First and Last: Pottstown, OJR set to do battle in annual Thanksgiving clash

He’ll leave Pottstown after guiding it to its best season since 2002.

However, for head coach Don Grinstead, a win over Owen J. Roberts in the 57th installment of the Thanksgiving Day game Thursday at 10 a.m., will add some sweetness to a departure that is sure to be solemn. 18748273

“It’s important to me because of the kids and because of the seniors,” said Grinstead, who will resign after Thursday’s game to accept a job as a district coordinator for the YMCA in Florida. “This senior class is responsible for the resurgence of this program and they’re largely responsible for the culture in this program.”

“Our three team captains, Brandon Tinson, Jimmie Zazzi and Bryant Wise, have never missed a practice since I’ve been at Pottstown, ever. That’s guys setting the tone for culture. They’re not just good players, they’re out here practicing everyday, working their butt off.”

Tinson and Wise have been at the forefront of the Trojans’ best season in more than a decade. The duo, along with Isaiah Mayes in the backfield and the leadership of Zazzi on the offensive line, guided Pottstown (7-4 overall) to its first District 1-AAA playoff berth in 13 years, all while leading the team to four more wins than the team’s last two seasons combined (3).

Tinson has emerged as one the league’s premier rushers, rushing for 1,059 yards and 11 touchdowns in his senior season. Wise has added 719 yards and six scores for Pottstown, which will look to snap a two-game losing streak to OJR, losing last year 14-0 on a snow-covered Henry J. Bernat Stadium field, after falling 27-6 in 2013.

“We’ve reeled the last couple of weeks because we lost a close one to Pottsgrove and then lost our playoff game so we feel like we haven’t had any momentum in almost a month,” Grinstead said. “I want to end this season 8-4, which is a lot better than 7-5.”

Getting that eighth win is no given as OJR (5-6) has seen its own resurgence under first-year head coach Rich Kolka after three-straight three-win seasons from 2012-2014 after a 1-11 finish in 2011.

“We changed a lot of things and by Game 2 we still didn’t have the right personnel in,” Kolka, who will make his Thanksgiving Day coaching debut, said. “It was a trial by fire, but by Game 3 we started to get the right personnel on the field and jell as a team. From Game 3 on, I thought we played a lot better than our first two games.

“We’ve done a lot of nice things. Players have been real positive and it’s been a nice year.”

Particularly on the defensive front.

The Wildcats boast three of the PAC-10’s leading sack getters, with Conor Mitchell registering a league-high 8.5 sacks. Nick Duliakas is right behind him with eight sacks and Bryce Weeks third with 7.5 for a defense that ranks fifth in the league in yards allowed per game (303.2).

The play of the big boys up front will be critical in stopping the triple-threat Pottstown possesses.

“Their D-line is good,” Grinstead said. “They get upfield and get a lot of penetration. We’re going to have to do some things to account for that and make sure we block them up front. We’re also going to have to put them into some conflict where they have to think before they start running up the field. I’m worried about that because they’ve had success all year.”

Offensively, the Wildcats have found success with their stable of running backs in Weeks (480), senior Rayquon Stewart (423) and senior do-it-all athlete Mitch Bradford (410). All three rank in the Top 15 in the league in rushing. Sophomore quarterback Dawson Stuart has a solid arm and has been reliable, throwing for 687 yards.

“There’s a lot of team guys,” Kolka said. “I thought our running backs by committee did a nice job. They had 1,400 yards between the three of them. Our quarterbacks (Bradford, Stuart) have played decent the whole year.”
All will be vying to bring the Thanksgiving Day trophy back to Bucktown.

“My dad played in it, I’m pretty sure his dad (Bradford’s) played in it so we want to go out and get a win this game,” Stuart said.

“This is huge,” Bradford said. “It’s a rivalry that’s been going on for over 50 years and it’ll be big to come out and win it, especially since it’s our seniors’ last game.”

District 1 Doings
The stage is set for the District 1-AAAA semifinals with No. 13 Neshaminy traveling to No. 9 North Penn and No. 15 Pennsbury visiting No. 3 Upper Dublin, both on Friday night.

The semifinals will be loaded with running backs as North Penn’s Nyfease West rushed for 246 yards in the Knights’ 27-14 win over No. 1 Downingtown East last week. He and the Knights will take on Neshaminy and Will Dogba after he rushed for 141 yards and two scores in the team’s 31-17 victory over Quakertown.

Pennsbury, 41-28 victors over Perkiomen Valley, will be the next opponent to try and slow down Upper Dublin quarterback Ryan Stover after he threw for 264 yards in a convincing 45-14 victory over Upper Darby. The Cardinals are outscoring their opponents 90-17 in their opening two playoff wins.

Rematch for the Title
Wyomissing and Berks Catholic are set to square off for the District 3-AA Championship Friday. Both have cruised in their opening two games — Wyomissing winning by a 84-20 margin, Berks Catholic 102-34 margin — and have flip-flopped titles the past three seasons, Wyomissing winning in 2012 and 2014, Berks Catholic in 2013. Wyomissing defeated  Berks 34-28 earlier this season.

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