CONCORD >> It was frozen heartbreak for North Penn, sudden exhilaration for Garnet Valley, as the Jaguars rallied all the way back from 35-7 for a 36-35 victory in the quarterfinal round of the the District 1-6A Playoffs Friday night.
With just 46 seconds to go, Ryan Gallagaher ran in for a two-point conversion, providing the winning points.
“I gotta be honest, man, we thought he was gonna pitch it to (Danny Guy),” Jags coach Mike Ricci said of the two pointer, the final twist and turn in a game chock full of them. “He just up and kept it. It was unbelievable.”
The final 16 minutes as a whole bordered on the surreal, as third-seeded Garnet Valley erased a 28-point deficit to advance to next week’s semifinals, at home against Pennridge.
“The key is the resiliency,” Ricci said of his squad, ranked ninth in the Pa. Prep Live Top 20 coming in. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team tonight.”
North Penn (9-3), No. 5 in Pa. Prep Live Top 20, had won nine in a row coming in and seemed well on its way to making it 10, taking a 35-7 lead on Steve DePaul’s fourth touchdown pass of the night to wide receiver Justis Henley.
“We were in great shape and then (Garnet Valley) started getting a little pressure. We didn’t run the ball with enough consistency and I think the two fumbles were killers,” Knights coach Dick Beck said. “It was a great year. I thought for the most part the kids really responded well and you’re up 35-7, you think you’re gonna win that game.”
How it happened
The Jaguars refused to give up on their running attack and used a methodical 10-play drive — all runs — to get to within 35-14 when Gallagher kept it for a one-yard sneak with 4:23 left in the third quarter.
The sixth-seeded Knights were still firmily in control, but then came the key sequence of events.
Garnet Valley stuffed a North Penn fourth-down attempt but then the Knights did the same on the ensuing Jaguar possession.
However, back-to-back North Penn fumbles gave Garnet Valley life.
The Jaguars converted the first of the takeaways into an eight-yard run by Guy, making it 35-21. North Penn then fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and the Jaguars — in essance getting back-to-back possessions — cashed in with a one-yard run by Guy, tightening it to 35-28 with 6:26 left to play.
K.J. Cartwright gained four and then two incompletions brought the Knights to 4th-and-4, forcing them to punt.
The North Penn defense came up with another fourth-down stop and took over at its own 33. Anthony Andrews gained three, Khan Jamal powered for another three, but then a delay-of-game penalty forced the Knights into 3rd-and-9. DePaul sprinted for six but was stopped three yards short of the first down.
North Penn punted, and Garnet Valley’s final chance began at its 28-yard line with two minutes to play.
On 3rd-and-9 at the 9, Gallagher hit Kevin Doherty on a pass along the sideline, and Doherty made a couple moves and was on his way to a 46-yard gain, putting the Jags (11-1) in position.
Two plays later, Guy gathered in a short pass from Gallagher, made a terrific spin move and raced into the end zone to make it 35-34 with 46 seconds left to go.
Garnet Valley called timeout and decided to go for two.
“We felt like we had the momentum at the end of the game and wanted to take advantage of it,” Ricci said. “We felt like we had a play we could run down there.”
“We run the option all the time,” Gallagher said coolly. “We run it in practice every week so we’re ready for everything.”
Knights air it out
For three quarters, North Penn couldn’t be stopped.
The Knights reached the end zone on each of their first four possessions and on three of those occasions, it was DePaul finding the speedy Henley for a touchdown.
DePaul hit Henley for a 36-yard score to quickly put North Penn in front 7-0. Shortly after, DePaul connected with Henley for 49 and the margin doubled to 14-0.
After a one-yard plunge by the Jaguars’ Matthew Lassik (game-high 124 yds) trimmed it to 14-7, DePaul threw to Henley for 33 and a 21-7 lead. Running back K.J. Cartwright dove in from 10 to stretch the Knight advantage to 28-7 at the break.
DePaul connected with Henley for a fourth time in the third quarter to give the Knights their 35-7 lead.
Garnet Valley’s defense/special teams took control in the fourth, though, forcing two turnovers, plugging the running lanes and pressuring DePaul.
“We just couldn’t get the pass protection. So we really struggled that way,” Beck said. “It was a bad night for us. (Garnet Valley) came out in the second half and never quit.”
North Penn worked the ball to midfield on its final series but Joshua Ciarrocchi crashed in on DePaul, sacking him as time expired.
Despite record-setting low temperatures and swirling winds, DePaul completed 13 of 20 passes, picking out four different targets for 250 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Henley, a senior, grabbed eight balls for 159 yards and four TD’s, ran it three times for 18 yards and added an interception.
Said Beck: “This is a good group and a real great group of seniors. These are guys I’ve really seen grow up since they were young.”