EAST ROCKHILL >> Pennridge football coach Jeff Hollenbach said what helps quarterback Zak Kantor is that the junior has a short memory on the field.
“Say he throws a pick or makes a mistake, you know you have that fumble down here last week, it doesn’t bother him. He comes back the next play and he’s ready to go,” Hollenbach said. “He’s very controlled in his emotions and for a quarterback, it’s a big deal, that you don’t beat yourself up.”
Kantor, along with the running of Evan Exner and Nick Tarburton, were big reasons why the Rams could quickly forget a sluggish opening half Friday night and roll into the District 1-6A playoffs on a five-game winning streak.
Exner and Tarburton combined for 239 of Pennridge’s 356 rushing yards while Kantor threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Rams scored the first 21 points after halftime in earning a 28-12 Suburban One League Continental Conference win over visiting Central Bucks East on Senior Night at Helman Field.
“Things really didn’t go as plan the first (half), at the beginning. Things weren’t working, things weren’t clicking,” Kantor said. “But then we talked at halftime, went over some stuff, came in the second half and made it work.”
Exner had a game-high 152 yards on 12 carries, Tarburton ran 10 times for 87 yards and for the second consecutive week the Rams defense had five interceptions — two by Cooper Chaikin, while Ryan Rapp returned the first pick for a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter — as Pennridge (8-2, 5-1 conference) was confident it secured a home game when districts begin next week.
The Rams were seventh in the 6A rankings at the end of the night with the top eight in the 16-team field hosting in the first round.
“We’ll have a home playoff game, so there’s never been a home playoff game here and that was big motivation for these guys this week,” Hollenbach said. “And also like I said before these seniors haven’t beaten in East — so we lost two years ago in overtime, lost last year. So that was huge motivation for them, too.”
The Rams ended a two-game skid against the Patriots (4-6, 2-4) to extend their win streak to five — the program’s longest since 2012 when Pennridge won 11 in a row. That season was also the last time the Rams had a home district game, but that contest — a 35-24 loss to Spring-Ford in the 4A semifinals — was at Poppy Yoder Field. Pennridge have been playing at Helman Field since 2014.
“Just really proud of how the kids played,” Hollenbach said. “To come the second half and make some really good plays, have a ninth grader (Shane Hartzell) make the play he did down there, Zak made some great plays.”
While CB East freshman quarterback Anthony Giordano did toss five picks, he also completed 22-of-37 passes for 268 yards. He connected with Chris Lochetta seven times for 105 yards while Jake Novroski hauled in 10 passes for 103 yards. Giordano also ran for both of the Patriots’ touchdowns.
“Two of the picks were not his fault but Anthony really did a great job,” East coach John Donnelly said. “He did a great job coming in last week in the third quarter. He is really smart and intelligent.
“I just told the team I was really proud of the grit. It was all grit, no quit today and 4-6 I don’t think is reflective of how good we are and they’ll be a lot of success when they look back on this season and realize what they did.”
The defeat — Central Bucks East’s second straight and third in its last four — gave the Patriots their first losing season since 2013.
Leading just 7-6 at halftime, Pennridge responded by scoring on its first two drives after the break. The Rams went up 14-6 by going 65 yards on 11 plays — nine were runs, but the last had Kantor rolling left and finding Shane Hartzell for an 18-yard touchdown at 7:58 in the third quarter.
“I saw he was beating the kid and I thought if I it just led him, he’d could run under it,” said Kantor, who was 7-of-14 passing for 73 yards. “It worked, he made a good play and caught it.”
East got the ball to the Pennridge 28 on the next series, but Kyle Schetter intercepted Giordano in the end zone.
The Rams then traversed 80 yards on eight plays — Tarburton rushing for 20 the second play, Exner gaining 26 on the ground the fourth — with Kantor hitting an open Joe Devine down the middle for a 21-yard TD at 2:45 in the third.
“He was open. We were running the stack and both went to the wheel, so that was good,” Kantor said.
The Rams push the advantage to 28-6 with 2:12 left in the fourth on Ryan Garner’s six-yard touchdown run.
A Lochetta 65-yard kickoff return set East up at the Pennridge 25 and Giordano finished a four-play drive with a TD on a one-yard sneak. The Patriots couldn’t score on the two-point conversion, leaving the Rams up 28-12 with 1:33 remaining.
CB East recovered its onside kick but on the next play Giordano was interception by Devine.
Pennridge’s first three drives Friday all went inside the East 25, yet all three ended with it turning the ball over on downs. The Rams’ lone points before halftime were courtesy of Rapp — who jumped to intercept Giordano’s pass to the flat and raced 62 yards for the pick six at 8:58 in the first quarter.
“Once I go through the first five yards I knew I had the speed to get there,” Rapp said. “I knew none of the linemen could catch me, felt I was past the quarterback so once I just caught the ball I knew I was going to get in.”
East found the end zone late in the opening quarter. Lochetta took a wide receiver screen on 3rd and 10 57 yards down to the Rams 18. Giordano hit Novroski for 16 more and on the next play Giordano scored on a two-yard QB sneak at 1:53. East missed the extra point, keeping Pennridge up 7-6.
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