Back for its 10th season, the popular Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features football beat writers Drew Markol and Todd Thorpe.
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SuburbanOneSports.com: The big game in the SOL National was Pennsbury’s 42-20 win over Truman. Your thoughts.
Todd Thorpe: “I wasn’t there, but I watched it (on WBCB1490.com’s live stream). After the first quarter, it was kind of pointless because the game was decided. Pennsbury forcing four turnovers early – two fumbles and two interceptions by Drew Hensor - totally set the tone. I was over at practice last week at Pennsbury, and that was a defensive group that was very confident going into that game. They weren’t too overconfident, but they were determined to make a point and make a statement, and they did. Defensively, aside from the Penn Wood game, that’s just been a very, very good football team this year, and they shut down what Truman was trying to do.
“Even if you’re Truman and you’re just begging to get to the locker room, you’ve already given up 42 points by the time you get to halftime. It really was a completely dominant effort by a really determined team, and all of a sudden, Pennsbury is back. They’re 4-3, they should win this week against Council Rock South and go to 5-3 and then they close the season with the two big games against Abington and Neshaminy with a chance to really solidify a playoff spot and possibly win a conference title, and that’s amazing. In the same breath, I talk about it with Drew Markol all the time – those first three games don’t matter. Those are just non-league games designed to make them a better team. You try to win, you certainly don’t want to lose, but they’re a better football team because they played those teams early in the season, and that’s what you’re seeing. To the credit of the coaching staff over there and the kids, they don’t quit, they don’t pay attention to what the record is. They just go out and prepare each week. When I was over at Pennsbury’s practice last week, that was a confident team. That team was confident going to Truman that they had the answers. Yes, Truman has an explosive offense, but they weren’t going to give Truman the openings that other teams gave them.
“As far as Truman goes, I think they just got caught up in a whirlwind. You can’t turn the ball over the way they did. There were a couple of times, I thought, in the first quarter when they had a chance to stem the tide a little bit and slow things down – down two touchdowns, they drove pretty deep and Drew Hensor made an interception to stop the drive, and that was a big one. Obviously, the fumble hurt as well. It seemed like on the first couple of possessions Dajuan Harris was getting 8-10 yards a carry. All of a sudden – whether he’s out of the game or you’re so far out of the game that you need to strike quicker, that’s a non-factor at that point.
“That game should be more about what Pennsbury did than what Truman didn’t do, but it really put the conference on its ear a little bit to what we’re expecting. If you’re Truman, you’ve got to turn around and you’re playing for your lives this week against Abington and not only for a chance to possibly win a league title but also for a playoff spot. Truman should be in a pretty good spot to be at worst 6-4, but I’ve looked at the board, I’ve looked at the math, and 6-4 might not do it. This is a game they’re going into thinking they’ve got to win, and it really is. Especially a home game after losing at home last week, the season is on the line for them. The key is going to be not turning the football over, doing what they want to do and not letting the other team dictate what they’re doing. Abington is very good at controlling the pace of play and doing what they want to do. All of a sudden Abington’s big win at Cheltenham looks better and better.
“Abington at Truman this week is a really good game. It’s contrasting styles. Abington has got a very good underrated line. It’s going to be a good game. I think that could be interesting. You wait to see how Truman will respond because after a loss like that you don’t know what team is going to show up. Truman – since they’ve been winning - has done a good job of putting their quarterback in a position to succeed, and they really didn’t in that game. When you force a quarterback that’s not the strength of your offense to make a lot of plays to try and score in a hurry rather than take your time and relax and realize that a couple of scores aren’t going to determine that game – they panicked a little bit. Their quarterback, David Wilson, has done a good job this year when he’s been asked to, and they’re pretty good at the slant patterns with Jordan Fant and the big tight end Keshun Holden. But they got away from it, and now all of a sudden, you’re asking the quarterback to make a ton of plays to get back in the game in a hurry. I thought they got away from their game plan a little bit and their strategy because of a couple of early scores. Truman is a better team when they have Harris playing tailback rather than when they have him playing fullback. He’s a difference maker. I call him a St. Joe’s Prep type of player playing for Truman. He’s a guy that should be playing major DI football.”
