Academy Park falls short in loss to Pottsgrove

LOWER POTTSGROVE — He’ll be pursuing a state-level gold medal when wrestling season takes place this winter.

But don’t get the idea Pat Finn is looking to trade in his football jersey for a singlet … his helmet for wrestling headgear.

“Not yet,’ he said Friday, following Pottsgrove’s District One playoff game with Academy Park at Pennypacker Field. “I’m loving football right now.’

Finn and his Pottsgrove teammates — particularly those on the defensive side — got to love their current foray into the post-season. The Falcons put out an inspiring effort as they edged the Knights, 13-12, in the opening round of Class AAA action.

And it was the “D’ that carried the day for Pottsgrove (8-3). The district’s fourth seed was called on time and again to deal with its guests’ punishing ground game — one that pushed the ball into Falcon territory four times in the second half alone,

But to the locals’ credit, Academy Park (8-3) reached the end zone only one time in that span, workhorse running back Jermaine Wesley scoring on a 3-yard run to cap the Knights’ second possession. Still, that left Pottsgrove protecting a one-point lead for the game’s final 15:44.

“The defense played very well,’ head coach Rick Pennypacker said afterward. “I’m proud of them … our defensive coaches, the guys up front and in the secondary.’

The game’s final outcome was very much up in the air until the final minute, when AP ended up punting the ball away on a fourth-and-30 at its 44. The Knights had recovered a fumble at the Falcon 36, but a false-start and holding penalty combined with Kysan Harrow sacking Ruffin for a nine-yard loss drove them in the opposite direction.

The final series was a duel where Academy Park used its timeouts in an attempt to force the Falcons to turn the ball over on downs. But Pottsgrove won that battle, Devon Fink covered 13 yards on two runs to give his team a fresh set of downs with 53 seconds left.

“This is what we wanted,’ Pennypacker said. “We needed that game. Our defense was on the field too much.’

Finn and fellow lineman Chris DeFrancesco were the busiest members of a Pottsgrove defense that kept answering the bell to keep AP in check. Finn had 16 tackles and one sack of Knight quarterback Allon Ruffin, with DeFrancesco making 16 tackles and a pair of sacks.

“The fire in our hearts started up,’ Finn said. “Every time we (defense) went back out there, we wanted to do better.’

Among Pottsgrove’s more memorable stops was one at its six early in the second quarter, AP turning the ball over on downs. Another came on the Knights’ first series of the second half, Madison Kelsy recovering a fumble at the Falcon 11.

“That’s the way those guys play, like their hair is on fire,’ Pennypacker said. “They’re always trying to stop the ball.’

The Falcons’ heady defensive play made its two offensive scores end up being just enough.

They got on the board their first possession from the opening kickoff, quarterback Torin Verdone hooking up with Harrow on a 10-yard pass up the middle 3:40 in. Verdone (9-for-13, 139 yards) later connected with Mike Fowler on an electrifying 60-yard toss with 6:24 left in the first half — one Fowler set up with a kickoff return to the Falcon 40.

“It was a matter of sticking to our assignments,’ Finn said. “If we did that, we knew we’d be all right.’

Academy Park pulled even with Pottsgrove at the 6:42 mark of the second quarter, Ruffin hitting Jawan Collins with a 32-yard pass to cap its fourth possession. Wesley emerged as its offensive leader, accounting for 166 of the Knights’ 263 yards total offense on 34 carries.

“He’s a strong runner,’ Pennypacker said of the AP junior. “We had two and three guys hitting him.’

“Number three had a great game, pushing the pile like he was,’ Finn added.

The one-point win gave Pottsgrove vindication for last year’s semifinal-round matchup with AP at home, one the Knights won by a 27-26 count en route to claiming the district’s AAA championship.

“I don’t know that I’d call it revenge,’ Pennypacker said. “It was more pride than revenge for us. That one-point loss stuck in our craw for a whole year.’

“It was a flashback to last year,’ Finn said. “We knew what had to be done.’

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Fowler’s stellar play extended over to special teams. His interception of Ruffin’s conversion pass at the conclusion of AP’s first touchdown prevented the visitors from taking the lead. … Following the game, Pottsgrove’s 10 senior players carried out a tradition the program recently enacted. Starting at the south end of the field, the seniors walked hand-in-hand to midfield, where they had their helmets lined up. They donned their helmets, then continued hand-in-hand to the northern end zone. … Prior to the game, Pottsgrove recognized the high-school boys cross country team for its accomplishments this fall — among them winning District 1’s Class AA championship a third straight year.

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