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Mercury Week 10 Football Preview: Perkiomen Valley, Pope John Paul II prepared for PAC title showdown

It’s been around the shortest of any Pioneer Athletic Conference playoff, but that hasn’t hindered the football championship game from becoming the league showpiece first envisioned when it began in 2016.

After a year hiatus, the PAC football championship game is back. And the Perkiomen Valley and Pope John Paul II football teams couldn’t be more pleased with that development.

The Liberty Division champion Vikings and Frontier champion Golden Panthers vie for the crown Friday night at Perk Valley’s Thomas J. Keenan Stadium at 7 p.m.

Perk Valley (5-0 PAC, 7-2 overall) and Pope John Paul II (5-0, 7-2) began the season as division favorites and backed it up each week: PV outscored Liberty opponents 211-41 while PJP owns a similarly-dominant 186-22 margin against Frontier foes.

The PAC championship game was a Vikings’ showcase in its first three years with their titles from 2016-18. But with Spring-Ford winners of the last two PAC titles, Perk Valley entered the season desperate to reclaim its perch atop the PAC.

Meanwhile Pope John Paul II broke through in 2019 by dethroning Pottsgrove to make the final and doubled-down on its standing in the Frontier this fall, punctuated by last week’s 42-6 win over the Falcons. Now, the Golden Panthers’ goal is to plant their flag as the first.

“A small school has never won the PAC championship since the (final format began in 2016) so obviously it’s going to be a really big challenge,” said PJP head coach Rory Graver.

“We know we can win but we know it’s going to be a fight,” said PJP senior quarterback DJ Clarke. “We don’t take anything for granted. We have a game plan, and we’re sticking to it and working hard this entire week.”

The most recent head-to-head is on PJP’s side: the Golden Panthers defeated Perk Valley 34-22 on Oct. 30, 2020, in what would prove to be the final game of their pandemic-shortened three-game season.

Neither squad is putting too much weight in the result from almost a year ago to the date. But it does have Perk Valley on high alert about what PJP is capable of.

“They made plays last year and we didn’t. There were a lot of huge chunk plays that we usually don’t give up and that snowballed and shocked us a bit in that game,” PV coach Rob Heist said. “This team has our absolute full attention. That was a different PV team and we’ll be ready to play, no doubt.”

Perkiomen Valley’s Andrew Beck (24) rushes against Methacton on Friday. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

The similarities between Perkiomen Valley (ranked No. 6 in District 1-6A) and Pope John Paul II (No. 4 in District 1-4A) are evident with offenses featuring the top two quarterbacks in the area that can hit you multiple ways and cohesive defenses that are built on athleticism and speed.

PV senior quarterback Ethan Kohler, one of a short list of players to have played in a past PAC final, leads the area with 1,843 passing yards (114-for-172) with 21 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s joined in the backfield by versatile junior Ryan Klimek (74 rushes, 553 yards, 7 TDs) and senior fullback Andrew Beck (42 for 277 yards, 3 TDs), who Heist praised for his hard running and pass protection (“He’s been invaluable to us,” the head coach said of Beck). The offensive line features All-Area first team Jake Jonassen and seniors Austin Henry and Reed Overholser and juniors Grant Euker and Tim Ledger.

Seniors Dawson Debebe and Michael Poruban form the 1-2 receiving combo for the Vikings. Debebe ranks first in the area with 658 yards and 8 TDs on 31 catches while Poruban has 26 catches for 454 yards and 6 TDs.

“They’re a 6A powerhouse for starters,” said PJP’s Graver. “They’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical, they have the best quarterback in the area. That kid is a serious quarterback who doesn’t just do it with his arms, but with his legs, too. They’re really, really well-coached.”

PJP senior Clarke is a close second on the passing chart with 113-for-146 passing for 1,464 yards, 19 touchdowns and five INTs. Senior running back Josh Little has been an end zone hawk with an area-best 16 rushing touchdowns and 8.8 yards per carry (106 rushes, 935 yards). He’s also caught 26 passes for 266 yards and two TDs.

Injuries have altered the PJP receiving depth chart due to the four-week absence of slot receiver Kese Williams and tight end Brendan Kenning (13 for 175, 2 TDs) going down in practice last week. Joe Pickell (7 for 176 yards, 2 TDs) has emerged as a threat while junior Derek Skarbek (2 for 116, TD last week) has capably filled Williams’ spot. TJ Boccella and Chris Lucci have filled a void at tight end.

