Back for its 11th season, the popular Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features football beat writers Drew Markol and Todd Thorpe. To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (https://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school) and Courier Times (https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school/) web sites, which will feature a live blog on football Fridays.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Souderton handed Pennridge its first loss of the season, winning the District One 6A title with a 31-17 win. The Indians will face St. Joe’s Prep in Saturday’s PIAA 6A state semifinal game. Your thoughts.
Drew Markol: “The 6A game last week was kind of a surprise. I thought Pennridge was a little bit better than Souderton. It turns out Souderton came out and played tough right from the get go, took every punch that Pennridge threw at them and beat them 31-17. They were able to run the ball. Jalen White, the senior, and junior running back Braydon Porter were both terrific. White was really good and had a huge touchdown run where he broke a bunch of tackles. Souderton just pounded away on the ground. If it was third-and-one, they got two yards. They held onto the ball and just really had a nice offensive game plan.
“Defensively, their coach Ed Gallagher said - we wanted to stop the run and make them beat us with the pass. Pennridge was able to do that against Coatesville in the semifinals, but Souderton didn’t allow that to happen. Both teams were making their first trip to the district final, and Souderton gets its first district title. Ed Gallagher does it against one of his former players, Pennridge coach Cody Muller. It was just good stuff all around – a pretty good game, two good teams. Souderton is still undefeated. Ed Gallagher brought this up – some had questioned the schedule they had played, including myself, but they can’t be questioned anymore. They beat a good Quakertown team in week one, they beat an undefeated Spring-Ford team in the semis and beat an undefeated Pennridge team that was coming off a win over an undefeated Coatesville team. Souderton didn’t back into anything. They won both of their district playoff games on the road. It’s not much of a road trip going from Souderton to Pennridge, but still, they went and got it done.
“For winning the District One title, Souderton gets to play St. Joe’s Prep at Cardinal O’Hara at noon on Saturday. Prep is the number three team in the country according to USA Today. They’ve only played a handful of games, but they’ve annihilated all the teams they’ve played. It does help to have players from several states on your roster, which they do, whereas Souderton has players from several towns in the Souderton area on their roster. That’s the world we live in now. That’s just a tough go for Souderton or anybody to have to play Prep. Prep was determined to have a season because I believe they have at least seven seniors who are Division 1 recruits. A couple are going to Ohio State, including their quarterback and All-American candidate Kyle McCord. Jeremiah Trotter’s son, Jeremiah Trotter, Jr., is going to Clemson. They’re just loaded from top to bottom. Again, this further cements the point for District One to not bother with this. You have a great story in Souderton, which is 7-0. They’ve had this great season, a huge win, and now they have to play St. Joe’s Prep, which has mercy ruled very, very good teams. You don’t want to say Souderton doesn’t have a chance because everyone has a chance, but this is just a huge mountain to try and climb. This didn’t have to happen if they just played within District One. How great would it have been if the Souderton/Pennridge game was it? That’s not what the PIAA wanted, so they can have their beloved state tournament in Hershey.”
Todd Thorpe: “It was just a dominant effort by Souderton. Pennridge went down and kicked a field goal on its opening possession, and you’re like, ‘Pennridge is kind of rolling,’ but Souderton answers and scores. They get the ball back and score again on a long run by Jalen White. They played from in front, they played in control, and Pennridge really couldn’t stop them. Souderton didn’t really make mistakes. It was a game they controlled from start to finish. They had one little period at the beginning of the third quarter when they fumbled the ball and then Shane Hartzell broke one to make it 17-10, but Souderton responded with a scoring drive of their own. They did it by mostly running plays. They tossed in a few passes here and there. They just didn’t make mistakes. It wasn’t a big mystery. I’m pretty sure Cody Muller knew what Ed Gallagher was going to be calling, and Souderton just out-executed them, had the better game plan and out-schemed them.
