LOWER PAXTON >> Reece Udinski knew at some point, he would be playing quarterback and Terrance Greene was going to be open.
Considering it was Greene and his St. Joe’s Prep teammates that had knocked Udinski and his North Penn fellows out of the PIAA football playoffs in the fall, it was going to be interesting. So, Saturday night at Central Dauphin’s Landis Field, Udinski had Greene open.
He didn’t hesitate to the former Prep standout.
“That was kind of the special part,” Udinski said. “This week in practice, we obviously had a connection due to him knocking us out, which I was still a little bitter about. But it was fun to get to know him and play with him and we just clicked on the field. It was weird, but we all wanted to represent Pennsylvania.”
Udinski and a handful of other local players represented Pennsylvania in the 60th Annual Big 33 Classic football game Saturday, where PA defeated a team of Maryland all-stars 44-33. Udinski led the Keystone State to scores on four of the six drives he engineered, going 9-of-15 with 183 yards passing and two touchdowns. His efficient efforts earned the record-setting North Penn graduate PA’s game MVP honors.
“To be selected in this game is truly an honor, it’s only 33 guys from the whole state and playing in front of a big crowd, it’s just good to be back with football,” Udinski said while holding the MVP trophy. “All my credit goes to (North Penn) Coach (Dick) Beck. I hope he’s proud because I wanted to make him proud. I can’t thank him and North Penn enough for everything. I just wanted to represent North Penn well and I hope they’re proud.”
Greene, one of three Prep players on the PA roster, had an explosive game with 162 yards and two scores, including a 72-yarder, on just five catches. Archbishop Wood standout tailback Shawn Thompson ran for 88 yards on 20 carries, playing one last time for Wood coach Steve Devlin, who served as the PA offensive coordinator.
Much of the PA offense was run behind the offensive line anchored by Cardinal O’Hara left tackle Des Holmes, a Norristown resident. Jack Crossed and defensive back Ricky Goodson also represented the Prep while Keanan Baines was representing Conwell-Egan.
While the PA roster had undergone some changes since it was revealed in February, it gave a chance to guys like Thompson, whose impact often went unheralded in the high school season.
“It was a great opportunity to play in a game with a bunch of great players from Maryland and Pennsylvania,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t say it’s just me. It wouldn’t work without the offensive linemen, the receivers and the quarterbacks doing their part too.”
HEART OF AN UNDERDOG
Thompson had the game’s first positive offensive play, a 20-yard run off the left side behind a block from Holmes. He also scored the game’s first touchdown on an eight-yard trap play on a Udinski-led drive.
The running back was introduced as continuing his career at East Stroudsburg but Thompson confirmed after the game he is still uncommitted although he will likely finalize plans to go to East Stroudsburg soon.
Unsurprisingly, Devlin called his hammer tailback’s number often and Thompson’s relentless style had the game’s TV commentators calling him a “workhorse” and marveling at the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder’s second and third efforts to gain extra yards.
“My mentality is I’m always an underdog and from Day One, I was the underdog and just wanted to prove my point,” Thompson said. “I was happy to get in and after a week went by my mentality was to show them what it means to play like an underdog.”
Despite being a late addition, Thompson said he bonded very well with the entire PA roster, but especially the only other running back on the Pennsylvania roster. Jaelen Thompson, out of Middletown and not related to Shawn, runs with a similar hard-nosed edge to Wood’s Thompson and the tailbacks hit off quickly.
Thompson said he was added to the roster about a month ago, but he had continued to work out even after winning a state basketball title with Wood. The back said he’s in the best shape he’s been in and feels even better than he did during the fall football season thanks to his training.
“We was just trying to run everybody over,” Holmes said. “He had plenty of intensity and hype for the game and I love that kind of intensity because that’s also what I try to bring to the game.”
A state champ in football last fall as well, Thompson closed out his high school career with a very memorable senior season.
“It’s exactly what mentality was, at first I was just happy and thanking God that He allowed it to happen,” Thompson said. “Then after thinking about it, I knew I wanted to come out here and prove my point.”
There’s one thing that’s always irritated Holmes.
While he was blowing up as a late-blooming recruit, eventually netting a three-star rating by some sites and signing with Penn State, his recruiting profile always had one error. Because he played for Cardinal O’Hara, the 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle’s hometown was always listed as Delaware County’s Springfield.
He’s very much from Norristown and very proud of it.
“My problem is ESPN.com has me being from Springfield because I go to O’Hara and I rep Norristown all day,” Holmes said. “Definitely put that in there, I rep Norristown all day, every day.”
While he didn’t play high school ball in Norristown, Holmes still lives there as do his uncles and grandfather, who taught him the game and instilled his competitive nature. As a kid and even into middle school, he matched up with a lot of what he called “gritty guys,” who played the game hard.
“Norristown’s not a big place,” Holmes said. “My family is from there, so when I rep with the name on my back, that’s all attached to Norristown.”
Holmes came on late in his junior year at O’Hara, then turned a strong summer into some serious Division I interest. He brought his hard-working drive to Big 33 practices, going up and going hard with future Penn State teammate Damion Barber from Harrisburg all week.
“He’s a hard-working kid and Penn State has a good thing coming to them,” Shawn Thompson said.
