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: In last weekend’s opening round of the District One 6A Tournament, the eight games were decided by an average margin of 30 points. Your comments.
Drew Markol: “This happens a lot. Seemingly every year, the first round is full of blowouts. It helps the argument that there’s too many teams in the field, but you look at the games, and number nine North Penn beat number eight CB South, and number 11 Plymouth Whitemarsh beat number six Abington. They may have been lopsided, but maybe there’s something wrong with the seedings. I don’t know what the answer is. My answer is always the same – if we did away with the district tournament, then you wouldn’t have this problem.
“A lot of times we’ve just had the top eight teams win, and I’m glad that didn’t happen. You had a couple of upsets. Blowouts aren’t fun for the team getting blown out that was so excited about making the tournament. They get in and then they go and get clobbered. That makes it hard. Again, if we just took the top eight like they used to do, you would have had two teams that won not in the field.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Plymouth Whitemarsh, the 11th seed, defeated sixth-seeded Abington for the opening weekend’s biggest Class 6A upset. Your comments.
Drew Markol: “When I heard the scores coming in on Friday. You here the score first and then you hear PW is winning – you’re like, ‘Wow.’ That was truly the upset of the first round, for sure. Number nine North Penn beat number eight CB South. Well, okay, nine-eight is supposed to be a close game, but when you have number six versus number 11, you had an Abington team that had won the National Conference, which they would like to think is the top conference. I don’t believe it is, and then you have a team like Plymouth Whitemarsh that had only lost to Cheltenham, a really good 5A team, that had only lost to Abington. You start doing the math and comparing scores – granted, Plymouth Whitemarsh played Cheltenham very close, but Cheltenham still lost to Abington, so if there was any psychological advantage on top of strictly a numbers advantage, it was also with Abington, and PW goes and beats them. That says a lot about what Dan Chang has done with the team that only won two games in the last two seasons, and it’s remarkable. That was very impressive. They should be commended. Again, that was absolutely a stunner that I don’t think anybody saw coming. I know I didn’t. That was a good job by them, and they get to keep going. That’s great stuff.
“Now Plymouth Whitemarsh goes to Garnet Valley. They run their wishbone offense that nobody ever sees, and that’s a tough team to have to deal with. That’s a school and a program – they’ve gotten good in a lot of sports. Their football program is absolutely legit. They get overshadowed by the Coatesvilles and the Downingtowns, but they’ll run the ball on you all day and keep it away from you. Again, for Plymouth Whitemarsh, it’s all house money. Nobody expected them to beat Abington. I’m sure the people inside the program thought they could do it, but anybody on the outside looking in – if they tell you they were, they’re lying. You don’t get to this point by being bad, so sure, Plymouth Whitemarsh has a chance against Garnet Valley.
“Is there a team in the second round with more confidence than Plymouth Whitemarsh? I doubt it, and they should be. They went and scored 50-plus points on an Abington team that was crushing people – they beat up on Truman, they beat up on Neshaminy, and they beat Pennsbury when they had to. If I’m Plymouth Whitemarsh, I think the bigger problem for them is just adjusting to the Garnet Valley offense because it’s a throwback that people just don’t see. Now you work all week to try and simulate – call it the wishbone or whatever – and that’s hard to do because if you had those types of players then maybe you’d run it yourself, but most people don’t do that anymore. They throw the ball. I think that’s their biggest obstacle. I don’t think it’s – can they play with them or do they belong on the same field? Absolutely, they do. It’s just now they’ve got to play against an offense they don’t see.”
Todd Thorpe: “That’s just an impressive offensive performance by PW. Abington was not able to stop them at all. They just had a dominant offensive effort. All credit to them. If you do that against an Abington team that a couple of weeks earlier I was saying could be a district finalist, that says a lot about PW. They really took it to them. Abington fell behind early, but they made a run and put a couple of touchdowns on the board. PW answered right back. All credit to PW. Back-to-back one-win seasons to that in the first round of districts is a sign that they’re for real. The fact that they play in the American Conference and their schedule isn’t the best – maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe they’re just good. Brian Dresnin had 304 rushing yards – I’ve been following Dresnin’s numbers this year. You can tell he’s a big back, but to put up 300 yards against Abington – this is an Abington defense that shut down good teams. To do that is just believable. That’s the most surprising effort of the week, I think.
“The best four teams in the district are still playing, and one of them is Garnet Valley. Garnet Valley’s only loss this year is to Downingtown West, so I would say they’re a heavy favorite against PW. Apparently their offenses are pretty similar. If it turns into a shootout, maybe PW’s got a puncher’s chance. I don’t know, it’s tough to say, but teams from the Suburban One League have gone out to Garnet Valley over the last five years and have just had a miserable time trying to shut them down, whether a really good Pennridge team or a really good North Penn team. You know what’s coming, you know what they’re running, and it doesn’t matter. They’re just a very tough team to play against, and they’re good. They’re flat out good. They’ve proven over the last four or five years that they are one of the dominant teams in District One. The only thing they haven’t done is won a district title. I think that’s a tough game on the road for PW to win. They’ve got a fighter’s chance if they get into a track meet, but we’ll have to see how that one plays out.
