Pennsbury hoping all signs point back to another District 1 Championship

FAIRLESS HILLS – In football, a productive offense always begins up front. Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles, who signed last year’s leading NFL rusher DeMarco Murray to a free agent contract in the offseason.

This year, working behind a patchwork offensive line in Philadelphia, Murray recorded just 11 yards rushing in the first two games.

Thank goodness, the Falcons are birds of a different feather. While Pennsbury suffered the loss three big men up front including First Team All-SOL National Conference selection Austin O’Neill (DelVal) at left guard, the Falcons had plenty of talent returning this season including converted D-linemen Jack Kenney and Nick Paragano, both seniors.

After a close non-league win over Council Rock South and a tough loss to Philadelphia Catholic League (PCL) rival LaSalle, Pennsbury is beginning to roll.

Against 2014 District 1 qualifier CR North, the Falcons amassed 421 yards rushing, scored on five of their first six possessions in the first half and were ahead of the Indians 35-0 at the break. Senior fullback Chris Rupprecht registered 183 yards rushing and four touchdown runs, all of which he tallied before halftime.

“I owe it all to my O-line and I’m sure the other backs feel the same way,” said Rupprecht. “They just throw people around. They’re big hosses up front and they make the giant holes for us.”

In its Suburban One League (SOL) National Conference opener against Souderton, Pennsbury racked up 320 rushing yards with contributions from a myriad of sources. Senior RB Daulton Hose led the way with 122 yards rushing, including 103 in the first half. Rupprecht added 92 yards, while quarterback Mike Alley chipped in 70 rushing yards, 162 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air.

It was the team’s loss to LaSalle that got the current wave going forward, says Paragano, however.

“I feel like the LaSalle game really shaped us as an offensive line,” said Nick, a 6-foot, 290-pound left tackle. “Ever since then, we’ve just been rolling over people.

With all the new faces up front, the Falcons’ O-line needed a couple of games to jell, says Paragano. In for the departed O’Neill is Noah Smith, a 5-10, 200-pound senior at left guard. Maurice Stukes, a 6-8, 370-pound junior switched sides and is now at right tackle, in for the departed Sam Raywood. Kenny is in for the departed Mason Houriet, a second team All-SOL center in 2014.

Ryan Harrah, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, supplanted Rupprect at right guard and Paragano was a nose tackle on defense the past three years.

“Learning plays was hard but I have it down now,” said Nick.

Offense is just better, he says.

“It’s more natural to me,” said Paragano. “When I was on defense, our ‘D’ relies a lot on fast, quick, agile guys. I still held down the middle but left tackle is just easier. It’s step down, step left and roll people over.”

What Pennsbury is missing this season is the now-departed Charles Snorweah (Rutgers) who rushed for a school record 2,700-plus yards and 40 touchdowns including a 75-yard touchdown jaunt on the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage in the District 1 Championship win over Coatesville.

This season, Pennsbury is spreading the ball around with Rupprecht, Hose, Alley, and wingback Luke Snyder leading the way.

“We took a big loss with the (graduation) of Charles Snorweah but we have a good rotation of guys now,” said Nick. “It’s taken four guys to do what Charles did with one guy.

“Now, that the offensive line has gotten it together, we just do what we do now.”

And what they do is pound the ball – ground and pound it as they like to say at Falcon Field. And this year has seen Pennsbury come out with an added passing attack.

While Alley threw only three passes in the duel with Souderton, all of his aerials went for touchdowns including a 17-yard checkdown pass to Rupprecht, 71 yards to tight end Vinnie Ratamess and 74 yards to split end Rob Daly.

“Mike just keeps getting better,” said Paragano. “Once we started protecting, the sky’s the limit for him.”

“Once you get the ball in any of (the receivers’) hands, we just run it over the goal line.”

“It opens your eyes up when you see Pennsbury passing the ball,” added Rupprecht. “It was great that we could get on the board with three touchdowns passing.

“It’s a nice boost for the offense – another confidence builder.”

In addition to tossing the ball, Alley is proving to be a duel threat. The 6-4, 235 pound QB rushed for 129 yards on 12 carries vs. CR North including a 57-yard TD run in the fourth quarter. In the next week’s win over Souderton, he chipped in 70 yards rushing, with 50 of his total coming on a dazzling run around left end on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Defensively, the team is averaging less than 10 points a game surrendered to its first four opponents. And that’s good, especially when you consider only five players returned to the defense (there would have been seven had not Hose and Paragano jumped sides).

“Our defense has never had a problem with confidence,” said Rupprecht. “They’ve been a shutdown defense ever since I’ve been here at Pennsbury.”

In a season opening win over CR South, goal line stands – one at the end of each half – helped preserve a 13-6 triumph over the Hawks.

Aside from the heat and humidity, the duel with Rock South had a playoff feel to it, similar to the one the Falcons registered against Coatesville in the 2014 D-1 title game. That game also ended with the Pennsbury ‘D’ holding fast at the goal line to help preserve the win.

With a few new faces – and some who have switched sides on the gridiron – the Falcons are hoping to get back to the championship and win it again in 2015.

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