Intelligencer/Courier Times 'Let's Talk Football (Wk 8)

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. This week Cooney and Dunkin are joined by Scott Huff, football writer for 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  North Penn downed Quakertown 35-0. Your thoughts about that game?

Kevin Cooney:  North Penn is back. They played about as well as they have all season. They kept things very simple – no fancy cuts, no end arounds, no nothing. They took advantage of bad field conditions and just ran it right up the gut. Quakertown is not ready to compete with that because they don’t have the size. The size mismatch between Quakertown and North Penn was pretty obvious.

North Penn quarterback Corey Ernst was 11-for-13 in the first half. He’s making every pass, and really, he’s threading the needle, he’s hitting guys in stride, and he’s doing the things you expect elite level quarterbacks to do. I don’t think any of us thought Corey Ernst was elite level – we thought he was good, but if you look at his numbers, he’s not turning the ball over. He had four touchdown passes, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 16-to-1. He is protecting the football extremely well, and that’s been the difference. If you don’t turn the ball over and you have the talent North Penn has – they may not be as talented as they have been in the past, but they still have a lot of talent, and they have a lot more talent than most of the teams they’re going to face, so they’re going to win games, and that’s what they’re doing.

That’s why it becomes so critical for Souderton this week to try to get North Penn out of that comfort zone and try to get them into a spot where Souderton is forcing turnovers, and that’s easier said than done right now. Even as well as Souderton has been playing, I don’t see them being able to force the big turnover in that game.

Look – it’s getting to be North Penn’s time of year. You don’t win 25 straight within your league and not have it be a huge, huge thing. They’re at a point right now where – with a win – they can pretty much knock Souderton out on Friday night, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Quakertown right now is having some struggles. Zac Gravelle is probably not having as good a year as everyone thought he would, but you’re still talking one of the premiere quarterbacks. Quakertown pretty much just needs to go out and play. I wondered last week if they got too caught up in the ‘Oh, we’re playing North Penn mindset.’ There were some things George Banas saw that were good in that game, but they have to tackle better, and they have to cover better. That’s pretty obvious.

For North Penn, Ralph Reeves is finding and tackling guys. Their secondary is playing better than it did earlier in the season. When you play (La Salle’s) Matt Magarity and (St. Joe Prep’s) Skyler Mornhinweg in two of the first three weeks, it kind of sets you up to have some bad defensive numbers right away, but they’ve played a lot better since then. Let’s see how they do this week against Tanner Allem, Tyler Scholl and that whole crew, and that’s huge – if you’re Souderton, you have to see if Tyler Scholl can come back, and if not, they’re in deep trouble.  Souderton and Central Bucks South combined for over a thousand yards of total offense in the Indians’ 44-42 win last Friday. Comment on that game.

Kevin Cooney: That was the old demons we saw from CB South pop back up again, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Souderton has played well in its last two games. Those were two big character wins, but how are they going to do this week when they’re facing the giant? If they win this week, they’re going to earn their way into the playoffs, but if they lose, they’re pretty much done. I don’t see a 6-4 team getting in the playoffs. Even if a 6-4 team gets in, it’s going to be difficult for Souderton at 6-4 to get in because their 6-4 would not have had that many quality wins. It’s a very, very bunched field.

South could still do a lot of good things. They’re through North Penn, and they’re through Souderton, so they pretty much control their destiny. If they run the table, they’re going to get in, but we’ll see what happens.  Pennridge defeated Central Bucks West and is coming on strong. Talk about the Rams’ turnaround this season.

Kevin Cooney:  To me, that’s one of the great stories this year. Pennridge is a team we all kind of left for dead on the side of the road after an 0-3 start, but Randy Cuthbert has done a great job of keeping them focused, keeping the young kids going, and they believe. They found the running back they needed in sophomore Mike Class, and they’re just kind of believing in themselves at this point. That win over Souderton is huge. If Pennridge does run the table – and, yes, they would have to beat North Penn, but if they run the table, they’re going to get in the playoffs. Even if they somehow just lost to North Penn, I think they have a better shot of sneaking in because of that win over Souderton than the Indians do.

It’s funny – what actually could hurt both Pennridge and North Penn is the same thing, and that’s playing Lansdale Catholic, which right now is an 80-point win. That could really, really hurt both teams, but right now both of those teams are playing really well, so we’ll see what happens.  Talk about the district field heading into week eight of the season.

