Reece Udinski said the North Penn football knew quickly it had a chance to do something special this season.
“I think as a team the first game against La Salle was really the turning point of our season,” the Knights senior quarterback said. “Winning that game just gave us a huge amount of confidence and we never really looked back.”
Udinski threw for 207 yards with four touchdowns to four different receivers as North Penn ended a four-game losing streak to the Explorers, winning the Week 1 matchup at Crawford Stadium 33-24.
The season would only get better for Udinski and the Knights. The 2016 The Reporter and The Times Herald Football Athlete of the Year, Udinski became only the second player in Pennsylvania history to throw for more than 4,000 yards as North Penn went 14-1 and claimed the inaugural District 1-6A crown – its first district title in five seasons.
“It was pretty special, something I definitely dreamed of,” said Udinski, who verbally committed to FCS school Virginia Military Institute in December. “At the beginning of the year, the senior class had goals and obviously one of them was the District 1 championship so I’m just glad we were able to accomplish that.”
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Udinski, who was named to the Pennsylvania Football Writers All-State Class 6A team, finished with 4,119 yards and 39 touchdowns passing, averaging 274.6 yards per game throwing to a talented receiving corps led by fellow all-state selection Ricky Johns, Jake Hubler (first team All-Suburban One League Continental) and Justis Henley, a honorable mention all-conference receiver along with an all-state pick at defensive back.
“I think that just goes back to our chemistry what we worked on in the offseason,” Udinski said. “We’re all really close friends, we’re all close friends in school so I think that we just put our minds together and we wanted to accomplish something big this year.”
Johns was Udinski’s favorite target. The big-play senior receiver, who verbally committed to West Virginia, hauled in 54 passes for 1,296 yards and 11 touchdowns. It’s no surprise the duo has a great rapport off the field as they did on it.
“Coming into the school my junior year I knew who he was. I made it a point to be friends with him and of course being neighbors obviously helped,” Udinski said. “Our relationship has just grown tremendously over the past two years. Being great friends with him and working on our game, pushing each other has just helped.”
Udinski was under center for a North Penn offense that averaged 40.4 points per game, the most by a Knights squad in coach Dick Beck’s 15 seasons. North Penn scored at least 33 points in 12 of its 15 games and twice eclipsed 50 – 52-6 over William Tennent in Week 8 and 56-7 over Haverford in the District 1-6A first round.
“I think just repetition was big for me,” Udinski said. “Of course my junior was my first year at North Penn, so it kind of was like my first year with the new system and everything. So, being my second year in I wanted to just practice perfection. Like I said in the offseason we put in new plays, I think Coach Beck relied on me to learn those new plays and they clearly worked out for the best.”
Udinski threw for more than 300 yards five times, including back-to-back weeks in SOL Continental road victories over Central Bucks South (367 yards, three TDs) and Central Bucks East (316, three TDs). In nine games, Udinski had at least three touchdown passes – tossing a season-best five against Pennridge in the Week 5 win.
North Penn secured their fourth consecutive Suburban One League conference title in 2016, its 6-0 Continental record stretching their winning streak in conference play to 18 games.
The Knights went 10-0 in the regular season, earning the top seed in the District 1-6A postseason. After routing Haverford in the opening round North Penn topped Spring-Ford 28-18 in the quarters. Udinski finished with 331 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams, connecting with Johns seven times for 193 yards and two scores.
A week later in the semifinals, Udinski passed for 257 yards and a score – a perfect-placed strike to Owen Thomas that went for 68 yards in the second quarter – as the Knights topped Coatesville 42-25.
It was the third time in four seasons North Penn reached the district championship, but the previous two trips ended in defeat, including a 46-21 loss to Upper Dublin in the 2015 4A final.
This time would be different. Garnet Valley could not slow down Udinski and the NP attack at Crawford Stadium. Udinski went an efficient 23-for-28 for an astounding 444 yards and four touchdowns – 209 yards and one score going to Johns – as the Knights celebrated their first district crown since 2011 with a 48-38 win over the Jaguars.
“That district title game was one that we had marked on our calendars so the fact that we were able to accomplish that no matter how we won, we just wanted to win,” Udinski said. “So, I just wanted to do my best to help that.”
The victory gave North Penn 14 wins on the season, becoming just the third NP team under Beck to reach that plateau. And while their great year came to end in the PIAA 6A semifinals by St. Joseph’s Prep, the Knights gave the nationally-ranked and eventual state champ Hawks everything they could handle at Northeast High School.
“I know the last game was a little bit of a bummer but we can definitely look back and be proud,” Udinski said.