Drew Markol: “Pennsbury did have an 0-3 start, but they played good teams. They finally figured it out moving some guys around in their backfield. They moved Drew Hensor to running back the second half of their CB East game, and he went nuts against East. Since then, they’re on their way, and you look at them as the favorite to win the National. They have to beat Neshaminy and Abington. I think Pennsbury/Abington next week will be the game to decide it. Give Pennsbury a lot of credit. At 0-3, a lot of times we write those teams off and then they show a lot of resiliency, and nobody has shown more than they have. Now they’re 4-3. They know if they run the table, which they’re capable of doing, they’ll win the conference title. Pennsbury’s game against Abington in two weeks should be really good because Abington is legit, and you never know against Neshaminy because of that whole rivalry thing. They could go from 0-3 to 7-3 and find themselves right in the middle of district playoffs, which really wouldn’t surprise anybody. Good job by them.
“Abington keeps moving along – they’ve won six in a row. They lost on opening night and haven’t lost since. They’re cooking too. It seems as though Abington quarterback Tamir Berthau scores three touchdowns a week and throws for two more, and their defense is really good. Abington will travel to Truman this week.
“Truman – losing to Pennsbury last week - put themselves in a tough spot. They need to bounce back. They had a million turnovers against Pennsbury, and they can’t do that against Abington because Abington has a very quick-strike offense that can take advantage of those things. Turnovers decide football games and, in some cases, conference titles. Truman needs to beat Abington and then become an Abington fan next week and root for Abington to beat Pennsbury to hope for a three-way title for the conference title. Truman also has to hope that running back Dajuan Harris is okay. It looked like he got hurt a little bit last week and wasn’t the same after a good start. If he’s limited or can’t play, that just makes things that much harder for Truman. You’ve got to hope he can come back. If you’re Abington, you’re thinking – ‘If we win this one, we play Pennsbury next week with the winner winning the conference title.’ There’s a lot to play for in one of the highlight games of the week.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Your thoughts about other teams in the National Conference.
Todd Thorpe: “How about Council Rock South getting their first win of the year, beating Bensalem. That’s good for them. Obviously, you don’t want to go winless. It’s been a tough year for them. Now they have a chance to close the season pretty well. They close against Council Rock North, and that’s always a big game. Good for them winning that game and not giving up on the season. That’s important. Council Rock North and Bensalem are in the same boat. What are we going to see these last three weeks? It’s a good sign that South has a chance to salvage something out of their season.
“Neshaminy got a big win over William Tennent, and I thought that was big because they needed to flex their muscles a little bit. One of the things they’ve done is they’ve been able to go to Chris James at running back and just pound the ball with him, slow the game down, give the defense a chance, so they don’t have to play so many possessions. They tried to do that in their losses. Neshaminy is going to put themselves in a position, I believe, to be a 5-4 football team going into Pennsbury in week 10. They have two more games to take care of business and we’ll see. Neshaminy has already played Abington and Truman. They lost both games, but they’ve played them. Now they can play a couple of softies here and get ready for that Pennsbury game. These three weeks are just huge.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Cheltenham edged Plymouth Whitemarsh in a key conference game. Your thoughts about the American Conference.
Todd Thorpe: “How about Cheltenham? It just seems like every week they get another big win. Beating PW is huge because PW had been playing really, really well. They needed a goal-line stand to do it, but since they’ve lost to Abington, which isn’t a bad loss, Cheltenham has really rolled. Certainly you benefit from the fact that Upper Dublin is banged up, and that’s harpooned their season a little bit, but there’s no denying that Cheltenham is well-coached and they’ve got some really talented players. That’s a big thing. If you’re looking at the District One 5A bracket and you’re one of those other teams throughout the district, you’re like ‘What do we have there in Cheltenham?’ It’s tough to say. I believe they’re well coached enough that they’re going to be prepared to play whoever they face. The first thing they have to worry about is finishing off the regular season strong, but that was a big win over PW, and it certainly puts them in line to win their conference championship. I’m not sure when the last time was that Cheltenham won a championship in football.”
Drew Markol: “Over in the American Conference, you can see that Upper Dublin without their quarterback Mike Slivka - it’s really hurting them a lot, and Cheltenham is just stepping right in. They were a very good team last year, and they just keep on winning. When they get to districts as a 5A team, they are going to be tough. Before the season, we thought the American Conference might be the best race for a conference title, and the way it’s looking it might be the third of the three.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: North Penn beat Souderton in a battle of unbeaten conference teams, setting up a showdown with undefeated Central Bucks West on Friday. Your comments about those two teams and the Continental Conference.
Drew Markol: “CB West’s magical run continues. They just took it to CB East right from the start and just blew them out early. They had a 38-3 lead at the half. They just scored at will with Jack Fallon running, an interception returned for a touchdown by Ben Mullikin, and senior quarterback Jack Neri had a score. West is good up front with their offensive line and their defensive line. There’s not a lot of trickery going on. They just do what they do very well. They took it to East, and they’re having a season that an optimist and a West fan may have seen coming, but I didn’t see 7-0, for sure. They’re just doing a great job. Now they won the CB Cup. They beat a good CB South team and they beat what I still think is a pretty good East team, and now they get to play North Penn.
