Intelligencer/Courier Times 'Let's Talk Football' (Wk 9)

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 defeated Souderton on Friday night in a key Continental Conference game. Your thoughts on those two teams.

Kevin Cooney:  North Penn is starting to play the kind of football we have come to expect from them at this time of year. They’re a very good closing team. It’s kind of shown the last couple of years – they’ve found a way to really get their stuff together in late October and early November. That’s proven by when you look at what’s happened in the postseason, getting to the district final, getting to the eastern final. Right now they have the look of a team that’s ready to make its move. We talked about this a little last week – they’re the one team in this tournament that is going to be an eight, nine or 10 seed that nobody is going to want to play. If you think about it and you’re Abington, you’re hoping North Penn ends up either seven or 10. Obviously, Abington has CR South this week, but the idea being you don’t necessarily want to see them in the second round as opposed to getting them in the district final when quite honestly there could be some different factors.

With Souderton – look, it’s the same inconsistencies that have been there all season. They look great one minute, they don’t look great another. I think Ed Gallagher has done a good job with the program, getting them to this level, but they are what they are. This is what they’ve done the last couple of years. It makes life very difficult when you start with as tough a schedule as they do in the early going and have to play catch-up. Your margin for error is gone. Obviously, right now Souderton still has an outside shot of getting in, but boy, it’s real outside right now.  What is the biggest difference between North Penn now and North Penn earlier in the year?

Kevin Cooney:  Defensively, I think they have just fit into the scheme better. They don’t give up the big plays like they did against La Salle and the Prep. Let’s be fair – the two teams we’re talking about that they lost to are really good. I think it’s just a matter of execution. They’re executing better, they’re getting a little more confident with each other, and they know that they’re the team nobody wants to face, and there’s a little bit of confidence that goes along with that.

There’s confidence being North Penn at this time of year because quite honestly you know everybody is looking at you, and you’re the one guy in the room they don’t want to pick a fight with.

Corey Ernst had his second interception of the season on Friday night, but his numbers are just baffling – he has a 20-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Ed Gallagher said it properly when he said that Ernst was good last year, and he’s taken it to another level this year. He has to really be in the discussion for (Continental Conference) Player of the Year. There are some good players. The (Mike) Class kid up at Pennridge, a couple of CB South kids – Dan Brown and Matt Johns, but right now Ernst has just been unbelievable. You take a look at what he’s done, and that’s a big reason they are where they are right now.  Central Bucks East won its first game of the season against Quakertown. Comment on those teams.

Kevin Cooney:  That loss just did in Quakertown’s playoff hopes. Give East credit. John Donnelly has had his kids fighting. They lost a tough game the week before against West. He’s got them in a spot where they’re going to play through the whistle, and it’s been a tough year.

As far as Quakertown, I think their flaws just got revealed. They’re at a point right now where you have to see where things go. Quakertown, in my mind, is what it is. We all got a little excited because you see Zac Gravelle, you see some of the talent they have, and they put some pretty good numbers up early in the year, but now they are at a point where this is pretty much their level. They’re a .500 team. Fair or unfair, that’s just the way things have worked. They’re not overachieving, and they’re not underachieving. They probably overachieved early. In high school football, in my mind, eventually things even out. The old Bill Parcells saying – you are what your record says you are, and they are what they are, which is around a .500 team.  Pennridge beat Central Bucks West, and Central Bucks South defeated Hatboro-Horsham. Your comments about those two teams who will square off this week.

Kevin Cooney:  Pennridge found a way to get things cranking, and Mike Class is one of the breakout performers. He has become a game changer. Pennridge has been a great story, and it will be pretty interesting on Friday night seeing them and CB South, which basically amounts to an elimination game.