“As far as Abington goes, it would have been tough to predict the way they finished. At 8-1, they win the conference title. They’re looking like a really high district seed, and then they go and give up over 100 points in the last two games. I don’t understand. They played two really good teams, and maybe CB West and PW were the two best teams they played all year. I don’t know. That was tough to call.
SuburbanOneSports.com: Central Bucks West put a beating on Ridley in an opening round win. Your thoughts.
Todd Thorpe: “CB West is a team that people said – ‘Is West really that good? They’re playing a good team this week. Ridley has a great tradition, this is a tough game for CB West.’ It wasn’t a tough game. West was the number two seed for a reason. They won that game impressively, and that, to me, is a statement game that said, ‘You know what, we are this good. Everybody has doubted us all year, and now we’re beating teams in the playoffs. Not only did we beat North Penn, not only did we beat Abington, now we beat Ridley, which has a great tradition, in the playoffs.’
“You know what – I think Coatesville is the district finalist and will play for the district title for the third year in a row probably, but they have to go on the road at West. If there’s one thing West has proven this year, they’re giving you their best shot. Coatesville is going to have to take West’s best shot this week. Maybe Coatesville is good enough to withstand that and roll. They obviously have more history and more firepower, but they’re going to get West’s best shot. We’ll see how they respond. I still like Coatesville in this game, but I just think West is not going to hold anything back. They’re not going to cower, they’re not going to be afraid of the moment because they believe they’re a top two seed for a reason, and Coatesville has to come to them and win. It’s a really, really interesting game on paper. You talk about Ricky Ortega and Dapree Bryant and those guys from Coatesville coming in and then you look at West with Jack Neri and Jack Fallon and their line play which has been really good and their defense which has been solid. It’s just an intriguing game.
“For West’s sake, it would be a storybook season. They’ve had a great season, they won the league title, they won a playoff game – it’s great. You win this week, and you start putting this team with some of those great teams. If they win this week, they’re the best West team since 2000, and that’s a statement for that program. They’re at Mike Pettine Field, so we’ll see. He’s probably standing there watching somewhere. West just plays the game, and it’s CB West style. Rob Rowan was a guy they brought in, and he didn’t really have that much of a tie to the West tradition, but he’s coaching them just like they used to. It’s a really cool thing. If they can find a way this week, football will be back in Doylestown. Some of us remember when it meant something on Friday nights at War Memorial Field. I think this week some of those echoes are going to be there. It will be fun for the people that are there, I’m sure.”
Drew Markol: “It’s an interesting spot for West. There were some that thought West wouldn’t even beat Ridley, and it turns out they mercy-ruled them. Great job by West to do that. They’re now a 10-win team off a team that won four games last year. They’re really good, and they’ve got the right kids in the right spot at the right time. When you have a small roster like they do, that’s what you have to do. Now you’re in the district quarterfinals.
“You look at CB West, and they now have another weapon in Josh Jackson, and they’ll need all of them against Coatesville. They haven’t seen the speed that Coatesville brings to a game. Coatesville will swarm on defense. You could tell last week when they beat Souderton they scored a million points in the second quarter in a mercy rule. They weren’t happy with their regular season where they lost a couple of games. We’re talking about a two-time defending district champ. It just so happens they get a seventh seed. Now West gets them at home, but that will be a tough one for West. You have a four-year quarterback in Ricky Oretega, and Dapree Bryant the receiver – both of those guys are going to Villanova. They’re legit, so it will take a huge effort from Jack Fallon, whose done it for West all season, and now you have the return of Josh Jackson, who had been out with an injury and gets 131 yards last week against Ridley. West, like it has in every game, has nothing to lose, if you play like that, that’s a hard team to beat. It should be fun.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: North Penn defeated Central Bucks South and this week will travel to top-seeded Downingtown West. Your thoughts.
Todd Thorpe: “CB South people were definitely not looking forward to playing North Penn again. They make the playoffs, they get a home game, and I’m sure they would have rather seen an opponent that they’re less familiar with and is less familiar with them. Then you throw in the fact that North Penn should have won the first game. They really surrendered it late, and they just went in there determined. CB South is still all kinds of banged up injury-wise, and they couldn’t do anything offensively. North Penn was really able to focus defensively on Sean Smith and shut him down. North Penn got a lead and CB South coming back and doing that again – it wasn’t going to happen. For North Penn, that’s a classic playoff Dick Beck win right there.