“We’ve had a lot of kids go down and I’ve liked how our backups have stepped up just as good as our starters have,” said Clarke.

Defensively, Perk Valley is riding a 10-quarter shutout streak into Friday’s game after back-to-back shutouts of Boyertown and Methacton. It hasn’t allowed points since the second quarter against Owen J. Roberts on Oct. 8.

The linebacking corps of seniors Ryan Boozer, Bryan Helenski (team-high 75 tackles) and Gage Young have shined, according to Heist. “They’ve all been outstanding and really playing well together as a unit,” he said.

Its current form is exactly what Perk Valley would hope for entering a championship game.

“I would argue that our defense has been the cornerstone of our success in my time as coach,” Heist said. “In our three PAC championship seasons, our defense was the keystone to that.

“We replaced a lot of last year’s defense and it took a few weeks to find our stride, but I think we’re playing how we expect on that side.”

Along with defensive leader and captain Jacob Dobrowolski, sophomore end/linebacker TJ Boccella, junior lineman Sean Lyons and freshman lineman Chase Frantz have been big contributors recently according to Graver.

“They’re a phenomenal team,” Heist said of PJP. ”We’ve watched as much film as we possibly could and they’re good all around. They can run and pass effectively, they play good, disciplined team defense especially on the linebacker level. They’re very well coached and they’re riding high right now.

“They know what winning football is all about and we’re expecting a great game.”

Pope John Paul II’s Brent Mitala (5) and Brendan Kenning (23) celebrate Mitala’s touchdown catch against Upper Merion. (Owen McCue – MediaNews Group)

With dominant runs through division play, Perk Valley and Pope John Paul II haven’t in the past month faced competition the level they can expect from each other Friday night.

Clarke says that isn’t a source of concern though.

“I feel like we’ve been tested. We’ve just performed really, really well,” he said. “We’ve played our best football these past three weeks.”

Even on the doorstep of an opportunity to win its first PAC championship, Pope John Paul II is keeping its eye on the big picture.

After all, it’s gotten them this far.

“We don’t take anything for granted around here. With what happened last year, I think we had a pretty darn good team last year and we only had the opportunity to play three games,” Graver said. “These guys know that and having the opportunity to compete every week has been a blessing. Now having the opportunity to play a great program like Perkiomen Valley is a blessing for us and we’re not going to take it for granted.”

Pottsgrove at Spring-Ford, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Pottsgrove fell to Pope John Paul II, 42-6. Spring-Ford beat Owen J. Roberts, 42-10.

Last meeting: The Rams topped the Falcons in 2015, 22-13.

Preview: This longstanding rivalry game has one common denominator: Rick Pennypacker, who had an illustrious three-decade career coaching Pottsgrove, was a Spring-Ford graduate and is a longtime resident of the district.

“Pottsgrove is well-coached,” SF head coach Chad Brubaker noted.”We haven’t played them in some time, so our players are not as familiar with their great tradition.”

Both teams also have their eyes toward the District 1 playoffs, and being in the mix when the brackets are established. The Rams (4-1, 6-3) are 13th in the 6A rankings and in position to be one of the 16 big-school teams playing post-season ball while the No. 5 Falcons are looking up to being one of the four 4A qualifiers.

The Rams continue to be a solid defensive team, with Cole Turner (five) and Payton West (three) 1-3 in the area’s interceptions ranks. They also saw freshman quarterback Matt Zollers step up in a big way on Homecoming weekend, throwing three touchdown passes; and Gage Swanger score three times — once by a kickoff return.

“We were able to create two big turnovers and only gave up six first downs on defense,” Brubaker noted.

Harry Adieyefeh (806 yards, 10 TDs) sparks the SF running game, as does Kolten Kqira (41 catches, 523 yards, five TDS) the passing game.

Pottsgrove’s offense gets its spark from quarterback Ryan Sisko (11 TDs), running back Amir Brunson (624 yards, 9 TDs) and placekicker Landon Shivak (27 PATs, 30 points). On defense, Gabe Rinda’s three interceptions has him in a three-way tie for third place in that category area-wise.

Phoenixville at Owen J. Roberts, 7 p.m. Thursday

Last week’s results: Phoenixville handled Pottstown, 41-7. Owen J. Roberts fell to Spring-Ford, 42-10.