For both teams, that game is kind of the moment of truth. You have to figure if South wins, South probably gets in the tournament. If Pennridge wins, they still have work to do because they still have to go beat North Penn the following week. Whatever it is – Pennridge has found something going forward. They have so many young players playing this year, and you saw them overcome their struggles early in the year. Now they’re at a point where – whether they actually get to the finish line or not, you could see the potential there, and you could see something kind of developing.

The key for CB South is obviously - what will they do against Class? The defensive issues they had last year and early in this season kind of returned the last couple of weeks. If they can’t stop Class, it’s going to be very difficult. There’s a real possibility that the Continental Conference gets one team in the tournament. That’s something that three weeks ago seemed mathematically impossible, but now we’re at that point where if South does lose this week, I think the odds would be that only one team will get in, and that’s pretty incredible. South controls its destiny, and in a way, Pennridge controls its destiny, but you have to figure that this is a huge week for those two schools.  What are your thoughts looking at the district playoff picture, especially in light of the fact that – depending on how things fall – Abington and North Penn could meet very early in the tournament. Which one of those teams is better at this point in the season?

Kevin Cooney:  It’s a popular discussion. The chalk is North Penn because of what they’ve done over the years. Does that guarantee a carryover? I don’t know.

Right you have: 1 Abington, 2 PW, Council Rock South and Unionville are tied for 3, 5 Rustin, 6 Downingtown East, 7, Garnet Valley, 8 Spring-Ford, 9 WC Henderson, 10 Pennsbury, 11 Coatesville, 12 Ridley, 13 North Penn, 14 Downingtown West, 15 Central Bucks South, 16 Upper Dublin. The first four teams out are Wissahickon, Neshaminy, Pennridge and Souderton.

By the end of Saturday, I think we’ll have a pretty good idea of what the playoff picture looks like.  Council Rock South travels to Abington for a game that will go a long way toward determining the National Conference crown. Your comments on that game.

Dan Dunkin:  That will be the game of the year in the conference. Abington scares everybody with their speed on both sides of the ball. As they showed against Pennsbury, they can stand up tough between the tackles against the run even though they’re not a big defense. They’re very physical, they’re very quick and they’re very well coached. They’re going to need every bit of that to stand up to Council Rock South’s running game.

The mistake people make about South is that they’re one-dimensional. They do run the ball 95 percent of the time, but that doesn’t mean they’re one dimensional. They have five running backs, including their quarterback Brian Donnelly, who is very deft with the ball, faking it, keeping it.  The ‘X’ factor the last couple of weeks has been Anthony Alimenti – he has three big breakaway touchdown runs the last two weeks.

Abington’s defense is going to have to deal with three things – a very physical, tough offensive line, the depth that Council Rock South has in the running game and their ability to hit the edges. Everybody talks about Abington’s speed on the outside with Ray Schreiner. South has that also – nobody as fast as Schreiner, but they have kids who can get to the corners as well as pound you, pound you, pound you inside. I think that’s going to be the difference in this game.

I think South’s ability to run the ball – even if it isn’t working, they can stick with it and wear Abington down.  The other key is defensively they’re going to have to play their best game of the year, containing Schreiner. If they can do that, they can win because Schreiner and Ken Cropper, Abington’s quarterback, carry the ball over 70 percent of the time whereas South can distribute the ball pretty evenly among four or five guys.  I think they can contain the edges because South has enough speed on defense. They have P.J. Gallo, who is a wonderful linebacker going sideline to sideline. They’re very physical with their defensive front, Ryan Whiteley is another tough linebacker, and that group can congest things, make it very difficult for Abington. Abington’s got a terrific receiver in Josh Lee who can break a game open, but I think they will be wise to that. If they handle the run, they can be okay.

I see South winning a close game. I think they can beat Abington – I really do.  Pennsbury defeated Council Rock North in a key National Conference game that you staffed. Share your comments about that game.

