LOWER GWYNEDD >> North Penn’s Evan Spann “found the curl,” and his 30-yard interception return for a touchdown locked down a rain-swept, 13-6 victory over Neshaminy in the quarterfinal round of the District 1-6A Playoffs Friday night.
“We were telling Evan all week, ‘find the curl, find the curl,” Knights coach Dick Beck said, “and finally he found the curl. And (quarterback Brody McAndrew) threw it a little late and Evan got the pick six.”
The top-seeded Knights (12-0) go thundering into the semifinals to take on Downingtown West next week at Crawford Stadium. No. 8 Neshaminy, its season bookended by close losses to North Penn, finished its season 8-4.
“Credit North Penn for a really good pass rush,” Skins coach Steve Wilmot said, “and they were covering us pretty well too.”
It was an evening in which Neshaminy running back Chris James gained 139 yards on the ground — 107 in the first half alone — but North Penn’s defense refused to cede precious points.
Even without the services of standout linebacker Erik Laughlin, NP’s leader in tackles, the Knights persisted.
“We knew we were gonna start off a little weak because Laughlin got hurt in pregame warmups,” Spann said. “So the next man had to step up and we kept fighting, didn’t give up.”
And that next man was Julian White.
Said Beck: “Julian has never played that position before, and we just put him in and said ‘make plays.’ I’m just so proud of the kids. It’s a great group.”
“We don’t stop fighting until we get what we needed done,” Spann said. “It feels great (to advance). I’m excited.”
James’ first three carries went for 19, 11 and 22 yards on the drenched Wissahickon turf, helping to drive Neshaminy to the North Penn four.
But ultimately, the Knights would force a field-goal attempt, which sailed wide, keeping the game scoreless. Neshaminy drove to the North Penn 22 on its next series but this time turned it over on downs.
McAndrew was under siege.
“Their pass rush was very good,” Wilmot said. “They were kind of keeping Brody on his toes back there and he really wasn’t able to set his feet and throw the ball.”
Behind the running of James, the Skins again mounted a drive late in the first quarter, cashing in with a four-yard touchdown run by Oleh Manzvk. The extra point was blocked by the Knights.
North Penn answered in the second quarter, an eight-yard TD run by quarterback Solomon Robinson pushing NP ahead 7-6.
There it stayed for most of the rainy evening. Neshaminy drove to the North Penn 16 in the third quarter but again the North Penn defense held, forcing a turnover on downs.
“(James) is a real talented kid and things were clicking with the run game,” Wilmot said. “(North Penn) came out with a five-man front against the pass and we were having a tough time blocking them.”
The Knights had a chance to extend their lead with three minutes left but weren’t able to get off a field-goal attempt on a broken play.
Neshaminy’s final two possessions ended with interceptions, the second by Kaleem Corbin in the final moments.
“Two great programs. North Penn did a great job and I congratulate them on moving on,” said Manzvk, a Skins senior. “Our offensive line did a great job early and (North Penn) caught up to what we were doing, like a great team does, and they countered.”
It would be a night of missed opportunities for Neshaminy, and one giant opportunity seized by Spann and the North Penn defense.
“I saw an open lane and I just ran, as fast as I could,” Spann said of his mindset once he clutched the game-sealing interception.
“I thought our secondary,” Beck said, “against a heck of a quarterback, really had a good night.”
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