Intelligencer/Courier Times 'Let's Talk Football' (Wk 10)

Now in its second season, the Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football,’ features high school football beat writers Kevin Cooney and Dan Dunkin.  Cooney, who also is the Phillies beat writer, continues to cover schools in the Intelligencer area while Dan Dunkin – who has been covering sports at the high school and professional level for 25 years - will cover teams in the Courier Times area. Cooney and Dunkin are joined by Scott Huff, football writer for SuburbanOneSports.com. All three share their perspective on the teams in their coverage area. To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the web site

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Council Rock South handed Abington its first loss of the season. Your comments about that game.

Dan Dunkin:  Many people would consider it an upset, but I didn’t.  The way Council Rock South came out and immediately established themselves on the line of scrimmage – their strength combined with enough athleticism was too much for Abington. They pounded the ball, and Abington couldn’t deal with it. They rushed for almost 400 yards, and they were in control from the outset. Abington made it interesting with some gadget plays and a couple of big pass plays, but they couldn’t really rely on what they normally do. Ray Schreiner got close to 100 yards but wasn’t as effective as usual because they pinned down the perimeter pretty well, and Rock was just really tough up front. I think people saw for once and for all that Council Rock South is the class of the league this year.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  What impressed you most about CR South?

Dan Dunkin:  They get great push on their offensive line, and they just have a lot of pride in making that running game work. Brian Donnelly, their quarterback, is so good- just like Billy Fleming was last year - at faking the ball, deciding who to hand it off to, deciding when to keep it, and he’s a great runner. He’s just so valuable as the guy who makes that whole thing tick. They did a great job of developing him to get him ready for that role this year.  It’s a lot for a defense to deal with. On most plays, they have three guys they’ve got to defend, and you don’t really know who’s going to get the ball until the last second. The offensive line from the center on out to the tackles and tight end PJ Gallo – they just do a great job of blocking, and they do downfield blocking. The ‘X’ factor for CR South has been Anthony Alimenti. He has been terrific the last three weeks. He had a 90-yard touchdown run and a 53-yarder against Abington. The guy gets daylight, and he’s gone. There’s just nobody catching him.

To run that system, you have a guy like Alimenti who has carried the ball only 40 times all year but is averaging 11-12 yards a carry. They have so many weapons. PJ Gallo, who is going to be a tight end at Maryland, hardly ever gets the ball, but they’re all in it to win. The system they run is not about one star, it’s about lots of guys. It’s about winning games and not wowing people. It’s a no-frills kind of system where everybody buys in. This is a great lesson for kids – the way this team is built and the way they carry themselves and the way they’re committed to each other and their program. I love to see it, to be honest. They’re a joy to cover and to see succeed because they’re not in it for themselves. They’re in it for each other, and it’s about the team glory. You see less and less of that these days, unfortunately, but you see it with Rock South.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  CR South takes on CR North this week in one of the area’s best rivalry games. What are your thoughts about that game?

Dan Dunkin:  On paper, it looks like South should win this game fairly handily, but when you say that, you look at what happened last year – Rock North came in 1-8 and almost beat them, and South was about as good a team as they are this year. That just shows you that you can throw everything out the window when it’s a rivalry game.

Rock North’s defense is good enough to stand up in this game. The problem is they don’t have enough offense, and South is very wise to what they might pull on them with their sprint-out passing, trying to hit Bill McAlister and trying to get them on misdirection running plays. CR North has had a tough time running the ball consistently, and I think that will hurt them this game. I think their defense is good enough to make it a respectable game, but Rock South is such an experienced bunch, and they so much want to again get a share of the league title which they had last year and, along with that, they’re the number one seed in district one. There’s a lot of prestige with that. They supplanted Abington last week with that big win, and this is not a team that has letdowns.

This Rock North program has been a story – in fact, I’m doing a story on them this Friday (for PhillyBurbs.com). To go from 1-9 to a winning season even with some injuries really is a feather in their cap. They want to finish the season strong, so I look for a good competitive game, but Rock South has come too far and won too many big games to blow this one.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  The Pennsbury-Neshaminy game has a lot of implications. What are your thoughts about that game?

