EAST ROCKHILL >> Josh Jones offered one reason for his phenomenal first half Tuesday afternoon.
“I guess I just had the hot foot today,” the North Penn senior said.
Jones’ scoring touch was more than hot, it was scorching. The Louisville commit collected a natural hat trick to give the Knights boys soccer team a 3-0 lead then answered host Pennridge’s goal with his fourth strike just before halftime.
“I had a couple nice shots in warmup and I was like ‘Hey maybe we’ll translate this to the game,” so I’m happy that did,” Jones said.
The quartet of goals was more than enough for North Penn to pick up the win, as the Knights bounced back for their second loss of the season and maintained their grip on first place in the SOL Colonial Division with a 4-1 victory over the Rams at Helman Field.
“It’s hard to claim any coaching genius when you put Josh at top and he does that,” North Penn coach Chris DePeppe said. “That’s the first game we were able to jump out on a team like that and I think they still had many chances in the first half, it could have been a much different game. But you got to tip your cap to Josh today. He was just unstoppable.”
With the Knights (5-2-0, 5-2-0 division) graduating the majority of the goals from last year’s District 1 and PIAA championship side, Jones has taken on a more offensive role this season and Tuesday backed up the reasoning. He opened scoring in the 14th minute, doubled the advantage five minutes later on a penalty kick, added his third in the 23rd then capped the game’s scoring with No. 4 in the 39th.
“Losing a bunch of our seniors that we did last year, like Carter (Houlihan) and the Stewart twins, it was hard to replace this year,” Jones said. “And I definitely have a bigger role than I did last year whether that’s scoring goals or creating instead of just sitting in the midfield and winning a bunch of head balls. So I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job so far and we just got to keep this momentum going.”
Pennridge (4-4-0, 3-4-0) played better than the final result indicated, putting pressure on the NP defense for most the first half only to be undone by Jones’ efficiency.
“Soccer’s weird like that cause teams can possess, they have 90% possession the whole game but it’s a matter of who finishes the goals,” Jones said. “So, you know, we had four, they had one.
Jake Stritzl had a chance for the Rams in the third minute on a left-footed strike after an Aiden Castle run into the box but Stritzl’s shot went directly to NP keeper Sawyer Meade.
After Jones put the Knights up 1-0 at 26:41 the Rams almost had a quick answer as a ball sent across the box got to Pat Crews only for his shot to hit off the left post.
Pennridge finally put one in at 12:33 when Ben Scary put his shot in after collecting a Stritzl cross to make it 3-1. Jones, however, pushed the Knights’ lead to 4-1 with just 93 seconds left before the break.
“(Aiden Castle) is a very good player and their midfielders, they make a lot of runs from the midfield, they were tough to track,” said DePeppe of Pennridge. “So if that was a 1-0 game, we would’ve been very nervous from the second half.”
Castle provided the Rams’ their best second-half chance as his header was denied by a goal line clearance from senior defender Kevin Murphy. North Penn held to the three-goal lead to go on and rebound from last Thursday’s 1-0 road loss to Central Bucks West.
“Our message after Thursday was I thought we played pretty well in that game I really did,” DePeppe said. “Our energy and our desire was there, we just started connecting a little bit better in practice this last couple days so I think it’s starting to come together.
“It’s one of those seasons where you should be in midseason form and the season’s almost over. But it’s crazy, we’re just happy to be playing, really.”
North Penn’s win has it in first place in the Colonial at 15 points, four points ahead of second place Souderton, which topped Central Bucks East 2-0 Tuesday. The Knights host Souderton 3:30 p.m. Thursday looking to avenge a 2-0 loss to the Indians Sept. 29.
“I think we got to keep the same mind set, every game’s a must win so we’re just trying to finish out 3-0, get into playoffs,” Jones said.
Pennridge, which has lost two straight after winning its previous four, is home against CB West 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
Jones’ first goal came at the 26:41 mark of the opening half as the senior worked on the left side, got free of a defender then let off a shot that one-hopped into the far right corner.
“I just cut it with my left foot and the defender kind of went flying a little bit and I just picked my head up and saw I had the bottom right corner open so I just passed it in there,” he said.
Jones tallied his second on a penalty kick, getting taken down in the 18-yard box by the goalkeeper after being played behind the defense by Alex Stewart. Jones knocked the PK into the left side of the net to put the Knights up 2-0 at 21:00.
“I’ve been taking PKs for club and everything since I was like 9-years-old so I’m confident every time I step up that I’m going to finish it,” Jones said. “Doesn’t matter what side, just whatever I’m feeling when I get up there.”
The hat trick came at 17:26, Jones making a run through the middle – avoiding a slide tackle then getting enough space from another defender to rip a right-footed shot into the lower left corner.
“I saw I kind of had a two-on-one, I had my teammate Hunter (Stites) out open on the left side but the defender really didn’t commit to me,” Jones said. “So I had room, picked my head up, saw I could get a shot off so I did.”
The Rams pulled within 3-1 at 12:33 when Stritzl’s cross from the left found Scary in the box and the senior midfielder blasted a shot into the net.
North Penn, however, regained the three-goal edge close to halftime. Nate Kim blocked a Rams pass, the ball deflecting to NP’s Dominick Gedek, who worked a give-and-go with Sean Flatley. Gedek then slid a pass behind the defense to Jones, who tapped a shot by the outcoming keeper and into the right side of the net for his fourth goal at 1:33.
“I looked behind me and tried to hold my line and then Dom played me in,” Jones said. “And then I just picked my head up, saw the near post was open and finished.”