NETHER PROVIDENCE >> In the age of fast-paced offenses that pass the ball more than they run, a football purist would have thoroughly enjoyed the slugfest that Penncrest and Strath Haven engaged in for the Media Bowl.
The teams each featured a battering running attack and rugged offensive line play as their primary weapon in the Lions’ hard-fought 9-7 victory over the Panthers.
Despite a strong commitment to trying to grind each other into the ground, the game took a dramatic — and fast-paced — turn in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 9-0, Strath Haven went into hurry-up mode and it paid immediate dividends. After gashing the otherwise sturdy Lions defense down to the one-yard line, Panthers quarterback Evan Atsaves plunged into the end zone to cut the lead to 9-7 with 2:44 remaining in the contest.
Penncrest recovered an onside kick and was subsequently forced to punt. The Panthers took over and went to work; this time using their passing game. Ahmir Gordon took a pass from Atsaves and weaved his way 47 yards to the Lions’ 5-yard line.
After a convincing performance for 59 minutes and 55 seconds, Penncrest now faced the possibility of losing as Gordon lined-up for a 23-yard field goal attempt.
The Lions, however, had other ideas about how this Media Bowl would end. After a high snap, the Penncrest (1-2) special teams unit burst through the line and Zane Horn ultimately snuffed out Gordon’s field-goal attempt to clinch the Lions win as time expired. It was a thrilling ending to a neighborhood rivalry.
“We really didn’t have too much of an approach because of how fast everything was going and our main objective was just to get it,” said Horn, who made several outstanding defensive plays and also hauled in two catches for 14 yards as a receiver.
For Lions coach Rick Stroup, it was good to capture the team’s first victory of the season.
“It was a huge win,” said Stroup. “We had our block (unit) in the game and the snap was a little high. They took a little more time than usual, and we just gave a great effort. Zane Horn came off the edge and blocked it.”
The teams each used their respective power running game almost exclusively in the first half. Penncrest primarily spread its carries around to running backs Ryan Kinnard (46 yards), Joe Quintiliano (46 yards), Jonathan Batipps and quarterback Manny Ruffin, while the Panthers leaned on Elijah Crew, Mekhi Hill (66 yards), and Zach Newlon.
“For us it all starts with our quarterback and our running backs,” said Penncrest two-way lineman Jim George, who had an outstanding game. “We’ve got a whole new offense and it’s been tough, but the scoreboard showed that it’s worth it.”
After nearly 22 bruising minutes Penncrest took advantage of a Strath Haven turnover and finally got into the end zone on a score by Kinnard. Kinnard had initially run into a wall of Strath Haven (0-3) defenders who clogged the running lane, but he ultimately bounced the run to the outside where he sprinted for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point was blocked and left Penncrest with a well-earned 6-0 advantage.
“They got a little penetration on the right side and I saw that our left side had completely demolished (Strath Haven’s) linemen, so I saw a cutback lane and hit it,” said Kinnard, who also was a defensive stalwart for the Lions.
The teams continued to use a ground-based attack in the second half and Penncrest would once again get on the scoreboard.
After a five-yard punt by Strath Haven, the Lions methodically drove down the field behind the legs of Kinnard and Quintiliano before Pat Hughes drilled a field goal through the uprights for a 9-0 Lions lead.
Hughes had no idea at the time just how important his kick would be — especially after his previous PAT was blocked.
“We practice a lot and get a lot of repetition,” said Hughes. “I had a lot of confidence in our snapper and our holder and I knew I would make the kick. It’s a big team win; a Central League win and a rivalry win, but we have Harriton next week and that’s the goal now.”