Dan Dunkin:  It’s a huge game, and it always is. It’s really interesting because the motivation is going to be off the charts for both teams. Neshaminy is in the rare spot with its back against the wall. If they win, they’re probably in the playoffs. Pennsbury has a share of the league title on the line as well. Then there’s the annual rivalry and bragging rights. Neshaminy has beaten Pennsbury three of the last four years. Pennsbury has bounced back this year, and now Neshaminy is in the spot Pennsbury was in last year, but they have a shot to make the playoffs.

Neshaminy had to get things figured out after they got blown out by Council Rock South three weeks ago. They steamrolled Truman and Tennent, and even in beating teams they should have beaten, they did get some confidence back on both sides of the ball. They moved some people around. They’ve had to work with some inexperience – they never got consistency on the offensive line or the overall defense.

 When you look at this game, what’s really interesting is that it always brings out the best in kids because it’s such a big rivalry game, and there’s so much on the line. Neshaminy has got some seniors that are just burning to win this game for all the obvious reasons. Pennsbury is a team on the rise. They’re led by a lot of juniors. I think the one intangible of seniors playing with desperation on the road against their archrival is going to work in Neshaminy’s favor. Some of their guys play key positions, skill positions, and I look for them to make some big plays in this game.

I look for an incredibly tight game as you usually have when these two teams meet, but I do think Neshaminy is going to pull this out. A bad year for Neshaminy is a good year for a lot of teams. This is not a bad football team. They played badly in a couple of key stretches in a couple of those losses, but you’ve got to give them the benefit of the doubt. These are two really good coaching staffs, but emotion is going to really carry this game. I just can’t ignore the fact that Neshaminy can’t imagine itself not making the playoffs. Pennsbury is locked in. I know they have a lot on the line, but what I keep coming back to is Neshaminy’s ability to throw the ball, which I think will be the difference  in a very close game. 

 I might be underrating Pennsbury a little bit. They’re really good defensively, and they’ve got Adam Lewis and guys that can just kill you running the ball, but they just don’t throw the ball at all. Neshaminy is more diversified, and I think they can do more things if they need to. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t a really good game.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  How would you rate the conference this year?

Dan Dunkin:  There’s no doubt that the National Conference is the best conference in the Suburban One League this year. You have three teams in the top 11 right now in District One ratings – CR South number one, Abington two and Pennsbury 11, and Neshaminy is 17 and CR North is 20. I think the playoffs are going to be really interesting. While I was impressed with Abington before that CR South loss, the fact that they were number one in the district told me that it’s not a super powerful year for District One. That’s not to diminish them at all, but they’re just not a dominating team. It will be interesting to see how far CR South goes and how they might have to tweak things a little bit when they’re in a tight game to do more than run the triple option.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  As the regular season is winding down, who are some of the National Conference players that you’d consider ‘breakout’ players?

Dan Dunkin:  I mentioned Anthony Alimenti and Brian Donnelly from Council Rock South. From Pennsbury, Adam Lewis and Daquan Mack have been terrific running backs. They’ve both gotten better and been very productive as the year has gone on, and they have a great combination of power and speed in Mack and Lewis. Lewis, Alimenti and Ray Schreiner are kids that once they get out in the open field you can’t catch them.

You don’t hear much about this kid but at Neshaminy quarterback Joe Bianchini has really come on the last couple of weeks. Again, he has three receivers – Bobby Mareterlla, Ron Smith and Justin Andrews – that are all dangerous. Marterella has been a kid who has scored touchdowns on both sides of the ball. He has a couple of defensive touchdowns, and he’s been a good receiver. Sean Ulmer of Neshaminy is almost at a thousand yards rushing, and I think he’s almost flown under the radar a little bit with everything that’s going on at Council Rock South. He’s a kid with 12 touchdowns, he catches the ball well, so even for its inconsistency, Neshaminy has had some standout individual players.

Bensalem’s CJ Lebesco Is a solid running back and one of the area’s top rushers. Davonte Newkirk is the area’s leading receiver with nearly 40 catches, and Kevin Hopkins has improved at quarterback as the season has gone on and as they have developed their passing game.

