North Penn squeezes past Pennridge in District 1-AAA 2nd round

TOWAMENCIN >> As he watched Eric Rosenblatt’s long, arcing throw-in soar towards him, everything slowed down for North Penn’s Noah Kwortnik, his mind focused on only one thing.

“Get anything on it,” the Knights junior said. “It was just a swing and it went in.”

Rosenblatt’s well-placed throw-in — traveling on the gusty winds swirling around North Penn Thursday afternoon — found Owen Nakatani, whose flick header directed the ball to Kwortnik, and the junior tapped it in for the go-ahead goal in North Penn’s 2-1 victory over Pennridge in the second round of the District 1-AAA Playoffs.

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media Pennridge's Evan Freed tackles North Penn's Mike Kohler Oct. 29, 2015.
Pennridge’s Evan Freed tackles North Penn’s Mike Kohler during their District 1-AAA second round game on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)

“This field, it’s our home ground. There’s something special,” said Kwortnik, whose team improved to 11-2 at home this year. “We feel pumped for the next game. Shock the nation.”

Kwortnik and the Knights earned another shot at top-seeded Central Bucks East, a 4-0 winner over Plymouth-Whitemarsh. North Penn will face the Patriots in a Saturday quarterfinal at Memorial Stadium at 8 p.m., with the winner locking up a trip to states.

The Knights and Rams, who split the regular-season series, headed to halftime tied 1-1. And then in the second half, despite losing one of their best weapons in Liam Parker (concussion), North Penn generated consistent pressure and got the go-ahead goal with 22 minutes to play.

“It’s always a battle. They just play us very tough,” said Knights coach Paul Duddy, whose team raised its record to 14-4-2 on the season. “They always do, year in and year out. A lot of years, we split because we win here, they win up at their place.

“Take (the goals) any way you can get them, especially this time of year. The field certainly didn’t lend itself to playing pretty soccer at this point. You take what you can get.”

It was a windy, slippery afternoon, but eight-seeded North Penn kept its footing and controlled the ball for most of the second half.

Bob Raines--Montgomery Media North Penn's Colin Jerome and Pennridge's Evan Freed battle for a head ball Oct. 29, 2015.
North Penn’s Colin Jerome and Pennridge’s Evan Freed battle for a head ball during their District 1-AA second round game on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)

No. 24 Pennridge would put on pressure in the final eight minutes. Dylan Henry broke free on one sequence and looked to have a shot at the equalizer, but the Knights’ defense closed in and prevented the shot.

The Rams had a corner with eight minutes to go, and John Montano was able to get his head on it, but the shot sailed wide of the net.

The Knights’ defense and goalie Jordan Katz held tough, with Lucas Bennett and Matt Richardson each clearing the ball out in the final moments.

It was North Penn that got the early lead, just 10 minutes in, when Nate Baxter took his time, directed a perfect cross to Scott Kohler, who booted it home for a 1-0 lead.

“It was a great pass, and a great finish by Scott,” Duddy said.

Pennridge was able to tie it just five minutes later, when Brian Zuluaga scored off a rebound to even things at one apiece.

The two teams were deadlocked until about midway through the second half, when Rosenblatt’s throw-in found Kwortnik.

“We’re gonna watch that on film and just be frustrated that a throw-in kind of got through some guys and snuck in between our legs,” Rams coach Pete Valimont said. “But I told the guys, our biggest thing right now is, we were (in the second round) five years ago and then we had a big drop off — we can’t afford to have a drop off.

“Hopefully the guys will be hungry and want to get back to the playoffs.”

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