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Lights, camera, action: Perkiomen Valley-Spring-Ford square off for spot in PAC championship

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Friday night, the Perkiomen Valley Vikings and Spring-Ford Rams will clash at Coach McNelly Stadium in Royersford with the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Liberty Division title on the line. The winner will advance to battle Pottsgrove next week for the league championship.

A rivalry that’s quickly becoming the area’s best deserves a big stage, and this one will certainly have that.

The two schools are combining to record a crowd-sourced documentary on the game under the hashtag #10KCameras. That’s one camera for each person Perkiomen Valley coach Rob Heist expects to see in attendance. In fact, Heist seemed somewhat enthused that the game will be played in Royersford, as Spring-Ford’s stadium can accommodate a larger gathering than Perkiomen Valley’s.

“Who can play the best under those bright lights?” asked Heist. “That’s what this will come down to — who makes fewer mistakes? I think our defenses are comparable, and we have similar skill sets on offense.”

For Perk Valley (6-2, 4-0 PAC Liberty), the key lies in the sustained health — such as it is — of quarterback Cole Peterlin (1,331 pass yards, 17 TDs in 2018; plus another 377 yards and 5 TDs rushing.) Peterlin’s hot start to the year was slowed by a Week 5 injury against Owen J. Roberts. He returned in a limited capacity the following week to a close out a win over Norristown, and has seen his role expand in the past two games against Methacton and Boyertown.

“I’m not sure he’s going to be 100 percent [the rest of this year],” admitted Heist. “He’s steadily getting better, but the rigors of a varsity football game left him pretty sore last week —and the conditions on our field this past week didn’t help him either. I can’t say he’s totally healthy, but he’s a tough kid and he’s playing through it.”

Peterlin figures to lean on the Liberty Division’s most explosive receiver, senior Isaiah Domine, whose 10 receiving TDs lead the conference this season. Running backs Jacob Sturm and Jon Moccia have stepped forward to carry more of the load in the rushing game, and will be pivotal in extending Vikings’ drives Friday night and keeping the 7-1 Rams’ potent attack tethered to the sideline.

Defensively, PV is led by senior safety Austin Rowley, tied for the PAC lead in interceptions with five this season. The challenge this week will be simply matching numbers — four Spring-Ford pass-catching targets (WRs Dante Bonanni, Blaize Scarcelle, Nicholas Teets, and TE Noah Baker) plus running back Stephen Brill all rank among the top 15 in area receiving. The quintet has afforded Ryan Engro a multitude of options throughout the first eight games of his breakout season (1,733 pass yards, and a 22-2 TD/INT ratio.)

Spring-Ford quarterback Ryan Engro (7) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a 64-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Owen J. Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

This week, the Rams will be without center Kyle Kennedy, hurt last week against OJR, which will result in some reshuffling of the Rams’ offensive line, including a move for Dante Cioci back to his natural position of center.

Brill is coming off his best performance of the season, carrying for 124 yards last week against Owen J. Roberts on only 14 carries, and adding another 62 yards receiving in a 30-7 Spring-Ford win.

“OJR spent some time doubling either Dante (Bonanni) or Noah Baker, putting an extra guy out there,” said Rams coach Chad Brubaker. “It allowed us to run the football. When we’re outnumbered in the box, we throw the ball. It’s just a matter of taking what the defense gives us.

“7-8 years ago, we probably ran plays out of more formations than anyone. Now we’ve simplified that, which makes it a lot easier for our quarterback to make decisions.”

That’s not the only thing that’s changed over the past several years. As Coach Heist, a Perkiomen Valley graduate, pointed out, there was a time not too long ago when the Vikings couldn’t really compete with Spring-Ford in football. It took some time for the program to get its footing, and they ultimately would do so throughout the coaching tenure of Scott Reed and now into the third year’s of Heist’s regime. Even with two consecutive victories under their belts in the rivalry, that underdog mentality’s never really faded from the Vikings’ locker room.

“They (Spring-Ford) routinely thumped us,” Heist recalled. “For me, my staff — we’re PV guys, and that feeling’s never really gone away. And our players are a reflection of their coaching staff. We do our best to remind our kids of the importance, the tradition, and heritage of this game. It’s a great opportunity, to play in this game — this rivalry is certainly known throughout the Eastern part of the state, and maybe the whole state.”

Perkiomen Valley’s Malik Smith II (9) and Jake Sterling (56) bottle up Owen J. Roberts’ Marcus Martin after a reception. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Before this season, Brubaker said in his estimation, Perkiomen Valley has been more prepared and ready to play in this game the past two years. Perhaps more notably, no one really stepped forward to challenge his assertion. Will it be different in 2018?

“It’s not as if we’ve dominated this league (through my tenure),” Brubaker said this week. “We’ve won the PAC twice in nine years. You have to guard against the belief that you can just show up and everything will fall into place. The past two years, it felt like (PV’s) kids just wanted it more. This year, our kids recognize that PV has won the league two years straight. We should be the hungrier team.”

Speaking of hunger, each week Brubaker has a different coach address his team after their pregame meal. This week’s choice was an easy one. “Coach (Jim) Mich (SF’s defensive coordinator) is sure to give a very poignant speech,” said Brubaker. “He’s had this one circled on the calendar from the jump.”