“Souderton is now lined up to play St. Joe’s Prep in a state semifinal game, and that’s a good thing. It’s better to play than not to play. For Souderton, their championship game was last week. Realistically, if St. Joe’s Prep shows up, they’re more of an all-star team with great players – Division 1 talent all over the field. Souderton would almost have to play a perfect game and St. Joe’s Prep would have to make a ton of mistakes in order for that game to be competitive. It’s nothing against Souderton. For a Suburban One public school, they have been the best team, and that gives them bragging rights in this area. They won District One 6A, which is another huge accomplishment. St. Joe’s Prep is just a different brand of football and a different level of football. It’s very difficult to match up against a team that literally fills holes with great players. That’s what they do. It’s not a knock against St. Joe’s Prep – they’ve got a great football team, and they’ve built a great program. You can’t really think Souderton most years is going to be able to compete with that, and I don’t think that’s the case really this year either.
“A few years ago one of North Penn’s better teams took on St. Joe’s Prep and it was a pretty close game. It came down to the fourth quarter, and Prep pulled it out. That’s about as good as you could hope for. This might be the best Prep team of all-time and has even improved on those teams. It’s a tough hurdle to clear when you’re a public school in Montgomery County like Souderton and you want to match up against that all-star level talent. I don’t want to predict a score, but if Souderton is in the game at halftime, I think that’s a win, I really do. I think that would be a huge accomplishment. As the years go on, the PIAA Tournament is less competitive for Prep. I don’t expect this one to be much different.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Upper Dublin defeated West Chester Rustin 29-8 to capture the District One 5A championship but had to forfeit Friday night’s PIAA 5A semifinal game against Cathedral Prep. Your thoughts.
Drew Markol: “The charade that is the PIAA playoffs continues. Upper Dublin had a big win last week over West Chester Rustin to win the District One 5A title, avenging a loss to Rustin in last year’s district title game. So they were scheduled to play Cathedral Prep, a perennial power, in the semifinals on Friday night, but because of COVID, Upper Dublin will be forfeiting, which will move Cathedral Prep into the 5A state finals in Hershey next weekend against the winner of the Pine-Richland/Governor Mifflin semifinal.
“I addressed this with the PIAA – what would happen if one of the teams in the semifinals forfeited, and they said the team that got the forfeit would move on. Well, here we go. We’ve seen forfeits in earlier rounds and now we see one in the semifinals. Cathedral Prep also had one in the state quarterfinals against Wyoming Valley West, so Cathedral Prep’s road to Hershey only made one stop. They played just one game – beat Holidaysburg a couple of weeks ago, and now they get to go to Hershey.
“The absurdity we thought it could become has become reality. Governor Mifflin is playing Pine-Richland in the other semifinal. Governor Mifflin got to the semifinals thanks to – you got it – a forfeit win over Warwick. I don’t want to say it’s hard to believe because we’ve gone over how ridiculous having the PIAA playoffs would be. Well, it’s all been proven out, but I guess they’ll get a couple of games in Hershey. We can hear how great these teams are, and we can all sit there and chuckle and say, ‘That’s really not true,’ but we’ll never know. Heck, for all we know, maybe Cathedral Prep is the best team and they would have won those two games, but how do you know? You don’t know.
“If you’re Upper Dublin, you don’t get a chance, but on the flip side – and this is what District One and every district should have done – Upper Dublin wins the district title, gets a win in its final game. Sure, they’re missing out on a chance to play for a state title, but these state titles are so tainted this season anyway. They could have ended their season with a district title, and every district could have done the same thing – just had the district playoffs, but the PIAA – which is now going full bore with the winter season – wanted to have its PIAA playoffs, so on we go to Hershey. We can sit home six feet away from our dog or husband or wife and watch it on PCN as teams that barely played play for a state title. It’s a sad commentary, and we’re still not there.
“A lot of things can happen before next week, so maybe we’ll lose some state finalists to COVID. There will be championship games in all six classifications, and wouldn’t it be something if in one classification both teams had to forfeit. There was no reason to create a bigger mess when we already had a mess, and this is what the PIAA has done. It’s just a shame.
