LOWER MERION >> Coming into his Panthers’ matchup against Harriton Friday night, Strath Haven coach Kevin Clancy knew the importance of being able to establish the running game.
With a balanced attack led by juniors Zach Newlon (7 carries for 95 yards and 2 TDs) and Mekhi Hill (10 carries for 84 yards and 2 TDs), the Panthers did just that. On their way to a 68-14 victory, the Panthers piled up 200 yards on 30 carries in the first half to build a 47-0 halftime lead. They finished with 270 yards on 45 carries in earning their first victory of the season.
“That is our game,” said Clancy, referring to his team’s potent running attack. “We are a work in progress and running the ball is what we needed to do and we have not been as good as we have needed to be. Tonight we did some things and learned some things that we can hopefully build on.”
“We have been losing the past several weeks so I have a lot of empathy for what the Harriton kids are going through.” Newlon added, “Being able to run the ball early was the biggest start we could find to help us get this win. We kept running some basic plays and it seemed to be working, so we kept doing it.”
After Harriton recovered an onside kick to start the game, the Haven defense forced a three-and-out. An 11-yard punt gave Haven a short field as it started from the Harriton 49-yard line.
Hoping to establish the run game early, the Panthers first drive consisted of six consecutive running plays that finished with a 3-yard touchdown run by Nowlon. It would be the start of something big for the Panther running game on a soggy night. After forcing a turnover, Haven would need only two plays to punch the ball in from 25 yards and give the Panthers a 13-0 lead.
After getting some help from Ahmir Gordon on special teams (42-yard punt return for a touchdown) and defense (59-yard interception return for a touchdown), the run game was back on display with Hill scoring a pair of touchdowns.
With a comfortable halftime lead, Clancy had the opportunity to play some of his youngsters who were able to follow the lead of the veteran players when it came to running the ball.
With a little over 7:00 remaining in the third quarter, sophomore Thomas Foster gave Clancy a glimpse of the future when he managed to escape trouble on third-and-10 and reverse direction going from one side of the field to the other and racing 57 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
“We just tell the young kids to run hard and good things will happen,” said Newlon. “If you get three or four yards per carry and keep moving forward, we can score touchdowns.”
Despite facing a large deficit, the Rams did not quit and saw their hard work pay off when they scored a pair of second-half touchdowns. Junior quarterback Patrick Stewart hooked up with Jake Smolenski on a 14-yard TD and then connected with Drew Levin for a 19-yard TD pass.