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Pottsgrove falls to Bethlehem Catholic in Pennypacker’s final game

ROYERSFORD >> It was the end of a season, and an era, for Pottsgrove football.

All on the same night.

The double-finale came Friday at Spring-Ford High’s Coach McNelly Stadium, where the Falcons opened play in the PIAA Class 4A playoffs against Bethlehem Catholic. In a repeat of their 2016 campaign’s postseason, the two-time District 1-4A champs were done in by the District 11 champion Hawks, 49-14.

The game also closed out the 29-year head-coaching tenure of Rick Pennypacker, who had announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2017 season. It made for another emotional heading for the local coaching legend, one week after leading his Falcons in a final home game on the field that bears his name.

“It’s time for me to go,” Pennypacker said after an extended traditional post-game interface with family members, friends and former coaching adversaries. “It’s time to turn the page to another Pottsgrove coach.”

Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker gives his team a pep talk after falling into an early 14-0 deficit in the first quarter Friday against Bethlehem Catholic. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

For the Falcons (11-2), the joy of last week’s 38-14 win over Upper Perkiomen in the district title game was overshadowed by an ominous start against Becahi: A fumble of the opening kickoff back to the Hawks. Though Becahi turned the ball over on an interception by Desmond Austin, it got rolling toward 21 unanswered points on its next possession following a Pottsgrove three-and-out.

Matthew Bisko, the game’s leading rusher with 120 yards on 13 totes, ran 14 yards through right tackle to score with 8:05 left in the first quarter. That was followed by Daizhun Rhodes scoring twice in succession: The first a 59-yard pass reception from quarterback Javon Clements less than two minutes later, the second a 25-yard sprint through left guard with 3:49 remaining in the quarter.

“I just think our kids were really focused and were really energized,” Becahi head coach Joe Henrich said. “They are really enjoying playing for each other right now.

Pottsgrove’s Elijah Chhuor (25) can only get a grab of the shirt on Bethlehem Catholic’s Daizhun Rhodes (5) on a long gain Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

”That energy, emotion and enthusiasm allowed us to set out and impose our will early in the game and try to take their spirit from them. And I thought we were able to do that again.”

Pottsgrove stemmed the run with some fleet-footed scoring of its own. Quarterback Jay Sisko went 65 yards up the middle, after faking a handoff, to get the Falcons on the scoreboard a mere 13 seconds later.

That would be as close as the locals got to overtaking Becahi, however. The Hawks scored another pair in a four-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters, Bisko on a four-yard run 27 seconds before the end of the first and Christian Drayton III hauling in a 40-yard scoring pass from Clements (4-for-7, 177 yards) at the 8:19 mark of the second.

Pottsgrove closed out the half’s scoring with Rahsul Faison (10 carries, 87 yards) going 79 yards after busting through right tackle at the 7:59 mark. Leg and medical issues kept Faison out of action in the second half, during which the Hawks got another TD run from Zaheer Seabrooks — a 20-yard sprint around the left end at the 8:15 mark in the third.

“Our guys take a lot of pride in that,” Henrich said. “We came in and everything is about their tailback (Faison) and possible records and all these kinds of things, and our guys take that personally. We’re a pretty stout team, and our guys are energized and enthusiastic about everything right now. I’m really proud of the way they played.”

Pottsgrove’s Ryan Bodolus (81) makes an ankle tackle on Bethlehem Catholic running back Zaheer Seabrooks Friday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Seabrooks’ scoring run enabled Becahi to bring the running-clock into play for the remainder of the game. It was the only time this season Pottsgrove was in that position — a feeling it experienced from the other side numerous times.

“We’ve been on that side of the fence,” Pennypacker said. “Give them credit for doing it.”

Sisko, who ended up the Falcons’ leading rusher with 89 yards on 12 carries, tried to pick up the running load in the second half. His efforts went for naught, though, as Pottsgrove twice turned over the ball on downs inside the Hawks’ 10-yard line.

“I think it played out the way we had hoped,” Henrich said, “and I think it took them away from they wanted to do. I think they threw the ball more in the first half than I saw them throw in the last three games. That was what we intended to do and that’s the way it played out.”

For Pennypacker, the game’s conclusion brought on a time of reflection over his career at Pottsgrove — a career marked by more than 200 wins, numerous Pioneer Athletic Conference championships, district titles and rewarding contacts with the hundreds of players and coaches who came through the program in that span.

Pottsgrove running back Rahsul Faison sits alone on the bench in the late stages of the Falcons’ season-ending defeat to Bethlehem Catholic. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“As a coach, you don’t know how the kids will react,” he said. “I never expected anything like it. We must have done something right.

“It’s going to be tough for the 19 seniors. They were the heart and soul of the program, fun to be around. And the camaraderie I had with my assistant coaches … four of them played for me. I’m amazed at how stable a staff we had. I only lost four in 20 years. That says a lot about them.”

NOTES >> It was appropriate Pennypacker’s final game was in a Spring-Ford stadium where he was a player years ago. “I started here in seventh grade,” he recalled. … Pennypacker’s final assessment of his 2017 squad: “I’m proud of our kids, the way they played. They were going against a team that’s big, strong, fast and physical. The final score didn’t tell the story of this game.”

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