“The PIAA doesn’t mention COVID (In its tweet about Upper Dublin forfeiting), but I think the word is out that COVID’s out there. I don’t want to say it’s hard to believe because nothing’s hard to believe during this, but it’s just hard to fathom why we’re doing this. I’ll say it for the 7,000th time – great job District 11 for saying ‘Thanks but no thanks to the PIAA. We’ll do this by ourselves.’ They have their championship games this weekend, and those games are being earned on the field. Good for them.
“A week ago in the District One 5A title game, Upper Dublin got a huge 28-9 win over West Chester Rustin. Rustin beat Upper Dublin in the district title game last year. They shut them out 23-0, but Upper Dublin had some injuries. To bounce back the way they did is tremendous. It’s a credit to their coaching staff and the team to do that.”
Todd Thorpe: “it’s an unfortunate end to a terrific season for Upper Dublin. Winning a district title is a tremendous accomplishment in any season, and this year is far more noteworthy than a truncated and forced state title when so many teams are forfeiting games because of COVID.
Hopefully all of the teams are appreciating the seasons they had, limited or not, because as we’ve found over the last eight or nine months nothing is guaranteed. They are illegitimate state titles this year which is a shame for all of the teams playing – it didn’t have to be this way. Focus on the local games and just give the kids a chance to play games. State playoffs can take the year off.
“The Rustin game for the District 5A championship last week was a good win for them. Good for Upper Dublin. Their only loss is to a Souderton team that is in the 6A state semifinal.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: In a PIAA 4A state quarterfinal game, Upper Moreland fell to Oil City 28-27. Your comments.
Todd Thorpe: “Upper Moreland left one there. They should have beaten Oil City. It was certainly not a blowout either way - it was a close game. Both teams had their styles and executed fairly well, offensively especially. They put points on the board, and neither team was ever in control that you thought they would pull away. Oil City did throw the ball a little bit better than I think Upper Moreland anticipated, and they hit on a couple of big plays. That gave them chances to score. On the other side, I thought Upper Moreland ran the ball well at times. They had a couple big pass plays of their own. I thought they did what they wanted to do, and when it comes down to it, it’s kind of goofy when a team doesn’t try to kick extra points. Oil City didn’t all day. I don’t know if that’s just their game plan or if they didn’t have a kicker. They went for two the first two touchdowns they scored and made it both times to get to 16. The third time they didn’t make it, so they were at 22. Upper Moreland, to their credit, never chased points all game. When they scored a touchdown, they kicked the extra point, and that’s what you have to do when you play against a team like that because the percentages are way lower if you go for two. Philadelphia Eagles fans can attest to that in recent weeks.
“At a really critical juncture, Upper Moreland scored to go up 27-22 with about nine minutes to go in the game in the fourth quarter. At that point, you kick an extra point to go up six, and that forces the other team if they score to make the extra point to beat you. Or as Upper Moreland coach CJ Szydlik tried to do – he went for two there to try and make it a seven-point game and didn’t convert it, and they were stuck at five. That’s the worst case scenario because Oil City scores, and they wouldn’t have to make a two-point conversion and they don’t. They end up winning 28-27. I certainly think after the game CJ was kicking himself over that decision, and it was tough. High school coaching staffs are a lot different than pro coaching staffs. You don’t have 15 people sitting up in the booth making decisions based on analytics or whatever. You have to do them as they appear. If Upper Moreland can go up seven, then you make Oil City have to make that two-point conversion, so I can understand the logic there, but hindsight is 20-20. I guess their decision should have been to go up six and kick it, but that’s neither here nor there. Upper Moreland certainly played well enough to win. It was a game effort and one of those experiences those kids won’t forget. It was a long trip out there to Holidaysburg, playing a team you don’t know anything about except what you’ve seen on film. That’s what makes state playoffs interesting, but it’s unfortunate in the state quarterfinal you have to go all the way to Holidaysburg, but that’s just the way it goes.”