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Norristown struggles after halftime in loss to Father Judge

PHILADELPHIA >> Just about everything went right for Norristown in the first half against Father Judge Friday night.

The Eagles opened the game with an eight-play touchdown drive and closed the half with a 13-play touchdown drive. Their defense held the Crusaders to 46 total yards and three first downs before heading to the break with a 13-point lead.

After the intermission, just about everything went wrong for Norristown.

The Eagles surrendered a 10-play touchdown drive featuring nine runs and a 3rd-and-17 defensive pass interference penalty before going three-and-out and having their punt blocked.

The Crusaders ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns in the second half to rally to a 23-13 win over Norristown at the Clark Family Multi-Purpose Field across the street from Father Judge High School.

“It definitely did hurt us the fact that we couldn’t stop them like that,” Norristown coach Joe Milligan said. “We also have to answer and score. There are times we come out hot, we have to make sure we score. We got a little cold there.”

“We just have to have more confidence in ourselves,” Norristown quarterback Nick Dinolfi said. “We came out a little lazy and we thought we had them, but it turned out being what we didn’t expect it to be.”

On the first drive of the second half, Father Judge gave running back Billy Whitely the ball seven times. He turned those carries into 66 yards and a touchdown to get the Crusaders within six, 13-7.

Norristown (1-3) gained one yard while going three-and-out before Whitely snuck through to block the punt. An intentional grounding penalty on 1st-and-goal at the two-yard line helped the Eagles defense hold Judge to a field goal and maintain a three-point lead, 13-10.

Norristown’s ensuing possession showed promise, getting inside the Judge 40-yard line. Dinolfi and Julian Arthur couldn’t connect on a long ball and, after a Dinolfi sack, the Eagles tried a fake punt and Kaden Cruz’s deep pass to Cris Dinolfi was broken up.

“I’ll take a little blame on it,” Milligan said of the second-half offense. “We took it a different direction. We weren’t as aggressive as we probably should have been and stayed like the first half. That definitely falls on me.”

Judge marched right down the field. A 10-play – all runs – drive ended when Whitely went around the right corner and into the endzone for a four-yard touchdown and the Crusaders first lead of the game, 17-13.

The Eagles ensuing possession stalled after holding and personal foul penalties and they punted from their six-yard line. Judge took advantage of excellent field possession and Whitely scored his third touchdown of the game from 22 yards out on 4th-and-2. The score gave the Crusaders a 23-13 lead with 3:26 left in the game.

Fast start

Norristown’s first drive ended with a 57-yard touchdown pass from Nick Dinolfi to Chaz Middleton. On 1st-and-21, Dinolfi lobbed a pass down the right sideline. Middleton used his 6-foot-5 frame to out-jump the smaller defender and ran the rest of the way to a 7-0 lead.

“It was one-on-one and he went deep so I threw it,” Dinolfi, who drew a roughing the passer penalty on the play, said. “I didn’t really see the full thing because I got hit afterwards. I just saw him in the endzone.”

After the teams traded three punts, Norristown put together another long scoring drive. Chris Carter picked up a key 4th-and-1 on the ground and Dinolfi hit Middleton for 12 on a 4th-and-8 to get into the red zone. On 2nd-and-8 from the 15, Dinolfi scrambled up the middle and into the endzone to put his side ahead, 13-0.

“The play broke down and I took advantage,” he said. “A lot of guys were to the left of the field and I saw the middle open so I just took the ball.”

Dinolfi finished with 132 passing yards and 40 rushing yards. Middleton caught three passes for 75 yards.

Finish strong

After this loss, Norristown sets its eyes on the season finale next week. The Eagles host Reading Friday night at 7 p.m.

“Start with a win and end with a win,” Milligan said. “That’s what I’m telling these guys. It’s definitely tough – it’s hard to go through a loss like this, but it’s part of life. You have to bounce back and fight through.”

“Ball out,” Dinolfi said of the team’s mentality next week. “Just play our very hardest because it’s our last game, especially for the seniors because we didn’t get the long season we expected. We have to play our hardest and practice hard all week.”

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