Upper Perkiomen puts hammer down, tops PJP 38-10

RED HILL >> When you come in with a 1-6 record, you’re coming off a five-turnover game that undermined an otherwise impressive effort against a good team (Pottstown), and it’s homecoming, well, it’s time to reach deep.

Upper Perkiomen did so Friday night, and it went deep as well.

Indians junior quarterback Zeke Hallman threw three touchdown passes, all in the first half, and two of them were long ones. Those gave the Indians an eight-point halftime cushion, and then they put the hammer down to win decisively over still-winless Pope John Paul II, 38-10.

Showing good balance, the Indians also got solid rushing from Michael Felix (79 yards on 16 carries, two rushing TDs; he also had a receiving TD) and Austin Tutolo (nine carries, 71 yards) to help set up the pass.

“We got Mike and Tutolo going early, so I knew that play-action would be there,” Hallman said.

“Our offensive line really stepped it up tonight, and so did Zeke with the passing game,” Felix said. “And our defense stepped it up, too.”

Upper Perk’s defense indeed did the job, though it did find PJP receiver Jared Johns-Lupold to be a very tough cover. In the first half alone he caught 12 passes for 143 yards, while senior quarterback Matt Duff, with the running game largely cut off, threw 27 times in the first half, completing 17 for 177 yards. Johns-Lupold only got two catches in the second half, finishing with 14 receptions for 194 yards. Duff ended up 21-of-37 for 247.

“We really stepped up this week; we had a great week of practice,” said Upper Perk senior linebacker Jacob Votta, one of the key defenders all night. “We switched the defense and it came together tonight. We went from a 3-4 to a 3-5. Having that extra ‘backer really helps, because our run defense is what was killing us the first half of the season.”

PJP rushed for only 40 yards.

The Golden Panthers (0-8 overall, 0-7 in the PAC-10) were in this thing for a half, when they trailed only 18-10. Upper Perk (2-6, 2-5) drove 65 yards on its first possession to Felix’s nifty 27-yard receiving score on a swing pass. The point-after kick missed, and PJP came right back with an 80-yard scoring drive to take the lead. Two pass interference flags on Upper Perk were big helps on the Panther march. On third-and-goal from the 5, Duff rolled left and zipped a nice ball to Johns-Lupold, and Liam McCloskey’s kick gave the Panthers a short-lived 7-6 lead.

The Indians scored on their next series in just four plays. On third-and-seven, Hallman found Austin Bittenbender open behind the secondary and aired it out for a 61-yard touchdown.

“We saw the safety was up, I looked over at Zeke and took an inside release,” Bittenbender said.

PJP had a fourth-and-two near midfield on their next possession, but Votta made the stop on a running play. The Indians took over and quickly drove to the red zone but lost a fumble. The Panthers, though, again saw some offensive movement thwarted on fourth down. Shortly after Johns-Lupold made a 22-yard reception, Duff’s fourth-down pass at the Upper Perk 43 was broken up beautifully by Felix.

The biggest play of the night came with 1:15 left in the half. The Indians went 57 yards in just 1:13, with talented sophomore Ryan Kendra getting deep for a 40-yard touchdown, catching it in the end zone. A play-action fake to Felix was sold nicely.

The Panthers to their credit roared back down the field in the final minute of the half, using the clock smartly as Duff and Johns-Lupold connected five times. But the Upper Perk defense stiffened at its own 4-yard line, forcing a 21-yard field goal by McCloskey to make it 18-10 Indians at halftime.

Right out of the chute in the second half, the Indians started putting it away. A good kickoff return by Kendra set up shop at the PJP 40. From there Felix carried four straight times, capping the quick drive with a 23-yard score, which included a sharp cutback.

A combined sack by Upper Perk’s Mahlon Schaffer and Andrew Frantz forced a Panther punt, and the next time PJP had the ball, it was going the other way; Bittenbender took it 33 yards to the house on an interception for a 31-10 lead with 3:36 left in the third. Felix scored his third TD with 9:50 left in the game.

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