Pennsbury’s quarterback Bruce Campbell really has been a key that nobody has talked about. Shawn Pepper was going to be their quarterback – that kid is a terrific athlete, and he’s so valuable on defense. He really helped key their defense, and they’ve used him pretty much exclusively at linebacker. Campbell has been very stabilizing at QB and an effective runner. 

At Council Rock North, there are several guys leading their defense. Steve Sroba and A.J. Garboski at linebacker and Curt Cothran, one of their defensive linemen, are some of the kids that have really been influential as leaders as well as players. The big thing at North is they lacked leadership last year, and they’ve got it now. That’s being passed down, and that’s really helped their program. Those kids leading the defense and setting an example has really helped Adam Collachi get his program going in its second year.

 

SuburbanOneSports.com:  You mentioned that last week’s games would help clear up the district playoff picture. What are your thoughts now that those games are in the books?

Kevin Cooney:  In a way, it muddied things up at the top. You have Abington – who everyone thought was going to be the one seed – and Council Rock South upsets them. You’ve got to love the fact that PW somehow wins a game and loses spots because they’re playing a Class AAA school in Upper Merion.

I think what we’re seeing now – and this is probably the rarest of the rare – is the case being laid that a team from the bottom half of the bracket has a legitimate shot to come out and win this thing. I don’t have the numbers, but since the field expanded to 16 in 2006, we’ve seen low seeds win one game, but we haven’t really seen them go deep in the tournament. You look at the bottom of the bracket – Pennsbury is in it, North Penn is in it, Ridley is towards the middle of the pack, and even a team like CB South could cause someone matchup problems in the first round. Basically, the field itself is a little clearer. Maybe there are a couple of stragglers on the outside, but Pennridge is pretty much done. Souderton is going to need a miracle to get in. I think we have an idea what the field itself is going to look like when we get into the tournament. I think this is going to be a wide open field.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Abington fell from the ranks of the undefeated with a loss to CR South. There are some who suggested it was beneficial for the Ghosts to move out of the number one spot to avoid a possible early-round matchup against North Penn. Your thoughts?

Kevin Cooney:  I don’t know if it’s ever a good idea to drop a game. At a certain point, I think we all look for matchups and say ‘You have to avoid this, you have to avoid that.’ Just go out and play. If you’re as good as you should be, just go out and worry about the games in front of you.

In my mind, the Abington-Council Rock South game spoke more of South and what South has become. South is now a legitimate power. The last couple of years they made districts, and everyone said, ‘Oh, isn’t that nice.’ It was almost like patting a five-year-old on the head kind of thing, but now they’re here, and they’re here to stay. It’s a pretty interesting thing that they have a shot at being the number one seed in this. I’m amazed at the job Vince Bedesem has done. You lose Billy Fleming and everybody says, ‘Oh, you’re going to be in for a rebuilding year.’ They’ve bounced back and are in some ways even better.

I haven’t seen CR South since week one, but the program is set up where – okay, a guy graduates, move a piece, and the piece falls right in place. It’s been pretty remarkable. Is the rest of that division down a little bit? Neshaminy isn’t as strong, and perhaps the division isn’t as strong, but you could make the argument that everyone across the board is down. They’re just taking advantage right now of what’s out there. Abington is no slouch, Pennsbury is still no slouch, and Neshaminy is still Neshaminy.

South deserves a lot of credit, especially after beating Abington at its place. They played Pennsbury pretty tough on the road, and they beat Neshaminy and then beat Abington on the road – that’s a pretty good stretch for them. Now CR South’s win over CB South in week one looks pretty huge.

SuburbanOneSports:  Central Bucks South is all but assured a berth in the postseason. Can the Titans win a game in the playoffs?

