Ferguson’s late TD run gives Pennridge win over Coatesville in District 1-6A semifinals

EAST ROCKHILL >> Trailing 33-29 late in the fourth quarter, the Pennridge football team needed one more big play and Jack Ferguson found it popping out of a crowd at the line of scrimmage.

“I was hoping the hole was going to be there,” Ferguson said. “I was running into a bunch of lineman and I broke free, broke a leg tackle.”

Ferguson kept his footing after a diving tackle attempt and was off to the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown run with 2:44 remaining in top-seeded Rams’ District 1-6A semifinal contest with No. 4 Coatesville at Helman Field.

“You know what’s funny, we haven’t ran that play all year,” Rams coach Cody Muller said. “That was the first time we ran it – we didn’t even rep it in practice. But last year we ran trap a few times with Ferg and he took off a couple times and had some big runs last year and as soon as I called it he just looked at me and smiled, kind of the way Ferg does.

“And for him to stay on his feet and stay balanced to get all the way down like that, that was a tremendous job by him.”

The visiting Red Raiders pushed into Pennridge territory on the ensuing drive, but the Rams held on 4th & 6 at their own 39 with 89 seconds left and three kneeldowns later Pennridge was celebrating a 36-33 victory and a spot in the district title game.

“Every day we’ve been coming out here not knowing if we’re going to have a game next week or if we’re going to have practice tomorrow,” Ferguson said. “This is our last year, that’s definite. You don’t know when the next game’s going to be so just going 100 percent every practice, every play.”

All four touchdowns for Pennridge (6-0) came from 40 yards or greater – including a 97-yard touchdown run from Villanova commit Shane Hartzell in the second quarter. The Rams defense gave up more points than it had in the past five games combined but did enough to advance Pennridge to a district final against No.3 Souderton, a 27-24 winner over No. 2 Spring-Ford in the other semi.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Muller said. “They’re a physical team, they’ve a fast team, they’re a tough team and I think our kids, they’ve played hard all year and that’s probably the best team we’ve seen and we rose to the occasion. And I’m so proud of our guys.”

Pennridge’s Bobby Croyle throws a pass during the Rams’ District 1-6A semifinal against Coatesville on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (Nate Heckenberger/For MediaNews Group)

Quarterback Bobby Croyle first two throws went for touchdowns as he finished 9-of-21 passing for 297 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. Hartzell posted a game-best 123 yards rushing and a TD on eight carries, Dillon Powles had four catches for 107 yards and a score Brandon Shire kicked a pair of field goals – his second from 20 yards out giving the Rams a 29-27 edge at 5:53 in the fourth.

Coatesville (4-1), however, regained the lead on the following kickoff, Lebron Bessick working across the field to get to the left sideline then racing down it for a 90-yard touchdown return at 5:39. The Red Raiders went for two but an incomplete pass kept the margin at four.

A block in the back penalty had Pennridge facing a 3rd-and-18 from its own 41. A Croyle to Powles completion went for 13 then on 4th-and-5 Croyle connected with Adam Mossbrook for six yards, moving the chains. The next play, Ferguson broke up the middle for his 40-yard TD run that proved to be the deciding score.

“Coach Chuck Muller, Cody Muller’s dad, he’s always preaching you got to have the will and I think we just had more will tonight,” Hartzell said. “We willed ourselves into winning. I mean that’s what it takes at the end of the day.”

Pennridge’s Shane Hartzell finds yards against Coatesville during their District 1-6A semifinal on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (Nate Heckenberger/For MediaNews Group)

Coatesville began at its own 39 with 2:37 left and with a pair of passes had a 2nd-and-6 from the Rams 39. But Pennridge did not give up another yard – forcing three straight incompletions to force the turnovers on downs at 1:29.

“Listen, we have confidence in our defense and what they do,” said Cody Muller of a unit that had posted three shutouts in allowing just 29 points combined in its first five games. “They go to work week in and week out. Every week’s not going to be a shutout, we know that. People are going to have success here and there but at the end of the day when we needed them to step up the most they do.

Coatesville quarterback Hunter Susi threw for 167 yards and three touchdowns – two to Damonte Reason – on 13-of-24 passing for the Red Raiders, who were looking to reach the District 1-6A final for the fourth straight season, winning districts in both 2017 and 2018.

“We knew it was going to be a heavyweight fight,” Cody Muller said. “Coach (Matt) Ortega what he does with that program, year-In and year-out, everybody counted them out just like they counted out us and for us to both be here for the district semifinal, you can’t say enough about Coach Ortega and what he does and our kids and what they do.”

Mossbrook caught three passes for 93 yards for the Rams, getting the home side off to a fast start as on the first play from scrimmage – hauling in a Croyle pass over the middle, evading a defender then dashing for a 64-yard touchdown at 11:44 in the first quarter.

After recovering a muffed punt at the Rams 14, Coatesville used some trickeration to tie the game – Boulder Eubanks throwing off a reverse and finding Abdul-Sabur Stewart in the end zone for a 14-yard TD at 9:19.

The Rams were going to go 3-and-out on the next series but Coatesville was flagged for too many players on the field. The next play, Croyle connected on a short pass to Powles, who turned it up the right sideline and raced for a 55-yard touchdown at 7:12 in the first quarter for a 14-7 lead.

“We’ve been running the football all year with success and we talked about it going into this week that if we want to be great we got to have success throwing the football as well,” Muller said. “And we challenged our guys a little bit, our receivers and Bobby and I think our receivers and Bobby both rose to the occasion with some really big and clutch plays there.”

Pennridge’s Dillon Powles during the Rams’ District 1-6A semifinal against Coatesville on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. (Nate Heckenberger/For MediaNews Group)

Coatesville was back level with 3:51left in the opening quarter when Susi hit Reason for a 17-yard TD.

Shire’s 29-yard field goal gave Pennridge a 17-14 lead at 8:16 in the second quarter. After a Coatesville TD return on the ensuing kickoff was negated due to a penalty, Hartzell got in the backfield to force a fumble in the end zone recovered by the Red Raiders for a safety and a 19-14 Rams advantage at 7:56.

Following the teams trading punts, Pennridge found itself on its own 3. Hartzell took the handoff and bounced around the right side of the line and keep going, sprinting down the sideline then cutting in to reach the end zone from 97 yards out for a 26-14 lead with 2:16 left in the half.

“That was actually an inside play,” Hartzell said. “Jack was supposed to kick him out but he logged him in, guy crashed out, I bounced it out and I mean the line did their job it was just up to me and if I could outrun and 97 yards I’ll take it.

A second Susi to Reason 17-yard TD pass with 54 seconds remaining made it 26-20 at the break.

The Red Raiders grabbed their first lead late after the officials ruled Quadir Jacobs came down with an interception off a tipped screen pass, the turnover setting up Coatesville at the Rams 20. On 4th-and-15 from the 25, Tommy Ortega hauled in a Susi’s pass in the back of the end zone – the extra point had the visitors up 27-26 with 54 seconds left in the third.

In the fourth, facing a 3rd-and-22 on the Rams’ next drive, Croyle rolled and threw a pass downfield to Joey Kacerik, who dragged a defender the last few yards of a 62-yard completion to the Coatesville 18. Pennridge got to the 4 before settling for a Shire 20-yard field goal to go back ahead 29-27 at 5:53.

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