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James, Neshaminy run past North Penn

MIDDLETOWN >> Chris James figured if it wasn’t broke why fix it.

“Coach kept calling run plays and they kept working, so why would he change it up,” he said. “I wasn’t going to stop running the ball if he kept calling it to me.”

The Redskins kept giving James the ball and the 5-foot-9, 160-pound senior running back kept collecting yards – picking up 92 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the first half as Neshaminy held a 21-19 halftime lead over visiting North Penn Friday night.

“I could have been tired her and there but no matter what I was not coming out of that game,” James said. “And I was not giving up that ball for anything.”

James added another 55 yards on the ground in the second half to finish with 147 yards on 33 carries while the ‘Skins defense shut out the Knights after the break as Neshaminy pulled away in the fourth for a 35-19 SOL National Conference victory in the season opener for both sides at Harry E. Franks Stadium.

“They beat us up upfront,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “We could not get off blocks and we couldn’t make any plays. And every time we did we got called for a penalty.”

Still down just 21-19 in the fourth, the Knights kept a Neshaminy drive alive when they were flagged for a face mask on a 4nd-and-7 on the NP 27.

“We get a big stop on fourth down and what do we do – we get called for facemask,” Beck said. “So that was tough.”

Three plays later, John Hutchinson went up the middle nine yards for a touchdown as the ‘Skins pushed their lead to nine with 9:33 left.

“In the offseason we worked really hard, we got stronger,” Hutchinson said. “Chris is a great back, he can’t take all the carries so you got to split it up sometimes.”

North Penn (0-1, 0-1 conference) went for it on 4th-and-10 from its own 33 on the ensuing possession but an incompletion gave Neshaminy back the ball at 8:23. James carried the ball on five on the next six plays before Redskins quarterback Aiden Schlupp founded tight end Andrew Kindness in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown with 4:45 remaining.

“It’s amazing, North Penn’s a great team, we came out, we executed and everyone just did their jobs,” Hutchinson said. “We got it done.”

Friday saw Suburban One League teams play their first games during the COVID-19 pandemic with masks, social distancing and limited stadium capacity now part of the requirements complete the season and avoid further spread of the virus.

“For a while there we were just waiting and waiting and it felt like it was getting farther and farther away as the close we got,” James said. “And we weren’t sure if we going to get a game in but we kept on preparing and we kept on action like we going to playing no matter what and it showed tonight cause we never gave up, we were conditioned. We knew what we had to do and we got the job done.”

Schlupp was an efficient 9-of-12 passing for 72 yards and a touchdown and also scored on a QB sneak in the second quarter as Neshaminy (1-0, 1-0) ended a six-game losing streak to North Penn –  the ‘Skins last win over the Knights coming in the 2013 District 1-4A championship game.

“The plan going into the year was establish a good run game with Chris and kind of counter with John with some runs and some passes out of the backfield,” Neshaminy coach Steve Wilmot said. “And our quarterback I think executed really well tonight. I felt our quarterback executed – he handled our offense really well in all aspects of everything.

“I’m really proud – obviously I’m proud of Chris and John Hutchinson, but I’m really proud of our quarterback too cause this was his first varsity game and he took care of the football really well.”

North Penn’s Khalani Eaton had 106 yards rushing on seven carries in the first half after his 36-yard touchdown run at 6:20 in the second quarter. The junior ended with 135 yards on 14 carries. Knights QB Ryan Zeltt was 13-of-28 passing for 162 yards and two scores.

“A couple times I thought we had good opportunities and we jumped offsides, that hurt us,” Beck said. “I thought maybe they beat a couple blocks against us and we didn’t get into the second level with Khalani as much as we wanted to. And honestly, I think our receivers got tired running patterns – we weren’t running full speed, we weren’t getting off of jams and I thought we had a couple opportunities and dropped a couple balls and maybe threw a ball over the head or something.”

Both teams’ next games are at home Friday – Neshaminy taking on Pennridge while North Penn hosts Pennsbury.

Neshaminy took a 3-0 lead on the night’s opening drive as Thomas Leonhauser connected on a 27-yard field goal at 7:25 in the first quarter. The Knights answered on the next possession – Zeltt capping a six-play, 67-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Maliq Staten to go up 7-3 at 4:56 in the first.

A Leonhauser 31-yard field goal pulled the ‘Skins within 7-6 with 25.7 seconds left in the opening period. Neshaminy forced a NP three-and-out then took the lead on its next series – a seven-play, 37-yard drive finished by Schlupp’s 1-yard score on a QB sneak at 7:47 in the second quarter. Schlupp then found Hutchinson on the two-point conversion to make it 14-7.

“You don’t have a scrimmage so you don’t know who your guys are upfront,” Beck said. “We didn’t do a great job beating blocks and I don’t think we were very gap sound, we had some young guys playing out of position meaning they were lined up at one position they’re supposed to be at another position. We had coverage problems cause guys didn’t know who, they weren’t playing the guy they were supposed to be playing in man.

“It was like every mistake you could of made we definitely made.”

The Knights responded with a three-play, 65-yard drive consisting of Eaton runs – the last a 36-yard touchdown dash at 6:20. A blocked extra point left North Penn trailing 14-13.

Neshaminy pushed its lead to 21-13 on the next series as James scored from a yard out with 2:14 left in the half one play after a Knights offsides penalty on 4th-and-1 gave the ‘Skins 1st-and-Goal.

North Penn pulled within 21-19 in the half’s final minute when Levi Carroll hauled in a Zeltt 17-yard touchdown pass with 53.8 seconds. The Knights came up empty on the two-point try to remain down two at the break.

Neither side scores in the third, the Knights driving into Neshaminy territory on their second possession of the quarter but turned the ball over on downs at the ‘Skins 40 after a fourth-down incompletion.

On 4th-and-7 from the Knights’ 27 on Neshaminy’s following drive, a swing pass to James was going to go for a loss but North Penn was called for face mask personal foul and the ‘Skins drive resumed at the 15. Three plays later, Hutchinson ran to end zone from nine yards out.

The extra point was backed up by a personal foul on the TD but Leonhauser knocked it through for a 28-19 ‘Skins lead.

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