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Line play key for Pennridge in battle with Garnet Valley in District 1-6A semifinals

Pennridge's Evan Exner breaks to the sideline on a big carry against Perkiomen Valley during their District 1-6A quarterfinal on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (Austin Hertzog/Digital First Media)

EAST ROCKHILL >> Pennridge will be traveling to Garnet Valley Friday night for a District 1-6A Semifinal, making it the fifth time the Rams have reached the district semis.

For Pennridge to break through to its first district final appearance in the program’s proud history, it could be the men up front that knock down the door.

“It means everything to us,” said Rams senior guard and defensive end, Ryan Rapp, as his team practiced under the lights on Wednesday at Helman Field. “If we do that, we engrave our landmark in Pennridge history. Everyone will be talking about us. We’ll be remembered forever.”

The Rams are already the talk of the town — particularly their defense — after back-to-back shutouts to open these district playoffs.

Following a 24-0 win over rival Quakertown and a 25-0 blanking of Perkiomen Valley last week — the Rams’ second shutout over the Vikings this fall, seventh-seeded Pennridge now prepares for its trip to No. 3 Garnet Valley, and slowing down its triple-option attack.

“We’re focusing on having our defense crisp and our offensive plays as perfect as ever,” said Rapp, a 6-foot, 225-pounder who helps pry open holes for the offense, routinely plugs them up on the defensive side of things. “We have to be at the top of our game when we go into Garnet Valley.”

Tackling the triple option

The Jaguars, coming off their 36-35 comeback win over North Penn, give opposing defenses plenty to prepare for.

“They have a really terrific offense, a big strong line that’s very good, with tough running backs behind them,” Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach said. “It’s a lot of straightahead, man-to-man kind of football.

“So that’s what we gotta focus on, make sure we’re good against that offense. We have not seen that exact offense all year, and that makes it even more complicated.”

Last week against North Penn, Matthew Lassik powered for 124 yards on a workmanlike 23 carries, adding a touchdown. Danny Guy was a versatile weapon, running for 86 yards and two scores and finding open turf to bring in a pivotal catch for 23 yards and another score.

Garnet racked up 225 rushing yards in the contest.

“Guys sticking to their assignments, trusting each other,” Rapp said of the keys for the Rams, “and knowing where your help is.”

“I think the key to the game is our defense being able to stop their offense, and especially long drives,” Hollenbach said. “If (Garnet) goes on long drives, chews up the clock, with, 12-, 13-, or 16-play drives and keeps our offense off the field, that will be a struggle.”

Pennridge goes in with plenty of momentum and a seven-game win streak. Last week the Rams stifled Perk Valley, a team that had averaged 34 points per game. Pennridge also held the Vikings to their third lowest yardage total of the season (209).

“That just comes along with how much work we’ve put in,” Rapp said of the back-to-back shutouts, “and the type of chemistry the team has, the family bond. That just really plays in with how good we’ve been doing lately.

“(The playoff run is) an absolutely unbelievable experience, just the feeling for the entire team right now.”

Clearing the path

Rapp and the boys will also be looking to make things easier for the offense.

“I’m really pleased with how the running game has gone, the backs are running great, Zak (Kantor) is playing great at quarterback, and most of it comes down to the offensive line,” Hollenbach said. “(The o-line) is really coming off the ball and just getting better each game, so I’m really happy with how they’ve played.”

Pennridge (10-2) dominated the line of scrimmage last week and put together three balanced scoring drives. Their march through the playoffs has brought them one step from history.

“Confidence is everything. The team’s rolling right now,” Rapp said. “We’re coming off a seven-game win streak and you gotta feel good about that.”

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