It’s been an adventure at times, but Andrew Pidgeon is beginning to see positive results at Penncrest.
“Our guys the last couple of weeks, they’ve worked really hard. We’ve been in a lot of games and we’ve had some tough losses,” said Pidgeon, the Lions’ first-year head coach, who was an All-Delco quarterback at Ridley in 2008. “We played Garnet Valley tough and some other teams tough. Injuries kind of killed us throughout the year. But we got healthy and have won some big games.”
Following a 44-7 defeat to Strath Haven, the Lions have gutted out back-to-back wins against Conestoga and Lower Merion. The Lions’ success the last two weeks has turned their season around. No longer Central League cellar dwellars, Pidgeon’s dudes are thinking playoffs.
“We won a tough one against Conestoga (13-2) and then we had a dogfight against Lower Merion (21-20),” Pidgeon said. “One thing all year, our players physically play tough all game long and they don’t back down from anyone. It started to pay off the last couple of weeks.”
Pidgeon’s go-to player is senior running back Caleb Mahalik, who has been a workhorse all year. Mahalik is among the leading rushers in the county with 716 yards. He put forth his best performance of the season in the come-from-behind victory over Lower Merion last Friday, rushing for a 197 yards and a score.
“Hands-down, Caleb has been our guy. When we need a big play, he’s our guy,” Pidgeon said. “He is one of the hardest-working guys on the team. He’s definitely the heart and soul of Penncrest football.”
Senior quarterback Chris Mills has rebounded from a difficult start to the season. In his last three games, Mills has completed 63.8 percent of his pass attempts for 279 yards and two TDs.
“The last couple of weeks, Mills has really started to put it together,” Pidgeon said. “He’s worked his tail off. It’s finally paying off.”
Penncrest’s resurgent defense has been led by linebackers John Cosgrove and Chris Chelo and cornerback Nick Benecke.
“Our d-backs are doing a better job. That’s where we struggled earlier, but they’re really fixing their issues,” Pidgeon said. ‘We’ve had some young guys that are doing a good job. Dave Cage sealed the game for us last week (with an interception). We have guys coming in for those positions and they’re starting to click a little bit.”
Penncrest (3-6) can clinch a District 1 Class 5A playoff berth with a win against Radnor (4-5) this Friday.
“Radnor coach (Tom) Ryan does a great job,” Pidgeon said. “It’’s going to be a tough one for us, definitely, but we’re looking forward to it.”
DISTRICT PLAYOFF RANKINGS >> Despite suffering its first loss of the season, Garnet Valley (8-1) remains the No. 1 seed in District 1 Class 6A. According to the District 1 website, the Jags are locked in a virtual tie with Neshaminy (8-1) with identical averages of 165.556 points.
Elsewhere, Haverford (8-1), sits in 12th place in the 16-team race. Penn Wood (7-2) and Upper Darby (6-3) are 15th and 16th, respectively, while Ridley (5-4) is 18th. Because Haverford and Upper Darby do not play until Thanksgiving, both teams miss out on the chance at earning valuable power points against a 6A team. Ridley and Upper Darby meet Friday night in a game that could determine each team’s postseason fate.
In Class 5A, Springfield (9-0) holds the No. 1 spot. The Cougars should take home the top seed in the playoffs, regardless of Friday’s outcome against Haverford. Despite falling to Penn Wood last Friday, Academy Park (5-3) remains in fifth place. Marple Newtown (5-4) is eighth and Strath Haven occupies 10th. The Tigers and Panthers clash Friday night.
Chichester (4-4), Radnor (4-5), Sun Valley (4-5) and Penncrest cover seeds 12 through 15. Glen Mills (2-6), in 17th place, isn’t out of the playoff picture yet.
Interboro (5-4), which has won three in a row, hasn’t moved from the No. 4 spot in Class 4A. The Bucs could jump to third place and avoid a first-round game against Pottsgrove (9-0), but they will need to beat Academy Park Friday night.
Delco Christian (5-4) is the No. 1 seed in Class 1A, although Jenkintown (5-3) isn’t far behind.
Upper Darby’s Nasir Greer has been lights out in the defensive secondary this season. Greer is excelling in all areas and is among the county’s top receivers, averaging roughly 24 yards per catch. Greer had a touchdown grab and an interception in a loss to Middletown (Del.) last Friday.
With its come-from-behind win over Cardinal O’Hara last weekend, Neumann-Goretti earned a piece of the Catholic League Blue Division championship. The Saints can claim the title outright with a victory over Conwell-Egan. West Catholic can force a split of the title with a win over O’Hara and a loss by N-G.
In the Red Division, St. Joseph’s Prep (7-0, 5-0) is the frontrunner. La Salle (6-2, 4-1) and Archbishop Wood (6-2, 4-1) are tied for second place. Prep can wrap up the championship outright with a win against Archbishop Ryan this weekend.
O’Hara (6-2, 3-2) and Bonner & Prendergast (1-8, 1-5) meet for the second time this year next Friday, Nov. 3 for the right to qualify for the PIAA Class 4A playoffs. The winner takes on the Philadelphia Public League champion. The Friars warm up for their rivalry showdown with O’Hara with a Catholic League crossover tilt against Archbishop Carroll (2-7, 0-6), which has lost seven consecutive games.
MOVING THE CHAINS >> In the loss to Middletown (Del.) last Friday, Upper Darby senior Josh Gouch became the first Delco quarterback to run for 1,000-plus yards in a season since 2014 (Brian Allen, Springfield). … Gouch is the leading rusher in the county with 1,014 yards. Springfield’s Ja’Den McKenzie (972) and Episcopal Academy’s DeeWil Barlee (962) are second and third, respectively. … Springfield’s Jack Psenicska has posted a 66 completion percentage (99-for-150), which is first among county quarterbacks. … Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy is one win shy of 300. Clancy is the winningest coach in Delco football history. … Haverford High coach Joe Gallagher notched his 150th victory in last Saturday’s win over Lansdale Catholic.
To contact Matt Smith, email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith.
Penncrest’s Chris Mills hauls in a pass during practice in August. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)
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