Kevin Cooney:  We were talking about that last week. I think CB South is going to be one of those danger teams, and the reason they’re going to be so dangerous is not just the fact that, yes, they have a really good running back in Dan Brown, and they have a really good quarterback in Matt Johns, but they play this unorthodox spread offense that quite frankly – if you haven’t seen it, it can be tough to defend. Teams that play against them on a regular basis like CR South, who has played them non-league the last couple of years, North Penn and Souderton become somewhat familiar with it. If they get a team from Delaware County – pick a name, let’s say a Unionville – who hasn’t seen this offense in the past and then has to gear up to play it in one week, that’s a really difficult thing for them to do because they have to then decide who they’re going to take away. Do you take Brown away and then risk Johns and (Chris) Veal having big days. Or do you take the receivers away and then potentially have to live with the fact that Brown could run for a 140 or 150 yards on you. It’s a really strange mix, and of anybody in the field, they may be reliant more on the matchup they face. What I mean by that is if they get Council Rock South again right out of the box, that’s not a good matchup because CR South has already seen them and they already have an idea about CB South’s game plan. If a Downingtown gets CB South, they might have more of a problem. That’s what makes CB South kind of a danger team here. I’m not saying winning districts dangerous, but I’m saying going a couple of games deep into the tournament. They have become that classic ‘don’t want to play you’ team. It’s almost the same with North Penn.

There are four or five of them in the tournament in the back end of the field – you have North Penn and I think Ridley. I don’t think people want to play Pennsbury. I think PW is a team whose speed is actually going to be something that a lot of teams are not going to necessarily want to face.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Your comments about the potential field of 16 teams as a whole.

Kevin Cooney: We’ve said it before. This is going to be a strange November because this is going to be one we did not expect. We don’t expect a state champion out of this group, but it could be pretty entertaining football after a season of, quite frankly, lackluster games. Everybody talks about dominance, and they don’t necessarily want to see that team win every year. When teams win every year, it gets boring, and I understand that. Now we’re at the point where it’s like – give me something, so if it’s a more interesting tournament this year, and it should be kind of fun.

I’ll be honest – I’m sitting here right now, and I have absolutely no idea who’s going to win this thing. Last year we knew it was North Penn. The last couple of years it was North Penn or Ridley, but this year it’s like – throw 16 names in the hat, and pull one out, and you have as good a shot as anybody of getting it right. There are teams that I don’t think can win it. Upper Dublin probably won’t win the tournament, but at this point, I can’t rule them out from winning a first round game.  Having a bye this week really helps them.

That’s something else – schedule a 10thgame. I understand if you don’t schedule a game in week one. Some of the smaller schools don’t play until week two. The way the American Conference is structured that week 10 is going to have a bye…it’s strange.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  North Penn appears set to finish in the bottom half of the 16-team bracket. What are your thoughts about that?

Kevin Cooney:  North Penn is going to finish in the bottom half of the bracket because they went out and played two tough non-league games, and they’re getting punished for playing the LC game. They could be a 10 or 11, and in many mind, they’re still going to be a favorite until somebody knocks them off. This is almost like an NFL mentality, if you think about it. It’s almost like the Green Bay Packers last year. Everybody knew the minute they got in the playoffs – look out, and North Penn is at that point. They’re the target everybody is looking at. They’re the team I think everyone will look at when this starts and go ‘Okay, how far can they go?’ because they’ve gotten their act together. Defensively, they’re a lot better. Offensively, Corey Ernst has had an incredible year. In my mind, until somebody knocks them off, they’re going to be the favorite in a wide open field. I don’t think you can see them getting knocked off.

There’s so much talk about the Ches-Mont. Everybody is gung ho about the Ches-Mont, and that’s great. You have to think those teams will be a factor, but North Penn has pedigree. Their two best offensive players – Ernst and Ralph Reeves – have been through it before. Again, are they likely to go to Hershey? I would doubt it, but I think they have enough to win the district. They’re going to have to play three straight road games to get to the district final. This is kind of intriguing to see how they handle it because for years they sat home at Crawford Stadium – or Souderton or wherever they were moved to – and waited for teams to come to them. That’s not happening this year.

North Penn gets Pennridge this week, and that’s about as big a game as there is in the Continental Conference. That’s how bad the schedule is this year.  

 

SuburbanOneSports.com:  The last week of the SOL American Conference season is finally here.  Who wears the conference crown?

