BUCKTOWN >> Three years ago, Rich Kolka took over as head coach of an Owen J. Roberts football team that was coming off a forgettable 3-9 season in 2014.
Even then, he knew he had something special in the making.
Kolka and the Wildcats finished off the regular season Friday night with a commanding 31-6 win over visiting Upper Perkiomen in divisional crossover Pioneer Athletic Conference play. The result earns Owen J. Roberts (8-2 overall) its first district playoff berth since the 2010 season.
“It’s fantastic,” said Kolka. “The seniors deserve all the credit. They bought into the program when I first arrived — we had lots of workouts in the very first offseason and they were there the entire way. They’ve been there for everything.”
Using their late season District 1 Class 6A playoff push as motivation, OJR finished the season on a three-game winning streak — including last week’s 33-0 shutout of Spring-Ford — and capped the season with an impressive 6-0 record at home. Meanwhile, Upper Perk dropped to 6-4 overall with Friday night’s result, the Tribe gearing up for its own District 1 Class 4A playoff run.
Right out of the gates, OJR got the start it needed as Upper Perk fumbled away the opening kickoff. Four plays later, senior running back Hunter Scherfel stumbled into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown — his first of two scores on the night — to give the Wildcats a lead they’d never even come close to surrendering.
“Our O-line had one of their best games all season,” said Scherfel. “We knew this would be our last game on this field. It’s pretty sad to be leaving this place, but I think we ended it on a pretty high note.”
The Wildcats brought out a steady running game that wore down the clock and featured five ball carriers on the night. Scherfel finished with 84 yards rushing on 19 carries. Senior quarterback Dawson Stuart kept it for 37 yards rushing and a one-yard touchdown on 15 carries to go along with 52 yards passing. Junior running back Marcus Martin had 56 total yards — 36 rushing with a four-yard score — to go along with four receptions for 20 yards.
“Both sides of the ball right now are playing pretty well,” added Kolka, “which is nice going into the playoffs. Our defense will have to keep us in the playoff games — no matter who we go up against, we know we’ll need to be able to make stops.”
Defensively, the Wildcats had Upper Perk quarterback Tyler Keyser running frantic in the backfield. Connor Zuch and Aidan Hayward each sacked Keyser while the defense limited him to just 90 yards completing 10 of 20 passing attempts. Jason Zollers also forced an interception.
Tyler Whary was about the only member of the Tribe that could generate any sort of offense. The bruising tailback carried it 17 times for 118 yards including a 53-yard touchdown on Upper Perk’s first drive of the second half.
“They’re tough up front,” said Upper Perk head coach Tom Hontz of Owen J. Roberts’ defensive front. “It was tough for us to get any momentum going in the run game. They’re blitzing every down and they’re bringing people — they overwhelmed us. They attack and they’re very, very physical.”
Now as his team gears up for a district run, Hontz knows that Upper Perk’s future lies in its own hands.
“I don’t think it will be a problem,” said Hontz of getting his team re-focused for next week. “Our whole season has been about getting to the postseason and seeing what we can do once we’re there.”
Likewise, Kolka and the Wildcats are looking forward to see what lies ahead now that they’ve got a district playoff berth in their back pockets. Before he looked ahead, though, he took a look back at the past three seasons.
“I don’t know how many hours we’ve been together over the years — we tried to calculate it the other day,” said Kolka of his seniors, who were sophomores when he arrived. “It’s all year round, but they’ve given me everything over the years.
“It’s a special bunch,” he added. “I’m excited to see what we can do at districts.”