“North Penn had a good game with Souderton. It was close for a bit, but then North Penn – as North Penn normally does – imposed its will and ended up putting 47 points on what was an unbeaten Souderton team. It will be a great atmosphere at West when West plays North Penn this week. It was a great atmosphere last week, a huge crowd for the East/West game, which you would expect. I think you’re going to get a similar crowd if not more for this one. North Penn coach Dick Beck is a West grad, so he always has a bit of a soft spot to come back home. It’s unexpected. Before the season, if you would have asked me who I thought might have a chance to challenge North Penn in the Continental, I probably would have said CB South, but as it turns out, it’s been Souderton, it’s been West, and now West gets its chance. The winner of this one will win the conference. North Penn’s only loss was to La Salle. They’re doing what they do in the Continental and that’s win.
“I’m not great at picking actual scores, but I could see something like North Penn 35-21 or 35-24, that neighborhood kind of score. I would put North Penn as a 10-14-point favorite, but I’m wrong a lot, so we’ll see.
“If you look at CB South, their only two losses are to teams that are a combined 14-0. They opened up their season with a nice win over Spring-Ford. Then they lost to Downingtown West, and we didn’t realize Downingtown West was this good. They’re always good, but it looks like a special year for them. South is absolutely legit. They go to East on Saturday morning. East has lost four in a row with a loss to West, and they would need to win them all to probably get a playoff spot, which they did last year. It’s not like East has nothing to play for because they do, plus they’re playing a rival in South. I think that will be a good game. It’s a good test for South. If they win that one, now they’re 6-2, and you’ve pretty much secured a playoff spot when you do that. Considering they only won four games last year, they’re doing a nice job. Getting senior quarterback Josh Consoletti back, who had missed a couple of games, really helps. Coaches will tell you the best returning player to have is a returning quarterback, and they do have that. That’s a big thing, and you can see it’s helping.”
Todd Thorpe: “Obviously, we’re building to the big games at the end of the year. One of them was last week – Souderton hung with North Penn for a half, and things looked interesting, and then North Penn flexed its muscles again. One of the things that’s interesting to see is how young North Penn is but how much better they’re getting as the season goes along. For a one-loss team, they’re clearly the favorite in that conference. That’s a big win beating Souderton because you know Souderton looked at this as ‘We’re the senior-dominated team. Maybe this is the year we can finally do it.’ North Penn in the second half of that game last week said, ‘No, it’s not going to happen.’
“That sets the stage for this week. CB West remains unbeaten at 7-0 and beat CB East. They’re really untested almost, but they do seem to pull away from teams every week. They dominated that game against CB East – it wasn’t even a game. Jack Fallon has just had a great year, and they have a really great quarterback in Jack Neri. This is probably the biggest North Penn/CB West game at War Memorial Field since the late 90s. I remember a couple of years with Brian Hensel they had some pretty good players, but if you’re West, nobody has proven to them they can’t play with anybody, so it will be interesting to see. This is the big test. West has a murder’s row of a schedule to close the season with Abington and Souderton still left on their schedule, but this is a huge one. I don’t remember the last time there’s been this big a game at War Memorial Field. The statue of Mike Pettine will be looking over the game, reminding you of some of those father versus son games in the late 90s when North Penn played CB West.
“CB South beat up on the teams they’re supposed to beat up on. They throw the ball around a little bit, they’ve had a good year, and they have a chance to make the playoffs. If you’re looking at the benchmark of 6-4, they’re right there. Bigger picture, I’ve looked at the power point rankings, and I’m not sure all the 6-4 get in. I think there’s going to be quite a few in that last handful, teams that have circled 6-4 as the automatic - I’m not sure you can put that in ink yet. They need to take care of business on the field first. Last year Pennsbury got in at 5-5. I’m not a mathematician and I’m not Kyle Berger, who does the rankings, but I don’t see how a 5-5 team is going to get in with all the teams with three or fewer losses right now. You’re probably talking 15 or 16 teams all with three or fewer losses. A lot of them have just one or less. It’s a garbled mess. The good thing is a lot of these teams are playing each other, and we’ll start weeding them down. I would say if you’re 6-4 you’ve got a chance, but I wouldn’t necessarily carve it on stone. You better take care of business on the field.”