Last meeting: The Wildcats beat the Phantoms in 2015, 21-10.

Preview: District playoff hopes abound for both teams. Phoenixville (3-2, 4-4) ranks 11th in 5A and Roberts (3-2, 6-3) 12th in 6A, with both brackets seeding 16 teams.

Owen Koch had a milestone performance against Pottstown, upping his season rushing total to 1,020. At present, he’s one of only two PAC runners to go over 1,000, OJR’s Avrey Grimm (1,551) the other.

“It was great to see Owen Koch reach the 1,000-yard milestone,” head coach Anthony Ciarlello said. “That is the culmination of years of hard work by the linemen and Owen.”

Grimm had an up-and-down game against Spring-Ford last weekend. Coming into the game needing about 50 yards to reach the 1,500-yard mark for the season, he topped that with a solid first half. But he sustained a leg injury that kept him out of action in the second half, and head coach Rich Kolka indicated his playing status could be a game-time decision.

“Owen J Roberts is non-stop,” Ciarlello said. “The line moves fast and is tenacious when it comes to getting to their blocks. Grimm is crazy-good with his speed and ability to find a lane and get yards on yards on yards.”

The teams’ quarterbacks rank near each other in the area statistics. Michael Reed (OJR) has 904 yards on 89-for-148 passing efficiency while Ty Romance (Px) has amassed 894 yards on 58-for-114 accuracy. The Phantoms’ Hayden Tenbroeck is sixth in receiving (445 yards) while OJR’s Danny Cashman (397) is ninth.

Upper Perkiomen at Methacton, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Upper Merion beat Upper Perkiomen, 28-13. Methacton fell to Perkiomen Valley, 41-0.

Last meeting: The Warriors got by the Indians in their 2020 season opener, 18-12.

Preview: Pride, and a .500 record (in Methacton’s case) are the storylines for this pairing of the PAC divisions’ second-tier teams.

Methacton (1-4, 4-5) has seen quarterback Dan Brandi (109-for-211, 1,301 yards) compile solid numbers in leading the offense. The team has also been bolstered by the play of Brian Dickey, Matt Blakemore and Tom Dickinson.

“Over the past several weeks,” head coach Brian Kennedy said, “we have been playing more physical. Our special teams has also been a bright spot, we are creating good opportunities for our offense and defense. Brian Dickey continues to provide sparks when catching the ball. Matt Blakemore played a solid game despite our loss. Tom Dickinson provides an anchor on our offense and defensive line. 

“We need each of our seniors to play well this week. It might be their last time playing, and we want to end on a high note.”

Logan Simmon, Brady Thompson and Nevan Smith continue to be the respective bright spots on offense and defense for Upper Perk (1-4, 2-7). Thompson (512) yards rushing) remains among the area’s Top 10 leaders while Smith, with four interceptions, is second in that category, and Simmon is always a home-run threat.

“Upper Perk is a tough scrappy team that can score from anywhere on the field,” Kennedy said. “They play an aggressive, down hill, attacking defense. We need to be physical this week.”

Already in possession of the school’s career reception record, Methacton’s Dickey is three catches away from breaking the program’s single-season mark.

Upper Merion at Boyertown, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Upper Perkiomen lost to Upper Merion, 28-13. Boyertown was overtaken by Norristown, 32-27.

Last meeting: The teams haven’t played each other reportedly since the 1940s.

Preview: Playoff aspirations are held by both teams heading into this crossover game. The Vikings (2-3, 4-4) are ranked 13th in District 1-5A, which has a 16-team bracket, while the Bears (1-4, 3-6) hope for a berth in the Eastern Conference game — a season-finale opportunity they’ve gotten in the past.

“We will need  some help from some other teams to get in,” head coach T.J. Miller said. “This senior class has been a pleasure to coach. I’m so proud of how each of them has developed over the years. They fought through a pandemic and have shown real class and leadership.

Boyertown has seen a number of players develop into roles they’ve assumed. They’ve been complemented by the play of Leo Egbe, who ranks among the area’s rushing leaders with 747 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“I was really happy with the play of some of our guys that are filling in at positions,” Miller said. “Ryder Gehris is learning the safety position really well and Gio Daddario is proving to be a good receiver on the outside.

“Kyle Pry has been steadfast at guard. I’m really proud or how he has grown over the last three years. Cole Marinello is just a tough kid for us at center. They have been the anchor of our line.”

