[colored_box color=”blue”]By Andrew Marcusfirstname.lastname@example.org[/colored_box]
QUAKERTOWN — There is a mythical back page of the football playbook that is usually saved for the Thanksgiving morning. However, Quakertown and Pennridge, who will play for the 85th time this year, had to pull out all the stops a few weeks earlier this season.
The District 1-AAAA playoff seeded the rivals against each other in the first round. The double-reverses, flea-flickers, and misdirection were plentiful.
However when you have your quarterback bring a play back into the huddle that has not been rehearsed as much as your typical dives and slants, mistakes may occur. A solid mixture of adrenaline, anxiety, and poor execution all led to a 14-10 win for the fourth-seeded Panthers at Alumni Field on Friday over the 13th-seeded Rams.
“This was two teams battling their hearts out and that is kind of the bottom line,’ Rams coach Jeff Hollenbach said. “Unfortunately we came out on the short end, but it was a great football game.’
It was not necessarily the trickiest of plays that caused the most serious of headaches. It was more just the Rams (7-4 overall) trying to fight for the extra yard when it was not there. The steadiest of hands Joe Unangst lost control of the football twice, with one of the fumbles resulting in the Panthers (10-1) football.
“You could tell we were a little nervous in the first half,’ Unangst said. “A lot of it is on me. I was missing a lot of holes. Sometimes it does not go your way and I guess that is what happen tonight. Win or lose it was a great atmosphere and something awesome to be a part of.’
Unangst did his best to make up for early miscue and he kept churning his way up the new Quakertown turf. He finished with 26 carries for 231 rushing yards, including a 47-yard run that put the Rams at the nine yard line to start the fourth quarter.
Ethan Aigeldinger hit a 28-yard field goal, his first field goal of the season, to finally get the Rams on the board. Then Unangst scored from 12 yards out to put the Rams ahead with seven minutes remaining in the game to give Pennridge its first lead.
“My line did great for me,’ Unangst said. “They were opening up big holes and I missed some of them. The hole unit did an awesome job and I could not ask for a better line.’
The second turnover of the first half led to the first points. As well as it was covered, the Panthers’ execution was just a little better. Senior quarterback Alex Vera hit junior Kyle Baskin on a beautiful fade route in the corner of the end zone. The success led to a few more passing play calls from Panthers coach George Banas and Vera finished with 5-for-11 for 88 yards, including the game-winning 20 yard touchdown pass to Tyler Kisbaugh in the fourth quarter. He was also able to extend drives with his feet and recorded 40 yards on the ground.
“I know we had two or three of our better tacklers wrapped Vera up,’ Hollenbach said. “He hurt us with his arms, but he really hurt us with his legs tonight.’
The two first-half turnovers could have been forgotten, thanks to a superb defensive effort, which held the Panthers to 214 total yards of offense.
Instead, the two Ram turnovers in the second half will haunt Pennridge for a long time.
Senior Imeir Simmons recovered a fumble on defense and nearly stole the headlines by following that game-breaking play up with a 25-yard sprint to the end zone in the final minutes. But the Panthers punched the ball out one yard shy of the end zone.
“In the second half we got the jitters out and we were ready to play,’ Unangst said. “Imeir had a great game, he is a great player, and he is going to go play in college. He has a bright future ahead of him. It was just a tough break tonight.’
The Panthers did give the ball right back as Jordan Garis jumped on a loose ball on the 20 yard line with one minute remaining in the game. But on fourth down and seven yards to go the Rams had no choice but to dig deep into that playbook once more. Junior quarterback Matt Kraynik threw a pass into the arms of Kisbaugh for the second time, sealing the Rams fate.
The Panthers will host fifth-seed Downingtown West (27-24 winners over Perk Valley) next week in the districts quaterfinals. The Rams will wait for their chance at revenge on Thanksgiving morning.
“We are not going to be able to throw the ball real well down the field and that is a bit of an issue,’ Hollenbach said. “My kids played their hearts out and we just could not get the extra score. We’ll see what Quakertown situation is, moving on here, but we will play a Thanksgiving game.’
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