QUAKERTOWN >> Rivals Pennridge and Quakertown were tied and the Ram offense was seemingly tied up.
Pennridge, marred by some penalties and miscues, hadn’t scored on offense since its second possession of the contest.
But with just two minutes to play, quarterback Bobby Croyle dropped back.
Putting his two earlier interceptions firmly in the rear view mirror, Croyle uncorked a 59-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Joey Kacerik.
Said Pennridge coach Cody Muller afterward: “I always have confidence in Bobby. He is so calm, cool and collected, to a point where it makes you mad sometimes because you want to light a fire under him. But that’s just Bobby. That’s his attitude and mentality.”
Croyle’s strike to Kacerik put Pennridge in front for good in a 21-14 victory over the Panthers at Alumni Field.
The victory just beginning to digest, the Rams gathered around and posed with a great big trophy, the kind worthy of the rivals’ 91st annual meeting on Thanksgiving Day.
“I owed them a big play,” said Croyle, who finished 5-of-9 for 118 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. “Bouncing back, we knew what we had to do. We stopped shooting ourselves in the foot. Joey ran a great route. I had some time and was able to get it out to him.”
With the win, Pennridge finished its season 7-1. The Rams had reached the District 1-6A Final, falling to Souderton Area.
A young Quakertown squad, which had won five in a row at one point after a season-opening loss, closed out 5-3.
“Huge second half, to say the least,” Muller said. “I told the kids I’m proud of them because they didn’t stop, didn’t quit.
“Quakertown did a nice job of driving the ball on us and taking advantage of some of our mistakes, but our guys didn’t flinch. They didn’t put their heads down. They just kept going.”
Turning point >> After the Panthers built a 14-7 lead on the strength of a 46-yard touchdown pass from running back Tyler Woodman to wide receiver Zach Fondl and a 16-yard TD pass from quarterback Will Steich to Tyler Merwarth, the Rams needed a lift.
Early in the fourth, Quakertown was deep in its own end and had trouble getting a punt away. Jake Tarburton raced in and pounced on the loose football, enabling the Rams to deadlock the game at 14 apiece.
“(Before that touchdown), we had zero momentum at that point,” Croyle said. “(Quakertown) was loud, getting what they wanted, and as soon as (the fumble recovery) happened, we were like ‘alright, that’s what we needed.'”
Pennridge would have to withstand another long drive by the Panthers.
Quakertown, which got a pair of interceptions from Merwarth, marched 61 yards in 10 plays to the Pennridge doorstep.
But on 2nd-and-Goal at the four, the Rams dug in and forced a fumble, recovering at their own two.
Quakertown’s first two possessions of the second half resulted in touchdowns, but its next two after that resulted in costly fumbles.
“In the second half, we wore them down,” said Panther coach George Banas, whose team had 35 offensive plays to Pennridge’s 20 after the break. “We were able to move the ball in between the tackles, threw the ball on them, but we made some mistakes.”
Steich completed 17 of 26 passes in the contest, hitting eight different receivers for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Pennridge, which hadn’t led since Shane Hartzell crashed in from nine yards out in the first quarter, drove from its own two out to the 41. Dillon Powles (13-98) got the Rams driving forward and then Croyle found Kacerik streaking down the middle.
“Joey came to the sideline about two series before that and said it was open,” Muller said of the play. “He said, ‘I’m there. I’m there. I’ll be able to beat (my guy).’ So I said ‘okay.’ I just kept that in the back of my mind. Luckily, it was there when we needed it.”
Pennridge 21, Quakertown 14
Pennridge 7 0 0 14 – 21
Quakertown 0 0 14 0 – 14
P-Shane Hartzell 9 run (Brandon Shire kick), 6:11.
Q-Zach Fondl 46 pass from Tyler Woodman (Dominick Peterson kick), 11:10.
Q-Tyler Merwarth 16 pass from Will Steich (Peterson kick), 3:08.
P-Jake Tarburton fumble recovery in end zone (Shire kick), 11:09.
P-Joey Kacerik 59 pass from Bobby Croyle (Shire kick), 2:08.
First Downs 13 17
Rushes-yards 38-205 32-49
Passing 5-9-1 18-27-2
Passing yards 118 185
Total yards 323 234
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Punts 2 3
Penalties-yards 9-93 2-19
Pennridge: Dillon Powles 13-98; Brayden Landherr 4-3; Jack Ferguson 3-25; Travis Washington 1-2; Bobby Croyle 6-12; Shane Hartzell 11-65, TD.
Quakertown: Tyler Woodman 9-25; Brady Williams 15-51; Merwarth 2-14; Aidan Sylsberry 1-2; Steich 4-(-23); Bryan Sherry 1-(-20).
Pennridge: Croyle 5-9-118-1-2.
Quakertown: Steich 17-26-139-1-0; Woodman 1-1-46-1-0.
Pennridge: Hartzell 1-9; Landherr 3-50; Joey Kacerik 1-59, TD.
Quakertown: Williams 2-13; Micah Kunkle 2-11; Merwarth 7-63, TD; Sherry 1-15; Woodman 1-5; Zach Greulich 1-12; Zach Fondl 3-61, TD; Kaden Roesener 1-5.
Quakertown: Merwarth 2.