Dan Dunkin:  I thought that would be a very good game, and it was a tight game. It was a little bit of a bizarre game the way both halves began with Pennsbury fumbling a kickoff and North cashing in right away and then the opposite happened in the second half. North fumbled a kickoff and Pennsbury cashed in to take a lead. Though they had a lead, it was tenuous. North’s defense again – as it always has – kept them in the game.

North’s inconsistent running game hurts them. Their passing game has come a long way, but it does put too much pressure on the passing game. Pennsbury is very opportunistic and had three interceptions that really turned the game.

But Pennsbury really was concerned because they had a ton of penalties and did stop themselves from time to time, although North’s defense often forced them to punt after stopping them on third down. The big factor in this game was Adam Lewis. He’s a sprinter on the track team for Pennsbury, and man, the kid can fly. He’s a terrific football player, and he’s just gotten better and better. He sealed that game with his big breakaway touchdown run with about four minutes to go.

It was 19-8 and was very close roughly the entire game. Pennsbury has got to iron out their mistakes. They’re solid defensively, and their running game is potent. They’re going to need to be solid in both areas to make a run this year. I see that possibility. They have been able to win some pretty close games, which is a good sign. They’ve gotten through some adversity. They have a lot of tough kids on that team. It took them a while to hit their stride offensively. Defensively, they’ve been good all year, so that’s their bedrock, and that can carry them a ways. They don’t give up any long drives. Tommy Hose is one of the best linebackers in the area. The program is definitely back on the upswing.  Neshaminy is still hoping for a playoff spot. What are your thoughts about the Redskins?

Dan Dunkin:  Neshaminy has Tennent this week, and they don’t want to look ahead, but man, they’ve got their season on the line against Pennsbury in their final game. They have an outside, outside shot at the playoffs, but they have to win that game.

Last week, Neshaminy did what they had to do. Sean Ulmer had a terrific game. You have to give him credit – he’s had a great year. A couple teams have slowed him down and won the battle up front, which led to Neshaminy not being successful running the ball in a couple of games, but even in the Abington game when they were getting dusted, the kid has 173 yards, and he had 155 last week. He’s going to top a thousand yards. Because Neshaminy has had an uneven year, you don’t hear enough about him, but he’s a terrific player. We’ll see how they get their defense settled in the next couple of weeks.  Council Rock North will face Bensalem this week. Your comments about that game.

Dan Dunkin:  Council Rock North has a dangerous game this week. You wouldn’t think so on paper against Bensalem, which has lost six straight, but this team is better than that. They’ve made a lot of mistakes – fumbled snaps, penalties - but I was looking back through their losses, and half the time they’ve been outgaining their opponents. They’ve been in games at halftime. They just haven’t learned how to win, which is unfortunate because the 25 seniors wanted to end better and leave a mark on the program. That’s a game they could win against Council Rock North. Council Rock North has to be careful.

Rock North’s running game is very erratic, and Bensalem does have some dangerous offensive weapons. Davonte Newkirk is the leading receiver in the area and is very difficult to cover. C.J. Lebesco is a good running back and a good receiver out of the backfield. Kevin Hopkins has improved the last two or three weeks. They’ve gone to their passing game more, and it’s worked for them some. North is really going to have to play good defense to make sure they take care of business here. It’s a road game for Bensalem, but they’d like nothing more than to beat a pretty good team before the year is out. I think it’s a dangerous game for North, especially coming off Pennsbury and caught in between that and playing Rock South next week.  The biggest SOL American Conference game this week is Wissahickon at Upper Dublin to determine a possible PIAA District One playoff spot.  Who wins?

