p.m.

A convincing 47-12 victory over the George School has Perkiomen riding into Friday’s game against Nativity on a high note. Nativity also comes in on a positive note after downing Kutztown 40-8 last week. But can they down a Perkiomen squad that has shut them out in two straight seasons and has outscored them 121-7 the past three seasons?

Prediction >> Perkiomen School 24, Nativity BVM 16

Saturday’s Game

Norristown at Owen J. Roberts, 7 p.m.

Owen J. Roberts’ Marcus Martin tries to find room to run during the first half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

Turnovers played a major part in the Wildcats’ 27-0 loss to Perkiomen Valley last week. Four turnovers can’t and won’t happen if a team expects to compete in the PAC and head coach Rich Kolka and his team have sought to right their wrongs from last week. “Yes, turnovers were a huge difference in that game,” Kolka said. “They (Perkiomen Valley) are good but not 27 points better than us. Securing the ball and playing with confidence has been the key this week.” The boys in red and white will look to bring back the brand of football that saw them go 4-0: physical, physical, physical. Against a Norristown team that features receiver Boubacar Diawara and shifty quarterback Izaiah Webb but a growing line, physicality will reign supreme. “Norristown is very, very athletic with big WR’s and a quick QB,” Kolka said. “They can score at any time.”

Protecting the ball >> OJR’s Dawson Stuart has yet to throw an interception this season, completing 42 of his 84 passes for 603 yards and six scores.

Prediction >> Owen J. Roberts 28, Norristown 12.

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