EAST ROCKHILL >> Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach went out on a high, lifted up and carried off the field by Steve Dadio and Brian Lafty after the Rams’ 34-6 victory over Quakertown on Thanksgiving Day.
“Two big, strong tackles,” Hollenbach said of Dadio and Lafty. “I felt pretty secure.”
So was the line of scrimmage, as bullish play up front on both sides of the ball helped pave the way to a convincing win in the season finale, as Hollenbach capped a stellar coaching career at Pennridge High.
“Certainly bittersweet,” Hollenbach said of the victory, the 112th of his career. “The sweet part is to come out here and beat a good Quakertown team, and I think that’s a credit to the players to remain focused. It’s not the easiest thing to lose a game like we did last Friday (to Garnet Valley), and then all of a sudden turn it around and play this game, because I’ve had really good teams in the past who weren’t able to (recover from a playoff loss and win on Thanksgiving).
“Because it’s a rivalry game — Quakertown’s fired up, we’re fired up, I’m just thrilled that these guys came out and played hard today. And they played to maybe represent the whole season, in terms of their intensity, the way they play as a team, what they can accomplish on the field. They’ve made some terrific memories for 2017 — I will not forget this season.”
Capping an 11-3 season in which the Rams reached the district semifinals for the fifth time, Pennridge mixed it up on offense, building a 27-0 lead by halftime, and the first-team defense didn’t surrender a point.
Junior quarterback Zak Kantor, who dedicated the win to coach Hollenbach and the seniors, threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes to send the Rams on their way.
On how fun it was to win on Thanksgiving, Kantor said: “It’s definitely pretty fun. It’ll make it better when I go eat dinner later.”
Nick Tarburton had a full plate, making several tackles on defense and serving as a versatile weapon for the offense.
Tarburton made a leaping grab in the end zone for the Rams’ first points of the day, gathering in Kantor’s five-yard pass on fourth down to make it 7-0 late in the first quarter.
Tarburton scored again — this time on a seven-yard run — to boost the lead to 14-0 midway through the second quarter and later rumbled 27 yards with a middle screen, setting up a three-yard blast by Kyle Schetter.
And then came the big one.
Kantor launched a deep throw down the seam and Joe Devine went up and won the jump ball — the Panthers’ Michael Terra in tight coverage — and raced in for a 45-yard score and a 27-0 Pennridge lead at the break.
“We called the play and I was thinking he would be open and then the line gave me a ton of time,” Kantor said. “That made it easy, and Joey made an outstanding catch.”
Pennridge widened the gap to 34-0 in the third quarter, with Evan Exner weaving his way in for a six-yard run.
The Panthers (7-4), who also capped a tremendous season, moved the ball early on and had a chance to tie the game at seven apiece, but three first-half turnovers would make things more difficult.
“That deficit’s pretty hard to come back from — (Pennridge) has some good, quality players,” Panthers coach George Banas said. “We moved the ball, just had a hard time punching it in.”
In a series that has swung back and forth, Pennridge was able to win its third straight over its rival, including the 24-0 win in the first round of the District 1-6A Playoffs.
The Panthers completed the scoring Thursday, with Christian Patrick breaking free for a 17-yard run. Max Russell added an interception for Quakertown.
The Rams gained 232 yards on the ground, with Kantor adding 141 through the air. Cooper Chaikin and Chris Feralio had interceptions for Pennridge and Exner had a fumble recovery.
“It’s perfect, just perfect,” Hollenbach said of his final game. “Somebody asked me how I felt before the game and I felt like this could be a really good, close game. I felt like our guys did a great job of refocusing and came out ready to rock and roll.”
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