Big plays push La Salle past North Penn

TOWAMENCIN — North Penn’s offense landed steady jabs throughout the night, but it was two haymakers by La Salle that ultimately decided Friday evening’s non-league opener.

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media LaSalle's Winston Eubanks pyulls in a pass in front of North Penn's Ricky Johns Sept. 4, 2015.
LaSalle’s Winston Eubanks pulls in a pass in front of North Penn’s Ricky Johns during their game on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)

A 51-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chris Ferguson to wide receiver Winston Eubanks on the final play of the first half, and a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Eubanks with 10 minutes to go propelled the Explorers to a 24-12 victory over the Knights at Crawford Stadium.

“I was really nervous coming into it. This was my first time playing against North Penn,” said Eubanks, a six-foot, 170-pound senior. “Last year, I was on J.V., so I just wanted to come out tonight and show them what I can do.

“The (atmosphere tonight) was hectic. I was shocked, nervous at first. But once I caught that first pass, I got into my rhythm and I was fine.”

North Penn got within 17-12 early in the fourth on a one-yard touchdown run by Nyfease West, his second of the night, but the ensuing kickoff to Eubanks was taken all the way back for a score, putting La Salle back in control and on its way to a sixth-straight opening-day win over the Knights.

“That was my first time ever returning a kickoff,” Eubanks said. “My coach (John Steinmetz) was like, ‘Winston, just go back there.'”

As he raced away down the left sideline, Eubanks allowed the Explorers to pull away after North Penn had battled back into the contest.

Down 17-6 at the half, the Knights began the second half with a 10-play drive, using 22 yards rushing by West and a 25-yard connection on third down from quarterback Reece Udinski to tight end Keith Earle.

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media Reece Udinski fires over LaSalle's Anthony Piscopo Sept. 4, 2015.
Reece Udinski fires over La Salle’s Anthony Piscopo during their game on Sept. 4, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)

But the drive ended with a turnover on downs at the Explorer 32.

The next time the Knights had the ball, they used a 15-play drive, mixing the running of West (18 carries/68 yards, 2 TD’s) and the timely passes and scrambles by Udinski, to battle to within 17-12. The two-point run attempt was stopped but the Knights were getting closer.

“Our fans were getting into it and the bench was great,” Udinski said of the Knights beginning to mount a comeback. “(We started having success) when we opened it up.

“We let Nyfease get the ball down low — he was grinding hard on pitches, and Keith Earle was catching the ball great down the middle. And we had some big completions on third and fourth down.”

But just moments later, Eubanks was gone down the left sideline.

“That kickoff return just killed us,” Udinski said.

The Knights were able to reach the La Salle 35 with about six minutes to play, but an interception by Trey McNeill on 3rd-and-long sealed the victory for the Explorers.

North Penn moved the ball consistently in the final three quarters but gave up a pair of big plays and committed eight untimely penalties for 50 yards.

“I told these guys it was self inflicted. You can’t jump off sides, you can’t give up a (long gain) on a screen pass where we have him manned up – it was a comedy of errors at certain points,” Knights coach Dick Beck said. “I thought we did a nice job moving the ball at times.

“When Reece had some time, I thought he did a nice job. We’ll be smarter at the end of the year, but at the beginning of the year, we’re just not smart.”

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media LaSalle's Sy Madden scores against North Penn Sept. 4, 2015.
LaSalle’s Sy Madden scores against North Penn during their game on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)

Both teams sputtered early but La Salle gained an edge midway through the first quarter.

After going three-and-out on its first series, the Explorers went up 7-0 on their second possession of the night, marching 50 yards in four plays.

Eubanks got the drive going with a 17-yard reception from Ferguson, moving the Explorers down to the NP 33.

Three plays later, on 3rd-and-1, Sy Madden (20 carries/121 yards, TD) found a crease and was gone, racing 24 yards for a score that put La Salle in front on a warm, breezy night at Crawford.

With 2:16 left in the first quarter, North Penn got its first first down of the night, as Ricky Johns hauled in an 11-yard pass from Udinski.

Later in the drive, on the final play of the first quarter, North Penn got its biggest — and craziest — play of the evening. Udinski launched a deep pass to Johns down the middle, and initially, the ball was knocked up in the air by the Explorer defender in coverage, but as Johns fell to the ground, the ball landed in his lap for a 32-yard gain and a first down at the La Salle 15.

Three plays later, West crashed in from three yards out, bringing North Penn within 7-6. A bad snap on the ensuing extra-point attempt resulted in an incomplete pass attempt, leaving the margin at one.

After La Salle added a 34-yard field goal by Matt Savage, extending the gap to 10-6, the Knights had the ball around midfield with under a minute to go in the half and had a chance to set up one last play before the break.

But La Salle recovered a North Penn fumble with just eight seconds to go and took over at its own 49.

“I said to (Ferguson), we have one shot,” Eubanks said. “Just throw it up and see what happens. Luckily, I made the catch. I just focused and ran right by my guy.”

“That’s an absolute killer,” Beck said of the play. We gave up the freebie on a mental error in the coverage.

“We gotta get better next week (at West Philadelphia Catholic).”

Top Photo: La Salle’s Sy Madden is pursued by a host of North Penn player of a footrace to the goal line during their game on Friday, Sept. 4, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)

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