LOWER POTTSGROVE >> It was a “deja vu” kind of night for Pottsgrove Friday.
First in a not-so-pleasant way. Then in a much pleasanter vein at the end.
The start of District 1’s Class 4A championship game at Pottsgrove Stadium saw visiting Upper Perkiomen strike for a 6-0 lead over the Falcons on its first play after the opening kickoff. That was a similar situation Pottsgrove faced during a regular-season meeting with Boyertown back on Sept. 8, when the Bears got a lead on it just 39 seconds in.
But like that night, when it pulled together for a 49-14 victory, Pottsgrove recovered against the Indians for a 38-14 win. Another bit of “deja vu” was the victory enabled the Falcons to claim a second straight district title, providing a memorable cap to head coach Rick Pennypacker’s final game on the field that bears his name.
“It was all for coach,” Falcon quarterback Jay Sisko said against the backdrop of Pottsgrove (11-1 overall) celebrating its latest 4A championship.
Pennypacker will be calling it a career at Pottsgrove at the conclusion of this, his 28th season guiding the Falcon grid program to prominence. Along with the game, the night was a celebration of the successful legacy he built at the school.
It started with a number of his former players lining up in a “tunnel” through which he passed while entering Pennypacker Field at the start of the night. It ended with a Gatorade shower, the adulation of family and friends alike, the traditional “final walk” from end zone to end zone with his senior players, and the poignancy of coming to grips with the end of an era.
“It’s time for me to go,” Pennypacker, clutching a District 1 championship trophy for the third time, said. “It’s an emotional thing … the turnout of former player, the win, the trophy.”
It was a night when his last Pottsgrove football team was focused on sending its head coach out in proper style. The Falcons did that from their second possession on, opening a 22-6 halftime lead and putting the game out of the Indians’ reach in a 16-8 second half.
First, UP mounted a game-opening surge that saw Austin Tutolo field the kickoff at his 17 and return it to the Falcon 24. From there, quarterback Tyler Keyser hooked up with wide receiver Ryan Kendra on a corner pass in the end zone, good for a 6-0 lead 20 seconds in.
“We couldn’t ask for a better start,” head coach Tom Hontz said. “Our defense in the first series (three and out) was great. But they (Falcons) are overpowering.”
Rahsul Faison again provided Pottsgrove’s ground game the spark it needed to recover from the slow start. The senior tailback covered 212 yards on 31 totes and scored three times on runs of 32, 40 and one yards.
Faison also moved up to 15th place in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) record books for yards in a season. He came away from the game with 2,833 yards, edging past Eric Reynolds of Central Bucks South (Class of ‘07).
“This was a good way for him (Pennypacker) to go out,” Faison said. “It felt good.”
Sisko completed the Falcons’ eight-play, 50-yard march on its second possession by bulling two yards up the middle with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Its conversion kick was blocked, but a penalty against the Indians moved it one yard closer to the end zone, from where Elijah Chhuour ran it in for an 8-6 lead.
Pottsgrove padded its lead with 3:39 left before the end of the first half, Faison roaring through left tackle. And after holding the Indians to another three-and-out. The Falcons called on their passing game to score with 23 seconds to go, Sisko hooking up with Desmond Austin on a 20-yard completion before finding Ryan Bodolus on a six-yard scoring play.
“We knew we had to get after them,” Sisko said. “We stepped up from a bad start.”
The Falcons’ opening possession off the second-half kickoff saw Faison cover much of the 74 yards, capped by his scoring jaunt at the 8:02 mark. But Upper Perk (6-5) responded on the ensuing kickoff by marching 66 yards on 12 plays, Tyler Whary muscling the final yard to cut Pottsgrove’s lead to 28-14 and make it a two-possession game.
“This was a game where the final score wasn’t indicative,” Hontz said. “We both played tough. They (Pottsgrove) have a heck of a running back, a disciplined offensive line and a defense that doesn’t quit.
“I felt we were able to move the ball. When we got the running game going, Kendra was moving it.”
In response to the chilling temperatures and windy conditions, the game became predominantly ground-oriented. Sisko and Chhuour figured prominently on the Pottsgrove side, and Faison’s last scoring run coming two plays after Parris Janusek’s recovery of an Indian fumble with about five minutes left.
“Ground and pound, and finish it out,” Sisko said in describing Pottsgrove’s game plan. “We wanted to wear them down getting after them.”
Another reward for Pottsgrove’s title finish will be having a nearby site for the first round of the state playoffs. It will play next weekend at Spring-Ford … the site of Pennypacker’s high-school career, and the place where the Falcons hope to continue their winning ways.
“It should be a good one,” Faison said.
NOTES >> Pennypacker admitted having no idea the “tunnel” of his former players was being organized. “My wife and (athletic director Gary) DeRenzo kept the secret,” he said. “As a coach, you don’t know what kind of influence you have on the kids. Something like that says a lot.” … One humorous post-game occurrence was Pennypacker’s grandchildren unveiling a banner that said “Can u babysit?” it got a laugh out of the coach. … Nathan Kasper had a 29-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.