Upper Merion follows the leads of quarterback Zayd Etheridge (72-for-128, 1,079 yards, seven TDs) and Alzere Thomas, whose 556 receiving yards rank second in the area after a monster performance (9 for 182, TD) against Upper Perkiomen last week.

“Our guys in the trenches need to continue to lead us,” Viking head coach Davis Chubb said. “We have some playmakers who can make things happen when the ball is in their hands, but it all starts up front.

“Boyertown is very good at what they do,” he added. “I’m sure they are looking for a big bounceback to end the season strong.”

Pottstown at Norristown, 7 p.m. Friday

Last week’s results: Pottstown was topped by Phoenixville, 41-7. Norristown outlasted Boyertown, 32-27.

Last meeting: The Trojans got by the Eagles in 2018, 19-14.

Preview: While Pottstown (0-5, 0-9) seeks one final chance to get in the win column, the Eagles (1-4, 1-8) look to build on their first victory achieved against the Bears.

Pottstown’s John Cranford showed solid play at offensive tackle, and QB Dillon Mayes teamed up with Rashean Bostic on the offensive side last week for the Trojans. Devon Green continues to show leadership on both sides of the ball in a season where various situations have impacted the roster.

“I am very proud of the players that have stayed with the team and have been accountable all season,” head coach Jeff Delaney said. “We have had some big injuries, multiple COVID protocol situations that kept players out, and adherence to team rules and values has left our roster very small. But they come out every week and play hard.”

Norristown got a breakout game on Homecoming weekend from quarterback Chris Carter, who threw four touchdown passes to spark its rebound from an initial 21-0 deficit. John DiNolfi and Julian Arthur were each the recipients of two Carter scoring tosses.

“Norristown can score points very quickly,” Delaney noted, “and after last week’s performance, they will be even more dangerous. They have a group of seniors that plays hard for Coach Milligan. On defense, they are extremely active and run to the ball.”

Exeter at Daniel Boone, cancelled

Last week’s results: Boone’s game with Gov. Mifflin was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues. Exeter rolled Reading High, 49-6,

Last meeting: The Blazers were rolled by the Eagles, 49-16.

Preview: Boone (2-1, 5-3) saw its traditional Berks League finale with neighboring rival Exeter (3-1, 6-3) cancelled due to COVID-19 matters within the program. 

“Our football program will remain shut down through Friday, October 29,” head coach Rob Flowers announced Tuesday. The status of the Blazers’ hopes for being in the District 3 playoff picture has to be determined at present.

Delaware County Christian at Perkiomen School, 1 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s results: Perkiomen School got by Mercersburg Ac., 34-30. Delaware County Christian topped Valley Forge Military Ac., 32-20, for its first win of the season.

Last meeting: The Panthers handled Delaware County Christian Oct. 9, 42-18.

Preview: The Panthers (5-1) secured home-field advantage for the KSFL’s playoffs with their win over Mercersburg. This game will be the first step in repeating as champion, having claimed 2019’s contested title over the Blue Storm, 32-16.

Though Perk dominated Delco (1-5) in the regular season — it won both meetings by a combined score of 92-24 — head coach Casey Perlstein cautions against overconfidence.

“DCCS is an improving team with several good athletes,” he said. “We need to play well on all facets of the game to get a playoff win.”

The Knights continue to be led by senior quarterback Josh Dell’Arciprete, running back Jason Shaw and wide receiver Jeremy Campbell, as well as junior wide receiver/defensive back Titus Myers and freshman WR/DB Joshua Colonia. Junior quarterback Mikey Boyle, along with Chris Catania and two-way lineman Leo Yu, will be looked to for other big performances for the Panthers.

Hill School at Kiski School, 2 p.m. Saturday

Last week’s results: Hill School lost to Blair Academy, 46-27. Kiski School edged Riverdale Baptist, 35-32.

Last meeting: NA

Preview: The Rams (2-5) showed a resurgent passing game in their outing with Blair. Freshman quarterback Charlie Hewitt was key to that, throwing for 338 yards, scoring two touchdowns and a two-point conversion on the ground.

The Cougars (4-2) are hosting just their second game of the season, having gone 4-1 on the road. They have a 166-144 scoring edge on their opponents.

“Our opponent is BIG,” Hill head coach Orlando Patterson noted. “We will not be able to match size with size, so we will depend on our speed. Our skill players will need to be productive on both sides of the ball.”

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