Kevin Cooney:  You’re looking at a very different looking field right now. If you think about it, look at the teams who are not givens at this point. North Penn should be in if they run the table, but if they slip up one more time, they’re not a given. The Pennsbury-Neshaminy loser – quite honestly, I think Pennsbury gets in with three losses, but if Neshaminy beats them, they go under the bubble.

This is a very different dynamic at this point. There are still a lot of moving parts to this thing. The only thing we know right now is Abington is looking like the number one. Abington and Plymouth Whitemarsh look good right now, but if you’re anywhere south of 10 in the standings, I think you’re in trouble. You really can’t afford a slip up, so we have three weeks of basically elimination football.

I think North Penn beats Souderton on Friday night, and I think North Penn will end up a top eight seed by the time this is done. North Penn is on a roll, and they’re going to be a tough out for somebody.

I don’t know if it’s a quality year, but it’s an interesting year. What I mean by that – even when we get to the tournament, this could be about as wide open as it’s ever been.  You were at Abington’s 20-7 win over Pennsbury. Share your thoughts about that game.

Dan Dunkin:  That game really wasn’t as one-sided as the final looked. The game got away from Pennsbury due to mistakes. They had a high center snap on a punt that was recovered in the end zonefor a safety. The ensuing kickoff Ray Schreiner ran back 67 yards to set up a one-yard touchdown. Abington got an interception that set up a two-yard touchdown, so just like that, they were up 17-zip. They didn’t score another TD the rest of the game. Pennsbury’s defense played reasonably well. They had trouble containing the quarterback, Ken Cropper, on runs, but they did a good job on Schreiner, holding him under four yards a carry.

To me, the key to that whole game was Pennsbury’s inability to run and Abington’s defense. Pennsbury rushed for about a third of its normal game average. They got 81 yards as opposed to their 240-yard average for the season, so that was the game.  Abington’s ability to shut it down – and they completely shut it down between the tackles and on the perimeter – was the key. Pennsbury got one big play offensively when (quarterback) Bruce Campbell made a nice 45-yard touchdown run, but that was it. Take that away, and they averaged less than two yards a carry. When Pennsbury can’t run, Pennsbury ain’t gonna win.

Their defense hung in there. 

Abington's defense was another example of speed usually being more important in football than size.

Myles Grasty, their middle linebacker, leads a really good front seven where they just jam everything up. They’re not as big, but they’re very strong, tough and quick, and they fill gaps. There was just really nowhere for Pennsbury to go. There seemed to be more guys than they could block.

When you looked at the two teams coming out on the field, you’re thinking – wow, Pennsbury’s going to win this, but I’ve seen it many times where speed in football wins over size. Abington’s defense is fundamentally sound. They don’t freelance. They have everybody doing their jobs, filling gaps, and they’re quick. You can’t just be a pile-driving offense when you’re against that kind of defense that can move around and jump in there and stop things.  CR South notched a 41-17 win over Neshaminy. Your thoughts about that game.

Dan Dunkin:  I was shocked. I’ve said all along that Neshaminy’s defense was going to improve and become a big factor as the season went along, and the CR South and Abington games proved me wrong. There is a mix of inexperience there that has been a factor. They have a lot of good kids and athletes on that side of the ball, but I think it’s a learning process. What’s happened in this conference is it is really strengthened by the rise of CR South last year and Abington’s continually solid program. Neshaminy is no longer THE team on an annual basis because a couple of programs have caught up for now.

Regarding the CR South game, you had a situation where a team that does one thing extremely well  - run that triple option – did it about as well as you can do it. They’re flowing with confidence on that team. Their offensive line has been consistently excellent this year. They’re near 2,000 yards rushing for the season, and that’s pretty impressive. Even in the close loss to Pennsbury, they averaged well over four yards a carry, and they weren’t really stopped cold.  They have five effective running backs, and it was just too much for Neshaminy to deal with at this point.

Brian Donnelly is such a good player as far as hiding the ball, handling it, handing it off, deciding when to keep and when to pitch. He’s the key to everything. You have a power back in Ryan Whiteley. Anthony Alimenti has really come on strong – he’s a game breaker. They’re just better right now. That much better? It’s a big surprise.

Neshaminy has spoiled their fans for a long time. They’re going to be back with a vengeance in a year or two, believe me, but right now, CR South and Abington are the teams. That Abington/CR South game should be very good.  How does Friday night’s loss impact Neshaminy’s playoff status?