Scott Huff:  Upper Dublin.  Neither the Cardinals (6-2, 4-1) or Trojans (6-2, 3-1) look like conference champions – the title is Plymouth Whitemarsh’s (7-1, 4-0) to lose – but this game has huge implications as to which team should advance to the field of 16 in the District One playoffs.  It is an enormous 160-point game with the winner gaining 100 points for the win – and ten points for its opponent’s wins.  Upper Dublin showcases a wonderful quarterback in senior Andrew Derr.  Derr has completed 77 passes for 995 yards and with an impressive completion percentage of 56.2 percent.  His touchdown-to-interception numbers are equally impressive with 14 TD passes and only two picks.  Senior Chris Naughton has snared six touchdown passes, while Jino Park is the leading rusher and has reached the end zone a total of six times.  Wissahickon features a punishing ground-oriented offensive attack that features seniors Anthony DeLegall and Ricky O’Donnell.  The gifted pair has rushed for close to 1000 yards so far this season and has scored 11 touchdowns.  The edge at quarterback might just be the slight edge in the game – Upper Dublin wins 28-27.  Plymouth Whitemarsh had a bye last week.  Does that help or hurt the Colonials?

Scott Huff:  It does not hurt them as far as earning a coveted PIAA District One playoff berth.  The number of points earned during the course of the season is divided by the number of games played, and the average of that calculation is what determines the seed in the playoffs.  Council Rock South, Unionville, West Chester Rustin, Downingtown East, and Garnet Valley all have 7-1 records and have accumulated more points than the Colonials. But PW at 6-1 has earned a better average (120.0) and is currently second in the district behind Abington.  Plymouth Whitemarsh puts its toe back into the water this week and should have an easy time against winless Upper Merion.  A huge game for PW will come the following Friday Night when the Colonials host rival Norristown in a game that should determine the conference championship.  Norristown plays a Class AA team this week in Wyomissing.  How does that affect the Eagles playoff hopes?

Scott Huff:  This was the conference bye week for Norristown, but the Eagles decided to fill that opening with Wyomissing.  The Spartans are a Class AA school – but an unbeaten AA school with an 8-0 record.  The game is on the road as the Eagles travel southwest of Reading for a Saturday 1:30 pm kickoff.  If Norristown knocks off Wyomissing – even though the Spartans are a Class AA team – the Eagles will still gain 140 valuable playoff points.  An upset victory in the season finale with Plymouth Whitemarsh – coupled with a win over Wyomissing - should jettison the Birds into the post-season playoffs.  Cheltenham has been on a roller coaster all season.  How does the ride end for the Panthers?

Scott Huff: Cheltenham has been doing the two-step all season.  The Panthers won their first two games (35-0 over Truman and 34-14 over Bishop McDevitt) – lost their next two games (24-7 to Quakertown and 19-7 over Upper Dublin) – won their next two games (33-14 over Chichester and 34-20 over Upper Merion) – and lost their last two games (30-12 to Plymouth Whitemarsh and 14-7 to Norristown).  Cheltenham is an impressive +22 in its wins and a less than impressive -13.5 in its losses.  The Panthers will close the season with a home game with Upper Moreland, at Wissahickon, and at Hatboro-Horsham.  I doubt that the two-step will continue with that slate of games.  Both winless Upper Moreland and winless Upper Merion suffered big losses last week.  How will the Bears and Vikings fare this week?

Scott Huff:  Upper Merion – which dropped a 48-18 verdict to Wissahickon last week - has now gone 17 games without a victory.  The Vikings last win came during the 2009 season when they defeated Kennedy Kenrick 36-6 in a non-conference game in the season finale.  Upper Merion will play host to Plymouth Whitemarsh this week.  The Colonials are 6-1 and have the second highest point rating in the entire district.  Ouch.  The Golden Bears – who were caged by Upper Dublin 47-15 last week – have now gone 10 games without a victory.  The last Upper Moreland win came last season when the Bears clawed Upper Merion 47-8.  Upper Moreland was a PIAA District One Class AAA playoff team last year with a record of 8-3.  The Bears will meet a talented Cheltenham team this week that is on its own two-game losing streak.  The Panthers will still be a very tall order for Upper Moreland.  Upper Moreland will host Upper Merion next Friday – and if both teams lose this week - one of those agonizing losing streaks will end – and one will painfully continue.