While he’s accepted a scholarship to a big-name program, Holmes still has a little bit of that chip on his shoulder and didn’t lose sight of what Saturday’s game meant.
“I did not imagine myself ever being in this type of game,” Holmes said. “It was amazing, I thought ‘I’m finally here,’ the week of practice went so fast, we got the job done and it feels real good right now.”
PREP PAYS OFF
Ricky Goodson, listed as Frederick Goodson on the game roster, wasn’t always a defensive back for The Prep.
But he showed how far he’s come with a huge pass breakup in the fourth quarter on Saturday. With Maryland down just 30-21 at the time and facing 4th-and-7 on their own 48, they decided to go for it. Quarterback Jabari Laws uncorked a deep ball down the left side, which Goodson and a receiver went up for and Goodson was able to wrestle down for an incompletion.
“I saw the ball coming to me and I just wanted to make the most out of the play,” Goodson said. “I went to pick it initially, but he got hands on it so all I could do was break it up. I was excited to get the breakup and happy to share that excitement with my teammates.”
Committed to Amherst College, Goodson didn’t undersell the experience of getting to play with two of his Prep teammates in Greene and H-back Jack Crossed one more time.
“It was special, they’re my really good friends, we’re all close but it was fun to be up here all week with them,” Goodson said. “It was cool to meet so many new people too, everybody was cool but it was still nice to have that core of people with me.”
The only Prep guy on the defensive side, Goodson nevertheless fit right in with the high-energy, ball-hawking PA defense. Downingtown East’s Jeremy Jennings had an interception, Baines got great pressure on a first-half rush to force an incompletion and Valley Forge linebacker Audley Isaacs was in on at least 10 tackles.
“From not knowing anybody coming in, we all bonded so quickly,” Goodson said. “It was everything from jokes to seriousness to shared moments. We had a good time and the defense, we stuck real tight together so when it was game time, we knew what our strengths and weakness were. I was excited to play with this group.”
Greene, a Monmouth recruit, had a quiet first half with just one grab for 11 yards, but it was a good one as the 5-foot-11 speedster made a sliding snare of a Udinski pass.
He went off after halftime. After Maryland scored on the opening drive of the third quarter, Cedar Cliff’s Grant Brenenman led PA down the field and capped it off with a 31-yard TD strike to Greene.
Udinski was up on the next drive and he twice found Greene on a scoring drive, the first a nine-yard completion on third-and-8 to move the sticks. After Greene was held by a Maryland corner as Udinski looked his way, the North Penn quarterback went right back to him after the pass interference flag.
This time, there was no hold and Greene scorched the same corner for a 39-yard gain to set up a Jaelen Thompson touchdown.
“It means a lot, as a kid, everybody looks up to this game and to have three kids from our one school is amazing,” Greene said. “The number one thing was to have fun but we all knew we wanted one thing and that was to go out of our last high school game with a win.”
Greene’s highlight play came after Jennings’ pick. He took off down the field and got under a heave from Brenenman, outpacing everybody for a 72-yard touchdown. Goodson said he started jumping up and down the entire sideline once he saw his teammate make the grab.
Like Goodson, Greene gained plenty from the new relationships he made. The receiver noted his game buddy, Mason, and his host family, the Hunters as making a big impact on him in the short time they spent together.
Getting one last game with his brothers was a nice bonus too.
“We came a long way together from when we were freshmen,” Greene said. “Ricky didn’t always play corner, but the transition was good for him and I wish him luck. I love him a lot.”
THE FINAL ACT
There was no doubt what Udinski’s best play of the night was.
On 3rd-and-13 from the PA 49 nearing the midway point of the fourth quarter, Udinski rolled out to his left. With a couple Maryland guys closing, he unleashed a picture-perfect spiral down the left sideline that nestled into the hands of Darian Street.
Street did the rest en route to a 49-yard touchdown that put PA up 37-21 and gave them control of the game.
“It was my receiver making a great play,” Udinski said. “He made it easy for me. He got open and it made my job easy. We just wanted to put the game away and I’m definitely happy I had the ball in my hands to do that.”
Udinski said Devlin opened things up in the second half and it let the offense take advantage. Udinski completed passes to four different receivers with Greene getting three balls for 59 yards.
“That brings us together because as competitors, we respect each other,” Greene said. “Knowing I played against him and I saw him work hard, it brought us together. Me knowing his ability and him knowing my ability, I think it just made us that much more excited to work together.”
Udinski said he might have annoyed Brenenman with how much he was asking of the Colgate recruit but said the two shared plenty in their week together. Likewise, Udinski understands the value and meaning of the Big 33, both on the field and off of it and thanked the PSFCA for its efforts to keep the game alive.
His advice to the guys coming back to North Penn? “Beat La Salle.”
It was probably unintentional, but the football player on top of Udinski’s MVP trophy appeared to have his No. 7 carved on the shoulders.
“I’m just proud all the hard work paid off,” Udinski said. “Ending the season with North Penn the way it did, I didn’t want to go out like that so to be able to do all this was great.”
Top Photo: North Penn’s Reece Udinski poses with the Pennsylvania Player of the Game Trophy at the Big 33 Football Classic at Landis Field on Saturday, June 17, 2017. (Mark Palczewski/For Digital First Media)