Dan Dunkin:  They’re on the razor’s edge. When you’re 1-3 in the league, and they don’t really have any tests in the next two weeks with Truman and then Tennent before they play Pennsbury, so they have to run the table in my book. I will say – offensively, when you’re able to neutralize Sean Ulmer, that’s been the key to beating Neshaminy. Again, their passing game has continued to improve. They’re going to have to go to it more, and that, in turn, could make Ulmer more successful. He’s still the leading rusher in the area. They’re finding primarily power football isn’t working for them right now. They’re going to have to mix it up a lot.  William Tennent defeated a Bensalem team that you thought was moving in the right direction. Comment on that game.

Dan Dunkin:  That’s another team I was a little bit wrong about. They have lost five in a row. But they are moving in the right direction under first-year coach Kevin Kelly. What’s happening there is the little things are beating them. You go back to those five losses – they have not been dominated in any game. In two of them, they actually outgained their opponent. They were respectable against Pennsbury, Neshaminy and CR South. But mistakes, turnovers, a big play here and there by the other offense is what’s beating them.

When you’re starting over, even when you have 25 seniors – and I’m not absolving them for five straight losses - in the big picture, you can’t measure it all in wins and losses. There’s a lot of details to attend to, a lot of things involved in the rebuilding process. Learning the mental side of the game and penalties, focus, turnovers, those types of things, take time. The fact that they have been competing athletically with these teams and staying in games, those are positives they can build on. It’s not like they’re going out and getting pushed around and blown out, like Truman. They can play, and they play hard. I maintain that program is going to be good. They have the right guy in charge. It’s a shame for their seniors – and I know they feel bad – that they’re not being rewarded because I know they all wanted to make a statement this year. It’s just not happened in terms of the record, but in the long term, they’re going to be all right.  Council Rock North had a big win against Truman. Your thoughts about that game?

Dan Dunkin:  For CR North, it’s good for an offense whose defense has been carrying them. They’re the surprise team in the league this year. It was nice to see them have a high point output and feel good about themselves offensively. They were coming off a game where they couldn’t have felt any better about themselves than they did after they beat Neshaminy with a late touchdown. They did what they were supposed to do against a struggling Truman team. It was more of a confidence builder.

Their quarterback was lights out – Trevor Guzy was 19-of-21 in that game. That’s going to help them these next three weeks as they continue to build confidence in their passing game. He’s really broken out the last half of the season, as has Bill McAlister, his top target, and their defense is rock solid. They have a chance to make the playoffs. It could happen for them. I think it was impressive that they came off a shocking upset of Neshaminy and had absolutely no letdown.  Council Rock North travels to Pennsbury. What are your thoughts about that game?

Dan Dunkin:  I give Council Rock North a puncher’s chance. They have to figure they beat Neshaminy, so why not Pennsbury? Again, with their defense being so consistently good lately, if they keep the game low scoring, hang in there against Pennsbury’s power game – which I think they can do - then it’s anybody’s game. If they don’t allow any big plays in the running game, I think they’ll be in it.

It shakes out to Abington and Council Rock South in two weeks. That’s going to be THE game, and Pennsbury’s got to hope that CR South beats Abington.  Plymouth Whitemarsh is ranked second in the District One point system.  Are the Colonials that good?

Scott Huff:  Yes. The Colonials have earned 114.3 points thus far this year, and it all began with a demanding non-conference schedule that included an impressive 20-0 victory over West Chester Henderson in the third week of the season.  And PW pushed Abington to the edge of defeat before losing to the unbeaten Ghosts, 18-7.  Abington leads all District One teams in points with 132.9. What makes the Colonials District One contenders is their punishing defense.  Plymouth Whitemarsh has given up only 51 points the entire season.

PW’s defense is coached by defensive coordinator Phil Chang – brother of head coach Dan Chang.  Phil does a terrific job of getting his players into positions to make huge defensive plays.  The Colonials limited the high powered Abington offense to just two offensive touchdowns in the only loss of the season for PW.

