FRANCONIA >> It wasn’t much fun to play in, but Friday night’s weather definitely helped Souderton.
With a Bensalem squad that has a lot of speed and athletes on its offense and can make big plays in the air coming in for a de-facto playoff game, Indians coach Ed Gallagher really wanted to get it played on Friday. So it was, in the cold, the rain and the wind that neared 30-mile-per-hour gusts, that Souderton and Bensalem took the field to figure out which of them got to play next week.
Thanks to a huge night from Brayden Porter and a resolute defense, the defending District 1-6A champion Indians came through 34-12 to secure a return ticket to the postseason in mostly dismal conditions.
“By far the worst conditions I’ve ever played in, not even close,” Souderton senior linebacker Luke Pollock said. “It was really cold, all the rain, we were all slipping the entire time. I think we stopped the run fairly well, we knew they were more of a passing team, but with these conditions, it was going to be about the run game.”
Souderton honored its 34 senior players before the game in front of the few brave fans who ventured into the weather. Those who stuck it out all the way saw a tremendous effort from Porter, a 5-foot-11, 190 pound senior, who carried the ball 26 times for 202 yards and a trio of scores.
“I knew we were going to have to ground-and-pound them, hold the ball and march down the field,” Porter said. “We wanted to funnel everything to the inside so the backs could kick it outside and go off to the races. All the linemen did a great job and allowed us to bounce it outside.”
Friday’s game was as much about execution as it was strategy. Sure, the line blocked well and the backs ran well and on the other side, the defense limited big plays and made a handful of critical stops but Souderton also capitalized on the conditions as well. With any snap on a kick a tenuous proposition, both teams opted to go for it more often than not on fourth down.
That, plus having those powerful winds at their backs, helped the Indians seize control in the first quarter. Instead of punting into the wind, Bensalem went for it on fourth down on both of its opening drives and both times, the Souderton defense held.
The hosts would also score following both those possessions on runs by Porter. His first, a 40-yard dash with 7:32 left in the first, also came on fourth down.
“It told me they’re confident in me running the ball so I had to show them they could keep relying on me,” Porter said. “Our defense has worked really well for us all year, we can depend on them to get four-and-outs so we can go right back on the field.”
Porter added a 12-yard run with 5:07 left in the first after the defense forced four straight losses on run plays deep in Bensalem’s defensive end of the field.
“We took advantage of that and scored twice with the wind in the first quarter,” Gallagher said. “I used all my timeouts there just so we could keep that quarter going as much as we could. It was that much of a difference going into the wind than with it, it wasn’t just throwing, it was everything we were doing.”
Bensalem didn’t have its passing game going but the Owls did have some success on the ground. Back Josiah Leonard ran hard and broke off several big gains on his way to racking up 176 rush yards and it was his 16-yard run early in the second that cut the lead to 14-6 after Bensalem’s defense came up with its own fourth down stop.
Then it was the Souderton defense’s turn. After Bensalem forced and recovered a fumble, the Owls returned it to the Indians’ six-yard line and were in prime position to try and level the score before halftime. Pollock was in on a key tackle as Souderton allowed just two total yards on the first three downs and once a flag backed the visitors up, the Owls’ fourth down pass flew incomplete to complete the goal-line stand.
“That completely changes everything,” Pollock said. “It really stomps on their momentum and hypes everybody up for a good drive. That was huge for us.”
Souderton didn’t score to end the half, but did get the ball back coming out of the intermission. There, it only took two plays before Porter broke off a 52-yard run for his third touchdown of the night and a 21-6 lead.
CJ Winters picked off a pass to end the following Bensalem drive, then Souderton put its best possession of the game together. The Indians went from their own 36 to up 28-6 on Elijah Goods’ five-yard run with 1:28 left in the third to cap a 7:24 march on 12 plays, including a pivotal fourth down conversion by Porter.
“With the conditions, we knew we had to run the ball more so it was up to all the running backs to pick up a lot of yards,” Porter said. “We just kept grinding down the field.
There was a scary moment in the final quarter when Goods went down on an awkward angle in front of the Souderton sideline. The senior was taken off the field by ambulance but Gallagher said Goods was responsive and able to move his extremities and it was a precautionary measure just to be safe.
Souderton will await its final playoff seeding but ended Friday night in the No. 12 spot in 6A. The Indians will have to travel and will be the underdog, but that’s not a problem for Pollock, Porter or their teammates.
“It means a lot, it’s huge for us,” Pollock said. “We’re ready for the playoffs.”
SOUDERTON 14 0 14 6 – 34
BENSALEM 0 6 0 6 – 12
S – Brayden Porter 40 run (kick fail) 7:32
S – Porter 12 run (two-point run) 5:07
B – Josiah Leonard 16 run (kick fail) 7:01
S – Porter 52 run (Ty Quintois kick) 11:02
S – Elijah Goods 5 run (Quintois kick) 1:28
B – Ashton Barnes 30 run (two-point fail) 7:23
S – Chris Kerns 75 run (kick fail) 2:00
First Downs 14 8
Rushing 51-378 35-235
Passing 1-2-0-0 0-5-0-1
Passing Yards 11 0
Total Yards 389 235
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-40 5-40
Rushing: S – Sean McGoldrick 7-(-1), Chris Kearns 5-78, Brayden Porter 26-202, Elijah Goods 7-19, Jared Zimmerman 3-25, Ryan Sadowski 2-(-6), Josh Daley 1-11; B – Josiah Leonard 24-184, Ashton Barnes 9-65, Ethan Zhang 1-(-1), Matthew Saunders 2-(-13)
Passing: S – Zimmerman 1-2-0-0-11
Receiving: S – Goods 1-11
Interceptions: S – CJ Winters
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