In this area, he’s far from the only one.

 

Upper Merion (5-3, 3-1 PAC Frontier) at Pope John Paul II (7-1, 3-1 PAC Frontier); 1 p.m. Saturday >> The loser of PV/Spring-Ford gets the winner of this one in next week’s PAC crossover week that pits the Liberty and Frontier teams at the same place in the standings against each other. The Golden Panthers’ lone blemish this year came at the hands of Frontier champion Pottsgrove, who earned that title with last week’s 17-7 decision over Upper Merion.

The host Panthers come in off a 20-12 victory over Pottstown, where the defense stepped up in place on an uncharacteristically sluggish offense. Linebacker Justin Mitala led the way for the Panthers, who’ll need another strong effort on that side of the ball to match up with the stingy Vikings.

“Upper Merion’s got one of the best defenses around,” confirmed PJP head coach Rory Graver. “We need to be detail-oriented on offense while cleaning up some mistakes on special teams.”

For Victor Brown’s Upper Merion, the sting of last week’s defeat could be soothed with a bounce-back performance in Royersford Saturday. The Vikings showed a willingness to open up the offense a bit last week, as junior Dale Clayton threw the ball 33 times, compiling 189 yards and a long touchdown pass to Marc Clayton.

Phoenixville (3-5, 1-3 PAC Frontier) at Pottsgrove (8-0, 4-0 PAC Frontier) >> Despite clinching the division title last week in a 17-7 win over Upper Merion, coach Bill Hawthorne’s Falcons need no added motivation this week, knowing they’ll be facing a team coming off their biggest win of the year next season, no matter the outcome of PV/Spring-Ford. Additionally, they have their No. 1 ranking in District 1 Class 4A to maintain… and who doesn’t want to be undefeated? Jayden Tucker, who snatched a pair of interceptions last week, and Isaiah Glover’s continued effort and clutch play on defense will be pivotal against a punishing Phoenixville running game.

The Phantoms have everything to gain with an upset, not the least of which is a more solid standing in the race for Districts, as Phoenixville currently stands at No. 15 in what will ultimately be a 16-team field in District 1 Class 5A. Coach Don Grinstead hopes to see QB Connor Patania build on the rhythm found in the passing game during last week’s 49-0 win over Upper Perkiomen.

Owen J. Roberts (5-3, 2-2 PAC Liberty) at Methacton (1-7, 1-3 PAC Liberty) >> The Wildcats, currently No. 14 in District 1 Class 6A, could feel a lot more secure in their playoff hopes with a win here, but it will require a quick recovery from a disappointing effort in last week’s 30-7 loss to Spring-Ford. It’s a week of recovery for OJR, who hopes to have several players back from injury or illness, perhaps chief amongst them Liberty Division leading rusher Marcus Martin, who was clearly hampered by an injury against Spring-Ford.

For Methacton, nose guard Tonee Ellis thwarted Norristown’s running game a week ago with 10 tackles—including four for a loss of yardage—and will look to do the same against Martin and the OJR attack. Special teams could be the key for the Warriors, who’ve blocked nine kicks this season, led by senior Colby Stahl’s four deflections.

Pottstown (4-4, 1-3 PAC Frontier) at Upper Perkiomen (1-7, 0-4 PAC Frontier) >> This one promises to be a physical matchup, as Pottstown’s Mark Fischer acknowledged his desire to play ball-control football against an Upper Perk defense known for loading the box and forcing teams to beat them on the outside. Dereck Darden, Jahzeel Watson, and Ezra Figueroa should have an opportunity to repeat last week’s solid performance in a 20-12 loss to PJP in order to limit a struggling Indians offense with only nine points scored in conference play this year.

Norristown (2-6, 1-3 PAC Liberty) at Boyertown (1-7, 0-4 PAC Liberty) >> The host Bears will attempt to salvage an in-conference win this year. The return of starting QB Ayden Mathias yielded 83 rushing yards and two scores last week, but it wasn’t enough in a 42-21 loss to Perkiomen Valley.
Norristown looks to pick up their third win this year and build their first winning streak under coach Joe Milligan. QB Daniel Watson and leading receiver Christian Thomas figure to test a young Boyertown secondary early and often.

Daniel Boone (4-4, 1-3 Berks I) at Twin Valley (4-4, 2-3 Berks I) >> The Blazers stopped their mid-season slide last week with a resounding 38-21 victory over Muhlenberg, in which quarterback Tommy Buchert broke out with 192 rushing yards and four total scores (three rushing, one passing). This week it’ll be the Blazers’ defense that needs to step to the forefront against a Twin Valley squad that has managed to crack double figures in only two of their five league contests thus far. Chase Lacey and Tanner Vanderslice join Buchert in powering a rushing attack that carries the Blazers’ playoff hopes (currently ranked No. 18 in District 3 Class 5A, with only 14 teams qualifying) on their backs.

Blair Academy (NJ) (3-2) at Hill School (0-6); Saturday 4:30 p.m. >> The Rams don’t get much of a break after last week’s 60-7 drubbing at the hands of The Hun School. They welcome Blair Academy (NJ) to Pottstown. The Bucs will be well-rested after taking home a victory by forfeit (official score of 2-0) over Mercersburg Academy last week. Mercersburg is scheduled to square off with Hill School next week.

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