EAST ROCKHILL >> It’s hard to believe the day has come.
“My wife just mentioned it today, she said ‘I just can’t believe we’re those people,’” Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach said with a chuckle, referring to coaching his last game this coming Thursday. “We’re now the people at the end of their career, retiring and everything.
“The whole thing — 1979 is when I started coaching football, and that’s many, many years ago, but in my mind, it doesn’t feel like it’s that long ago.”
Thanksgiving Day will be a big one for Hollenbach and his family — his wife, Libby, four children and six grandkids (some of which are already playing flag football) — and also for his football family.
“It means a lot because he’s retiring with us in a way,” said big No. 66, Stephen Dadio, “because most of us aren’t getting a chance to play in college and stuff.
“He’s been a great coach, a great guy, and really helped me out personally. It’s real sad to see him go.”
“I’m glad I got to be with him the three years that I played on varsity,” said running back Josh Pinkney, “so it would be great to go out with a win. He’s been a very good coach, coaching everybody to the best of their ability, and a leader for everybody.”
The Rams look to finish off a tremendous season with a win when Quakertown visits Helman Field Thursday morning.
Kickoff is at 10:15.
Pennridge is 10-3 coming into this one, making it to the district semifinals for the fifth time in school history (they fell to Garnet Valley last Friday). Quakertown (7-3) also reached the District 1-6A Playoffs, falling to these Rams in the first round.
Hollenbach will be capping a career that has seen him pile up 111 victories against 47 losses. Since returning to Pennridge in 2013, the Rams are 39-22. In his first stint, which ended in 2004 after eight seasons, Pennridge went 72-25.
There’s no better way to finish up than on Thanksgiving, against a fierce rival.
“It’s gonna feel very unusual but I’m certainly looking forward to it,” Hollenbach said. “I’ve had a terrific year. I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed working with this team. This team has worked hard and are great kids. They have positive attitudes and positive energy.
“My coaching staff is outstanding, just an excellent coaching staff. So the combination of those two has just been awesome. I’ve really enjoyed this year and in the bigger picture, the other years I’ve done, it’s been a privilege to be able to do this and work with these young men over all these years. It’s just been outstanding.”
This will be the 88th annual Thanksgiving Day match-up between the two, and the desire to win it is as strong as ever.
“Super excited,” Pinkney said as his team prepared under the lights on Tuesday. “It’s always another year of Pennridge vs. Quakertown and one of us wants to be the better team.
“It’s always been a great rivalry. It doesn’t matter what the weather is. Everyone’s gonna show out and everyone’s gonna play hard.”
Wins and momentum have gone back and forth between the two. The Panthers won twice in 2014 — 14-10 in the playoffs and 8-7 on Thanksgiving — and rallied back from a 21-0 deficit to win 28-21 in 2015. Last year belonged to Pennridge, 55-27.
And just three weeks ago, the Rams shut out Quakertown 24-0 in the playoff opener.
“I’m not sure how that’s gonna play out,” Hollenbach said of both teams having seen each other just three weeks ago. “Three years ago, we were in this situation — we lost to them in the playoff and then were really hoping we could win on Thanksgiving morning, which we did not.
“It’s gonna be interesting to see how that plays out. I just know that both sides are gonna be fired up and ready to play because that’s what this game is all about.”
Let’s Talk Turkey
For Pennridge to duplicate its playoff-win over the Panthers, stopping the run will be key. The Rams limited Quakertown to 134 yards on the ground earlier this month and just 168 total yards of offense.
“We’re getting some players back that we didn’t have last week. Our defense is gonna do what they do — they’re a bunch of studs,” said Dadio. “Our offensive line, we have to dominate. And the backs are gonna do what they do. If everyone does their job, we will do what we did last time.”
Penn State verbal commit Nick Tarburton should return at linebacker this week and anchors a defense that began the playoffs with back-to-back shutouts before the 28-20 defeat to Garnet Valley. Lineman Ryan Rapp and free safety Cooper Chaikin have also been locking things down for the Rams.
Plugging up the running lanes will be the focus, as the Panthers have a pair of impressive backs in Christian Patrick and Mike Friel.
On the other side of things, Pennridge racked up 349 rushing yards in the last meeting.
“We saw each other a few weeks ago. We forget about that,” Pinkney said, “put that behind us. Yeah, it was a big win, helped us move on in the playoffs, but we wanna forget about that because we’re gonna play like it’s a new team.”
Thanksgiving Eve Festivities
This one is big enough to warrant extra preparation, and celebration.
“It’s a very special week,” Hollenbach said. “What we have between the two communities is an awesome thing. Both communities get real excited about this game, alumni come back. The memories that are made on that field — for Quakertown and for Pennridge — have been terrific.
“Parents talk to their kids about it, sometimes grandfathers talk to their kids about it.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Dadio said. “Friday was rough, but the best way to come off that is to beat Quakertown. (A win) would mean everything to us, because it’s one of the best traditions. Going on for 80, 90 years whatever, I love it.”
And things get rolling on Wednesday.
“This business is all about relationships, relationships that you can build with the players, the coaches over the years and to continue those relationships is terrific,” Hollenbach said. “(On Wednesday night) we’re gonna meet with some of the players from my first eight years.
“And those guys are getting into their mid-30’s, that kind of thing, so to be able to see those guys and relive and rehash some of the memories — whether they’re true or not (laugh) — is an awesome thing.”
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