EAST ROCKHILL >> They were bloodied, but still had plenty of fight.
“We got punched in the mouth a little bit,” Pennridge coach Cody Muller said of his team Friday night. “I talked to them at halftime and said ‘hey, we’ve been waiting for this punch.’ And it came tonight.
“That’s a credit to (Abington) coach (Kevin) Conlin and those kids. They did an awesome job in that first half and gave us everything we could handle. I challenged our kids a little bit and I think they responded pretty well.”
Pennridge responded with a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and one more defensive stop to cap off a resurgent second half, as the Rams earned a 21-15 victory over Abington, clinching the Suburban One League National Conference and punching their ticket to the District 1-6A Playoffs.
“We knew we had the right players, the best talent,” linebacker Jake Tarburton said of the team’s 5-0 regular-season finish. “Our coaches are amazing and always put together the best game plan for us and we just get the job done and work.”
Pennridge will most likely get the No. 2 seed and will be back at Helman Field Friday night for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
After four weeks of domination, including three shutouts, Pennridge found itself in a back-and-forth struggle and trailed for the first time all season. The gut check came just in time for the playoffs.
“I think we had been riding high and feeling good about ourselves and we needed that wake-up call a little bit,” Muller said. “Our kids did a great job of responding, facing a little adversity, and really buckled down.”
After Anthony Ditri’s 29-yard field goal gave the Ghosts (3-2) a 15-14 lead midway through the third quarter, Pennridge dug deep.
The Rams’ final drive of the third quarter extended into the fourth, and was climaxed by a 12-yard touchdown run by Dillon Powles, who burst around the left side and then used an extra dose of power to fend off multiple defenders and go charging into the end zone.
“Dillon Powles did an awesome job tonight finding holes and making plays,” Muller said. “He’s been one of the best running backs for us this season so I’m really proud of what he’s doing.”
Pennridge’s final task would be to stop the Ghosts’ offense and quarterback Johnny Dzweila (10 of 19, 114 yards), who threw a pair of touchdown passes in the first half.
With 6 minutes, 10 seconds remaining, Abington had its last chance, returning a punt to the Pennridge 49.
“I just got after it and did what I could,” he said.
What Tarburton did was provide back-to-back sacks, which all but stifled the Ghosts’ final possession.
Abington was forced to punt and Pennridge – fittingly – turned to its ground game to run out the clock.
It was the ground game that turned the screws in the second half for the Rams.
“We tried to get back to what we do best and that’s run the football,” Muller said. “We’re not a flashy team by any means. We go to work. And our kids do a great job of believing in that, especially our line up front, moving and being physical.”
Brayden Landherr rushed for 74 yards, Cornelius Shoemake Jr. raced to 36 yards on five carries, and Powles added 50. Quarterback Bobby Croyle had 41 yards on the ground, including the 24-yard touchdown run that gave the Rams a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Dzweila threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Baker to bring the Ghosts within 7-6 (the extra-point attempt was wide).
After Shane Hartzell returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-6, Dzweila tightened things to 14-12 at the half by hitting Javon Neely for a 30-yard score (the two-point pass attempt failed).
Shortly after Hartzell’s heroics, however, he would be lost for the game with a rib injury. He will be evaluated Monday, with hopes he’ll be good to go next Friday.
“We lost Hartzell so we knew it was gonna be a tough job,” Tarburton said of the defensive standout. “We had our sophomore, Dylan O’Brien, and he really stepped up for us. He just put his head down and worked. Our defense got aggressive and stopped them.”
And Tarburton’s sacks loomed large.
“This kid has been a leader since Day One,” Muller said. “He’s an absolute animal on offense, blocking, making big plays, springing some big holes for Dillon and the rest of the backs. And on defense, every time we need a big play, it always seems like No. 59 is in the right spot.”
Oreck Frazier churned out 100 yards on 24 carries for the Ghosts, who saw their season come to a close. But they gave the conference champs their biggest test of the season.
“We talked to the kids and told them this is the game where you gotta be a big-time football player,” Ghosts coach Kevin Conlin said. “Guys like Caleb Baker stepped up, guys like Oreck Frazier. Caleb took a huge shot and that’s tough. He tried to come back and took another big shot.
“Hats off to Pennridge – they’re a very physical team. They’ll do well in the playoffs.”
PENNRIDGE 21, ABINGTON 15
Abington 0 12 3 0 – 15
Pennridge 7 7 0 7 – 21
P-Bobby Croyle 24 run (Brandon Shire kick), 10:57.
A-Caleb Baker 14 pass from Johnny Dzweila (kick failed), 9:48.
P-Shane Hartzell 70 kick return (Shire kick), 9:33.
A-Javon Neely 30 pass from Dzweila (pass failed), 1:20.
A-Anthony Ditri 29 field goal, 6:56.
P-Dillon Powles 12 run (Shire kick), 9:32.
First Downs 13 10
Rushes-Yards 38-89 38-221
Passing 10-19-2 0-4-0
Passing Yards 114 0
Total Yards 203 221
Punts 6 3
Penalties-Yards 4-30 7-65
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
A: Oreck Frazier 24-100; Johnny Dzweila 10-(-5); Robert Bell 4-(-6).
P: Brayden Landherr 7-74; Cornelius Shoemake Jr. 5-36; Dillon Powles 10-50, TD; Croyle 8-41, TD; Hartzell 2-1; Jack Ferguson 6-19.
A: Dzweila 10-19-114-2-0.
P: Croyle 0-3-0-0-1; Logan McGowan 0-1-0-0-0.
A: Caleb Baker 7-70, TD; Frazier 1-9; Jonah Dalton 1-5; Javon Neely 1-30, TD.
A: Danny Moynihan.