Pennridge stuffed by Quakertown on Thanksgiving Day

QUAKERTOWN — For the first time since 2008 the Quakertown football team were winners on Thanksgiving morning over rival Pennridge.

In the 85th edition, the 8-7 victory was the Rams (7-5) second straight loss to the Panthers (12-2), and in both games the Suburban One League Continental Conference champs held coach Jeff Hollenbach’s bunch to its lowest point total of the season. On Thursday morning at Quakertown’s Alumni Field, the only points for the road Rams came on special teams.

The Rams needed a play to get their gears going and it came from junior Matt Firuta. He took the opening kick of the second half 79 yards to erase a 2-0 halftime deficit. Firuta made one miss and his spring track season started early. The sprinter sprinted down the sideline and eluded a shoe-string tackle and tip-toed into the end zone.

“Matt’s play coming out of halftime was just awesome,’ Hollenbach said. “He can do that stuff and he will do that stuff next year.’

Thanksgiving Day football is the place where senior stars cap their careers and underclassmen emerge with a bright future. Firuta will be given every chance to fill the shoes of senior Joe Unangst at running back next season. Unangst finished the season with over 2,000 yards rushing.

“We were a little flat in the first half,’ Firuta said. “But we came out with a big return and we played with a lot of fire after that. The seam opened up and I hit it hard. It felt like nothing else. Hopefully I can fill Joe’s shoes next season. He had a great season. I am going to get to work this offseason and make another run at the playoffs next season,’

Unangst however was held under 100 rushing yards for the first time all season. He played the majority of the game at quarterback running a Wildcat, or in this case, “Wild-Turkey’ offense. Unangst had 66 yards rushing and 52 yards passing. However he also was sacked in the end zone by Hunter Nice to account for the Panthers opening points.

“Credit their defense,’ Hollenbach said. “Hunter Nice is a heck of a linebacker. They have some really good defensive people. We could not do the things we needed to do. And we threw some pretty good stuff at them, that was all new. They adjusted to it well.’

The Panthers’ defense was relentless on the run and was not thrown off with Unangst taking direct snaps. And when Hollenbach elected to bring in Matt Kraynik for a play, the Panthers brought the pressure. Kraynik set up a screen pass on 4th-and-5 and Micah Jones batted the ball into the first-year turf. The turnover brought in the victory formation. It was the Panthers’ first two-game win streak against their rivals since 1991.

“There were plays that Joey did not know how to run and Matt was the only one who knew how to run them,’ Hollenbach said. “If he gets the ball up on that last screen play it could be different.’

The Rams’ defense was no slouch either. It was not until the Panthers’ fifth red zone appearance that quarterback Alec Vera finally stuck his helmet over the goal line. The fourth quarter touchdown was all the Panthers needed. But before that led by the play of linebacker Zach Hockman, the Rams came up with stops from inside the five-yard line on three occasions.

“We just did not always execute,’ Hockman said. “They got the last score. Props to Quakertown, but this (stinks).’

But with their star running back forced into double-duty — triple-duty if you count his defensive snaps, quad-duty if you add in punt returns — the Rams used every ounce of Unangst. They just could not make up for the loss of their starting quarterback Devon Balmer, who sat in the stands on Turkey Day, itching for a second chance to help his team.

“We tried to mix things up, just to move the chains,’ Hollenbach said. “Our defense was awesome, maybe the best it has been all year. But we never really got in a flow on offense. That was disappointing.’

But Balmer, dismissed for the final six games, paid for a admitted mistakes and so did the Rams. Their second chance at the Panthers came up one point short. Redemption will now have to wait for the next Thanksgiving Day game, the first time the festivities are taken to Helman Field.

“We were a different team without (Devon),’ Hockman said. “We thought we could win today, I thought we were still going to win the whole game, but it turned out different,’

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