Scott Huff:  Plymouth Whitemarsh (7-1, 5-0) is unbeaten in the conference and holds a one game lead over Upper Dublin (7-2, 4-1).  PW must take care of business and beat rival Norristown (5-3, 3-2) if the Colonials want to earn the outright championship.  Upper Dublin has the bye week and could still earn a piece of the title if Norristown can upset Plymouth Whitemarsh.  The Colonials gunned down the Flying Cardinals in their only conference loss of the season by a 23-7 score.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Math quiz – where does Plymouth Whitemarsh finish in the final District One point parade?

Scott Huff:  Plymouth Whitemarsh dropped from second place to fifth place in the district point standings after beating Upper Merion last week.  Why? Upper Merion is classified as a Class AAA team and was also winless for the season, thus the Colonials gained only the 80 points for the win and zero bonus points for Viking wins this season.  Ouch!  Plymouth Whitemarsh will finish its season against rival Norristown – and a win over the Eagles (5-3) in the SOL American Conference season finale for both teams should secure at least that number five spot in the standings.  However, # 3 Downingtown East (8-1) must close out its Ches-Mont National schedule against a very good West Chester Henderson (7-2), while # 3 (tied w/ DE) Unionville (8-1) meets a competitive Kennett (6-3) in its Ches-Mont American season finale.  A lot can still happen to determine the final outcome of district seedings, and PW will certainly be in that mix.

Around District One, Colonial quarterback Russhon Phillips, running back Xavier Ellington, and offensive/defensive lineman Kavon Johnson have been talked about in glowing terms.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  What happened with the Norristown-Wyomissing game last week?

Scott Huff:  The game began as a non-conference game to be played on Saturday afternoon at unbeaten Wyomissing (8-0).  Mother Nature had other plans with the pre-Halloween snowstorm, and the game was rescheduled for Monday night at 6 pm on the turf at Daniel Boone High School.  The postponed Saturday afternoon game became the cancelled Monday night game.  Too bad for Norristown as the Eagles could have used the bonus points that the Class AA Spartans would have provided with a victory.  Too bad for Plymouth Whitemarsh as well since the Colonials would have earned another 10 bonus points with a win over Norristown – if the Birds had captured a win.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Upper Dublin ranks 15th in the current district playoff points.  The Cardinals have a bye – will they still get in the 16-field PIAA District One playoffs?

Scott Huff:  It should be a very good bet.  Upper Dublin collected 810 points in its nine games for an average of 90 points.  If Neshaminy (6-3) would upset Pennsbury (7-2), then the Redskins would earn 170 points for the win – 910 points of the season – for an average of 91 points.  That would drop the Cardinals to 16th place – but still a competitor in the playoffs.  You can bet that the Upper Dublin coaching staff will be checking out both Council Rock South (current # 1) and Abington (current # 2) this week.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Mark Thompson had four touchdowns last week for Cheltenham.  How good is the Panther junior?

Scott Huff:  The SOL American Conference is loaded with game-breaking backs, and sometimes a quality back like Thompson gets overlooked.  In fact, Aquil Reed is generally considered the ‘go-to’ back on Thompson’s own Panther team.  PW showcases Russhon Phillips and Xavier Ellington, Upper Dublin has Andrew Derr and Jino Park, and Wissahickon has Anthony DeLegall and Ricky O’Donnell.  But, according to Upper Moreland head coach Dave Heying, Thompson is in the same conversation.  His best days are ahead of him.

SuburbanOneSports.com:  Either winless Upper Moreland (0-9, 0-5) or winless Upper Merion (0-8, 0-5) will end a season long losing streak.  Who wins?

Scott Huff:  Upper Moreland.  The Golden Bears had Cheltenham on the proverbial ropes late in its 28-22 loss to the Panthers last week.  Upper Moreland’s Robert Knox is one of the best two-way performers in the conference but has been largely unnoticed, as the Bears have struggled through a painful season.  Upper Merion features the talents of junior running back Hassan Gardner, but the Vikings have had an extremely tough times getting stops defensively.