First, the good news: Pottstown and Pottsgrove each hosted and won first-round games in District One Class 4A, ensuring that at least one district title will find a home in the Pioneer Athletic Conference in 2018.
The two schools will meet at Rick Pennypacker Field on Friday night in a rematch of a Week 5 matchup that saw the Falcons prevail, 45-6, to determine which school moves into the PIAA portion of the 4A championships.
Now, the bad news: the 5A and 6A seasons are over for the local schools after a Friday night that was messy in more ways than one.
Phoenixville went into the 5A playoffs as a No. 15 seed and a heavy underdog to No. 2 Upper Dublin. The Cardinals, who won a district title just three short years ago, flexed their muscles in a 41-12 victory.
While the outcome wasn’t what they wanted, the Phantoms, who ended the season at 4-7, laid the foundation for a program rebuild this past season. The expression “just happy to be there” sounds condescending, but making it to the playoffs was considered a longshot for Phoenixville at the start of the campaign, so in the end the Phantoms exceeded most expectations.
On the other hand, 5A Upper Merion and 6A schools Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford hosted matchups that were considered anything from toss-ups to the PAC schools being slight favorites. Upper Merion welcomed Interboro, while Perkiomen Valley hosted Quakertown and Spring-Ford went against Downingtown East. By night’s end, all three schools were on the wrong end of the outcomes. Across Classes 5A and 6A, only four of 16 host teams fell to defeat this weekend, and three of them call the PAC home (Springfield-Delco of the Central League, which struggled similarly with a 2-6 overall record in Classes 5A and 6A, was the other.)
So what went wrong?
For Upper Merion, a 22-13 lead in the late second quarter quickly deteriorated in a sea of special teams mistakes and turnovers, as No. 9 Interboro took control shortly after halftime and salted away a 33-22 victory. One of the area’s most improved teams, the mistakes and turnovers were a uncharacteristic means for the typically disciplined Vikings to meet their demise.
“Those are things that are tough to recover from, especially when they result in points for the other team,” said Upper Merion coach Victor Brown.
For the 6A teams, the games got away in different fashions.
Perkiomen Valley’s potent offense could do little but stand and watch as Quakertown controlled the ball for 34 of the game’s 48 minutes, pounding away for 268 yards rushing in a 26-14 victory over the three-time PAC champs.
“I thought this was our best game of the year in terms of execution,” Quakertown coach George Banas said after the win. “We said time of possession would win this game.”
“It’s tough not getting the ball,” agreed PV’s Rob Heist. “They had some long drives… and we weren’t able to do what we wanted to do on offense.”
For Quakertown, who moves on to face Garnet Valley in the quarterfinals, the conditions at Perk Valley were unfamiliar but ultimately to their liking. The muddy terrain represented the Panthers’ first experience with a grass field, but RB Christian Patrick racked up 196 yards and two scores on his 31 carries.
You certainly couldn’t blame the playing surface in Royersford.
In fact, both squads had trouble holding on to the football in the early going, as the teams combined for five turnovers in the first 13 minutes of action. But after a 47-yard Stan Bryant interception return gave Downingtown East a 7-0 lead on Spring-Ford, most observers figured the Cougars would go to their ground game and chew up clock.
They were half-right. After another Spring-Ford fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Downingtown increased the tempo, churning out three successive running plays in about 40 seconds to increase the advantage to 13-0. Minutes later, the Rams had a poor exchange on a punt, and Downingtown quickly traversed another short field and went into the break with a 19-0 advantage.
In all, the Cougars pounded their way to 349 yards rushing on an eye-popping 75 carries. It wasn’t an ideal night for Spring-Ford QB Ryan Engro to attempt 46 passes, but the early deficit left coach Chad Brubaker little recourse. Engro would reach 302 yards passing on the evening—202 of them to junior WR Dante Bonanni—and a pair of passing TDs to go with one interception.
But the story of the 39-12 Cougars victory was told up front.
“These games are won in the weight room,” said Downingtown East’s Zach Hamilton, who ran for 194 yards and three scores on the evening. “We’ve been putting in the work since January 2.”
Hamilton never implied that Spring-Ford — or any other team for that matter — wasn’t working just as hard as his Cougars. What they have done is build in different fashions.
The top PAC Liberty teams have embraced a spread offense, pass-heavy (by high school standards) approach, while their respective Ches-Mont and Suburban One opponents still prefer the old-fashioned, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust tradition. On a night of what the old-school traditionalists might call ‘real’ football weather — score one for the smashmouth-style teams.
For Perkiomen Valley, the loss ends a string of three consecutive years with at least one victory in the district playoffs. But Coach Heist says goodbye to a third consecutive senior class with a championship. The Class of 2019 can say that they never dropped a PAC game in their three years on varsity.
For Spring-Ford, it’s the end of another season sooner than they’d wished, but with a host of returning skill-position players, it’s not hard to envision the usually potent Rams offense having ample chances to avenge Friday night in 2019.
Pope John Paul II also saw its season come to a premature ending, as New Hope-Solebury avenged a Week 2 defeat with a 42-34 victory over the Golden Panthers Saturday night in Conshohocken. PJP built a 21-0 lead at the half, but saw it evaporate in a flurry of second-half turnovers. The Lions won the turnover battle, 5-0, and advanced to this Friday’s Class 3A championship game against District 12’s Conwell Egan.
Around the Area
The PAC’s tough weekend means they are the only one of the five prominent District One conferences without a representative remaining at the 5A or 6A level. Records by league throughout the two largest classifications were as follows:
Suburban One National >> 6-3
Ches-Mont >> 5-3
Del-Val >> 3-0
Central >> 2-6
PAC >> 0-4
Daniel Boone put a cherry on top of perhaps the area’s most pronounced turnaround season, avenging a week 2 loss to Owen J. Roberts with a 28-20 victory to claim the Eastern Conference 5A/6A championship.
The Blazers, who finished 2018 at a mark of 6-5 after winning only five games the previous two seasons combined, outrushed the Wildcats by almost a 2:1 margin, led by quarterback Tommy Buchert’s 92-yard TD run to open the scoring. Buchert completed only two passes on the evening, but one of them was a 50-yard scoring strike to Chase Lacey, breaking a 14-all tie and giving Boone a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Hill School snapped their eight-year skid against archrival Lawrenceville in a 33-23 season-ending win that saw the Blues, who started the campaign with seven consecutive losses, end the year on a two- game winning streak. Maurice Mazzccua led the Blue with 197 yards rushing and two tallies on only 18 carries.
Offensive Player of the Week >> A losing effort against Downingtown East overshadowed the career night of Spring-Ford junior wide receiver Dante Bonanni, who had a school record 12 catches and a PAC season-high 202 yards to go with a touchdown catch in Spring-Ford’s 39-12 loss.
Defensive Player of the Week >> It was the Ryan Bodolus show at Pottsgrove on Friday, as the senior DE/TE filled up the stat sheet forced two fumbles —recovering and returning the first for a 39-yard touchdown — blocked an extra point, and was credited with two sacks in Pottsgrove’s 14-13 win over Bishop Shanahan.
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