One last hurrah for local players at PAC Senior Bowl

GRATERFORD >> For four years, they were the stars of Friday nights in the fall.

But for some 66 graduating Pioneer Athletic Conference players, their last memory of high school football will be a warm Monday evening in the spring.

Senior football players from throughout the area gathered at Perkiomen Valley High School on Monday for the 2024 PAC Senior Bowl, a final game honoring and celebrating their achievements both on and off the field.

In the end, Team Independence coached by Levert Hughes and his Pottstown staff topped Team Freedom led by Anthony Ciarlello and the Phoenixville staff, 20-0.

But the final score wasn’t the lasting memory for the players, coaches, or anyone in attendance. The night was about a last game on the gridiron – for some, in high school, for others, forever.

Monday marked the 11th Senior Bowl, a now-annual tradition to celebrate the careers of the area’s graduating seniors. Players wrap up their high school days by joining forces with teammates and rivals alike in a celebration of their respective careers.

For example, the first-half highlight was provided by the unlikely combination of Owen J. Roberts quarterback Derek Hinrichs and Pottsgrove wide receiver Bryce Caffrey, who connected for a 67-yard scoring play to give Team Independence a 13-0 halftime lead.

“I can’t complain about catching passes from Derek. (OJR) beat us at Pottsgrove twice in the regular season, but now he’s throwing touchdown passes to me… I guess it’s fine,” Caffrey laughed.

By that same token, players who spent the past four years practicing and playing side by side found themselves on opposite sidelines. Before the long touchdown pass, OJR defensive end Colin King, playing for Team Freedom, burst into the backfield and took down Hinrichs – his own quarterback with the Wildcats.

“Just like at practice, on scout team, I’m always getting the best of (Hinrichs),” King laughed. “But yeah, I talked a little trash after the sack. It was a good time. These guys will do great wherever they go.”

“Yeah,” said Hinrichs, “he got me.

“But then I looked at the scoreboard – something to zero? That’s what I remember,” he joked.

The trio of Hinrichs, King, and Caffrey run the gamut of post-high school experiences. King is headed to play tight end at Ursinus College in the fall. “I’m really looking forward to it – we’ve got a great new group coming in. I loved the coaching staff, the people, and the eventual job opportunities that’ll be available to me.”

Meanwhile, Hinrichs is off to James Madison University in Virginia, where he’s undecided about whether or not to walk on to continue his football career. Caffrey plans to seek full-time employment after high school, meaning Monday night was likely his final competitive football game.

“It was a good time tonight,” said Caffrey. “I like how they do this, mixing the teams so you’re playing with other guys, playing against your own guys. It’s a fun environment.”

For King, the game was about fun but that didn’t affect his motor one bit.

“I only know one way to play, and that’s 100 percent,” he said. “My last high school football game? I’m going full speed.”

Standouts were numerous for both sides. Quarterback Chase Ristine of Boyertown connected with Norristown’s Quadir Drummond for a pair of long passing plays, while Boyertown’s Cole Yesavage stood out on both sides of the ball, splitting running back duties with Upper Merion’s Mike Scavello for Team Freedom and intercepting a pass just before halftime.

It was all business in the early going, with Independence forcing a turnover on downs and a pair of fumbles. The second fumble, forced and recovered by Perkiomen Valley’s Kyle Gallagher, gave Team Independence the ball at the Freedom one-yard line where Hinrichs powered across on a sneak for the game’s opening points.

Aside from the big connection between Hinrichs and Caffrey, much of the Senior Bowl was largely a defensive affair. Norristown’s Johnathan Hedgepeth lived in the Team Independence backfield, registering four tackles for loss and a trio of quarterback sacks, while Hedgepeth’s teammate at Norristown, Khyrie Woodson, registered a late third-quarter sack to thwart Team Freedom’s best scoring opportunity.

Early in the fourth quarter, Hinrichs went deep to Norristown’s Jayden Byrd for a 33-yard scoring strike that, coupled with the point after from Methacton’s Mia Pettine, closed out the scoring. Pottsgrove’s Caffrey and Upper Perkiomen’s Jayden White added late interceptions for Team Independence.

The assorted PAC players seemed to enjoy their experiences with their temporary coaching staffs as well.

“Coach Ciarlello and his staff put a lot of work into tonight,” said King. “You saw the season Phoenixville had – eight wins, another win in the playoffs – it shows. Great guys, great people, and they’re going to have a bright future at Phoenixville as well.”

For Caffrey, who’s used to viewing Hughes and Pottstown as rivals, the experience was an eye-opener. “It was different, because I’ve had Coach (Bill) Hawthorne and his staff my whole career,” he said. “But I loved the Pottstown coaches. They were great to play for, great guys to talk to about football and about life.”

The event concluded with the presentation of a pair of $500 scholarships, awarded to Joe Quinter of Pottsgrove and Jordan Pyatt of Upper Merion, who played for coach Davis Chubb.

“Jordan came on for us at the very beginning of this season,” said Chubb. “He transferred in, but he’d been at Upper Merion before, and we knew him a little.

“He was a ball of energy. He became a leader – we had a lot of injuries this year, but he couldn’t have been more upbeat the entire season. He’s very deserving of this scholarship and I’m looking forward to watching him at the next level (at Morgan State).”

“Joe Quinter is one of the hardest working young men I’ve had the pleasure to coach,” added Bill Hawthorne, head coach at Pottsgrove. “He devoted numerous hours to become a better football player on his own time. He’s the consummate team player, and he’s extremely deserving of this scholarship.”

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