The annual Thanksgiving matchup with Quakertown gives the Pennridge football team a chance to rebound from a tough District 1-6A semifinal loss and end the season on a high note.
Now, the game will also have the Rams looking to send head coach Jeff Hollenbach out with a victory.
Monday afternoon, The Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier News’ Jen Wielgus tweeted that Hollenbach had told his players this will be his last year coaching the team.
Hollenbach is in the fifth season of his second stint as Pennridge coach, returning to the job in 2013 after Randy Cuthbert — now the head coach and athletic director at Wissahickon — left after the 2012 season to take Emmaus’ head coaching position.
Previously leading the Rams to a 72-25 mark over eight seasons from 1997-2004, Hollenbach has gone 39-22 in his return with at least six wins in each of the past five years. Pennridge currently stands at 10-3.
The Rams qualified for the District 1 postseason in three of past four seasons, this year shutting out Quakertown and Perkiomen Valley to reach the district semifinals for the first time since 2012.
“This team gave us a great ride,” said Hollenbach last Friday after the Rams’ 28-20 loss to Garnet Valley in the 6A semis. “I’m really, really proud of what they’ve done. It’s a heck of ride.”
Against Garnet Valley, Pennridge was without senior linebacker/running back Nick Tarburton — reports prior to game stating the Penn State verbal commit was out due to school suspension — but still held a 14-7 halftime lead. With the host Jaguars’ points coming on a short fumble return that gave the Rams’ defense 10 straight quarters without allowing a point.
But that streak ended in the third quarter. Garnet Valley’s offense twice found the end zone on Matt Lassik runs, the two scores bookending Danny Guy’s 92-yard punt return TD as the Jaguars entered the fourth up 28-14.
Pennridge, meanwhile, went three-and-out on its first three drives after halftime. Hollenbach pointed to losing offensive lineman Ryan Rapp to an injury late in the second quarter as key reason for the Rams offensive struggles following the break.
“I think part of it is Ryan — Ryan Rapp. Just having all of our five linemen together in there is really huge. So that was part of it,” Hollenbach said. “We could power them, we could power them some of the first half and the second half the running game was just not as effective as it really needed to be I think for us to win the game. And the other side is just stopping that offense. They’re just ball-controlling us and not having as many plays as we needed to is certainly part of it.”
Garnet Valley stopped the Rams on 4th-and-2 from the Jaguars 11 then ran off 8:01 of clock on a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter. Pennridge got the ball back with 2:44 to go and scored at 2:00 on Zak Kantor’s 30-yard TD pass to Cooper Chaikin, but the Rams never got the ball back.
Pennridge’s loss was a part of a tough Friday night for local teams. Upper Dublin’s run in the District 1-5A tournament ended with a 17-6 loss to undefeated Springfield-Delco in the semifinals. Lansdale Catholic, meanwhile, could not earned a second win over Conwell-Egan this season, the Crusaders falling in the District 1/12-3A final to their Philadelphia Catholic League Blue Division rival 44-20.
Pennridge, however, gets one more chance to play in 2017 with its Thanksgiving clash with rival Quakertown (7-3) at Helman Field. Pennridge pulled away in the second half in shutting out Quakertown 24-0 in the District 1-6A first round Oct. 3.
The victory was the second straight for the Rams over their rival, having won last year’s Turkey Day contest at Quakertown’s Alumni Field 55-27.
“For most of these playoff teams, they lose this game and they’re done. And so for us just to have another game on Thursday is an awesome thing,” Hollenbach said. “So we’ll regroup and we’ll be ready by Thanksgiving.”
Pennridge-Quakertown is not the only Thanksgiving rematch, as the area’s two other games Thursday — Hatboro-Horsham at Upper Moreland and Norristown at Upper Merion — both have teams playing for the second time this year.
Norristown (3-7) and Upper Merion (1-9) last met Oct. 28 with the host Eagles stopped a two-game skid with a 20-7 win. Norristown rallied for a 35-28 victory last Thanksgiving.
Upper Moreland (10-1) and Hatboro-Horsham (5-4) played a classic at HH Sept. 23, the Golden Bears holding on for a 41-40 win after stopping the Hatters on a two-point conversion with 15 seconds to go. Upper Moreland, the Suburban One League American Conference champ, had its unbeaten run stopped by Marple Newtown 24-18 in the District 1-5A quarterfinal Oct. 10. The Bears won last year’s Thanksgiving game 33-6.
Five of the six PIAA champions from last season are still alive in this year’s state playoffs, including Archbishop Wood, which advanced to the Class 5A quarterfinals with a 36-6 win over Simon Gratz in the District 12 final last Saturday.
The Vikings (9-2) take on District 2 champion Wyoming Valley West (7-6) 1 p.m. Saturday at Northern Lehigh High School in Slatington. Winner faces the District 1 champ — either Springfield or Unionville — in the state semifinals.
No SOL in 6A final
The District 1-6A final between Coatesville (12-1) and host Garnet Valley (12-1) — 7 p.m. Friday — is just the third final since District 1 expanded the tournament of its largest class — 6A since 2016 — to 16 teams in 2006 that the championship game did not have a team from the Suburban One League in it.
The previous two times the final had no SOL side came in 2007 (Ridley beating West Chester Henderson) and 2012 (Coatesville beating Spring-Ford).
Coatesville rolled into the final last Friday with a 42-2 win over Pennsbury, which defeated the Red Raiders in the 2014 district title game.
Garnet Valley is back in the 6A final after falling to North Penn 48-38 in last year’s championship contest.
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