PW has a man-child on the defensive line in Kavon Johnson.  Johnson has dominated offensive lineman with his speed and strength all season and at 6-foot, 2-inches and 260 pounds is often double and triple teamed.  As a unit, PW flies to the ball and has not yielded many big plays. A pair of gifted seniors - quarterback Russhon Phillips and Xavier Ellington - showcase the Colonial offense.  Phillips – who is also a wonderful defensive back – has gained just over 600 yards of rushing and has scored four touchdowns.  Phillips has completed 32 passes for 530-plus yards, and six touchdowns. Ellington’s numbers are even more impressive with 12 touchdowns scored – over 700 yards rushing – and another 170-plus yards receiving.  He is a game breaker that has averaged over eight yards per carry and over 14 yards per pass reception. Junior Corey Kelly is not a bad change of pace back.  He actually leads the Colonials in carries with 88 and has rushed for 340-plus yards and three touchdowns.

Plymouth Whitemarsh has a bye this week and still has remaining games at Upper Merion (0-6 on 10/28) and at home against Norristown (4-3 on 11/4).  An 8-1 season should be the final result.  Upper Dublin quarterback Andrew Derr has started since his freshman year.  Talk about his senior season.

Scott Huff:  Andrew Derr has had an outstanding senior season for the Cardinals leading them to a 5-2 record.  If the District One playoffs were to begin today, Upper Dublin would rank 15th in the district and would earn a first round playoff slot in the field on 16. Derr has the prototypical size of a drop back quarterback at 6-foot, 3-inches and can take a hit in the pocket at 215 pounds. He is a great decision maker as evidenced with the stat of just one interception in 120 attempts this season.  He has thrown 13 touchdown passes for over 870 yards and his favorite target is Chris Naughton.  Naughton has caught six touchdown passes and averages 19 yards per catch.  The biggest turnaround in the conference has been Wissahickon.  Comment on the 2011 Trojans.

Scott Huff:  Wissahickon suffered through a 1-9 season a year ago, and the Trojans have had a lot of ‘paybacks’ this season as the Trojans are 5-2.  Wissahickon is on the cusp of the district playoffs in 17th position with 540 points. The biggest change in the Trojan program was new head coach Jeff Cappa.  Cappa comes from a football family – his father and brothers have all coached successfully at the high school level.  Cappa was an outstanding collegiate quarterback at Clarion University, and his offensive knowledge has transitioned well to the scholastic level.  Jeff was no stranger to the Trojan program being an assistant coach for the last six years. Wissahickon has received leadership on both sides of the ball from Anthony DeLegall and Ricky O’Donnell. The Trojans have huge games as they meet Upper Dublin in two weeks and Cheltenham in three weeks to close out the conference schedule.  Norristown has had to play almost all of its games on the road this season.  How has this affected its season?

Scott Huff:  Norristown head coach EJ Smith told me after the win over CB East that he really didn’t care where Norristown played – on grass, on turf, or on cement – that Norristown just wanted to play football.  But the fact that the Eagles have had to load up the bus and play almost all of their games on the road must get old after a while. Mother Nature delayed the construction of the Eagles new nest on its high school campus. The only game that Norristown played at ‘home’ was a game at ancient Roosevelt Field in the borough of Norristown against Wissahickon.  It was a game that was played in the mud, and the Eagles lost to Wissahickon – 28-16. The new field at the high is going to be turf – and it would have been a real ‘treat’ to see both running back Brandon Shippen and quarterback Shannon Mayer perform on that field.  But Norristown only received the ‘trick’ this season. Both Upper Moreland and Upper Merion are looking for a win?  Who gets it first?

Scott Huff:  Circle November 4, 2011 on your calendar.  Upper Merion will travel to Upper Moreland to meet the Golden Bears. There is a good chance that neither the Vikings nor the Bears will be able to pick up a win before that game.  Upper Merion has dates with both Wissahickon and Plymouth Whitemarsh before that game, while Upper Moreland must play both Upper Dublin and Cheltenham. The winner of that Upper Merion – Upper Moreland game will earn that first win of the season. I like Upper M…….!  Cheltenham hosts Norristown this week in perhaps the best American Conference matchup of the week.  Who wins?

Scott Huff:  This game should be an offensive explosion as both the host Panthers and visiting Eagles have shown an ability to put points on the scoreboard. Cheltenham features a dynamic duo of Aquil Reed and Mark Thompson.  Reed has rushed for 770 yards and seven touchdowns, while Thompson has rushed for 775 yards and seven touchdowns. Norristown features its dynamic duo of Brandon Shippen and Shannon Mayer.  Shippen has rushed for 888 yards and nine touchdowns, while Mayer has six rushing touchdowns and has passed for five scores. I like Norristown – 28-21.