“Now they move on and they play Downingtown West at Downingtown West in a rematch of the semifinal from last year that North Penn won. The difference is that this time quarterback Will Howard is playing for Downingtown West, and he was not playing a year ago because he was hurt. Howard is going to Kansas State. He didn’t really throw that much in their win over Pennsbury because he didn’t have to, but when he did, especially at the end of the first half, he did an efficient 65-yard, three-play drive to score late in the first half in a crippling touchdown to tie the game and really set the tone for the whole second half. He’s a stud player, they have a big offensive line with a really good running back. That’s a brutal game for North Penn to win. I think Downingtown West is probably the best team in District One. They did lose to Coatesville, but this is a team that beat Garnet Valley in the regular season, that beat Downingtown East in the regular season. They played other playoff teams. It’s a really good team.
“North Penn is good. You know Dick Beck is going to have a plan, but this, to me, is a Downingtown West team that’s on a mission. That’s a team last week that fell behind early against Pennsbury, was outplayed, was bullied on the offensive line, trailed 28-14 at one point and then just flipped a switch and outscored Pennsbury 49-7 the rest of the game. It was a very impressive second half. Pennsbury played their heart out in that game. Pennsbury gave them everything they had offensively. Pennsbury dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half, and it wasn’t enough. Downingtown West had too much. I think that same thing’s going to happen. More than one person has asked me – what does North Penn have to do? They have to control the ball. They have to run the football and keep the ball out of Downingtown West’s hands. Pennsbury did a great job controlling the line of scrimmage, but what happened was – Pennsbury shut down every running team they played, including North Penn, including Neshaminy, including Truman. Downingtown West ran through their defense like they were standing still.”
Drew Markol: “I’ve talked to a couple of coaches about Downingtown West, and they’ve all said the same thing – they are the real deal. Their quarterback Will Howard is going to Kansas State, and they are just tough from top to bottom. What North Penn is going to try and do is the same thing they did against CB South last week - they’re going to run, run and run. They ran the ball over 50 times against CB South. That’s remarkable. If North Penn has 50-plus carries against Downingtown West, they’re going to win the game. That’s what Pennsbury tried to do against Downingtown West, and that’s absolutely what Dick Beck will do. He’ll run and he’ll run. He’s got Khalani Eaton, the really good sophomore. He’s got RJ Macnamara. Evan Spann was running the ball well, and he used Nate Brown in spots. North Penn doesn’t lack for running backs, and running the ball shortens the game. It’s not a secret – if they can run it, why do anything else. Just pound and pound and pound and keep the ball away from them. It got away from Pennsbury last week, but it was close for awhile. The game was tied at the half (28-28). Pennsbury had success and had 352 yards rushing – 480 total yards - against the number one seed.
“Psychologically, no team wants to play North Penn. If you’re Downingtown West and you don’t know too much about the teams, but you look at the bracket and see – we play the winner of number eight CB South and number nine North Penn. Well, North Penn has a big reputation that CB South doesn’t have. Sure enough, North Penn goes and lays it on CB South two weeks after losing to them. If you’re Downingtown West, you probably would have rather played South, but that’s not going to happen. That will be interesting. If North Penn can pound away, they absolutely have a shot. Dick Beck has won as a 16 seed. I say this all the time – he doesn’t care where he’s seeded. He just goes and plays. He always has a team that can play with anybody, and this year he does again.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Cheltenham routed Springfield-Delco 41-7 in the opening round and will host ninth-seeded Unionville this week. Your comments.
Drew Markol: “I think Cheltenham is legit. They lost the third game of the season to Abington. Now they’ve won eight games in a row. They get in the first round of the playoffs last week as the number one seed. They did what number one seeds are supposed to do. They played Springfield-Delco, and they blasted them. That’s what you do. Now as a number one seed they get to play at home again. They’ll play Unionville. Cheltenham has a ton of speed. They’ve been good all season. If you’re Cheltenham, you say, ‘Wait a second, we beat Plymouth Whitemarsh at the end of the season. It was 28-24, but okay, we still beat them, and Plymouth Whitemarsh is still playing in the 6A Tournament. There’s no reason why we can’t keep winning.’ As the number one seed, you’re supposed to win the tournament. It doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s why they seed the teams. I think Cheltenham is in a great spot. They didn’t struggle last week, they got that win out of the way, and I’m sure they were able to rest their players. They’re having a great week of practice and they should because they’re going in with a ton of confidence. They’re playing Unionville, and it’s the reverse of Upper Moreland. Upper Moreland has to make a long bus ride, Cheltenham doesn’t. They’re just waiting for Unionville to show up, let them make the long bus ride and go out and play. Who’s going to beat them? They’re not losing to Unionville.”
Todd Thorpe: “Cheltenham is in good shape. They’re doing what they have to do, and this is a game they should win. They’re the top seed. One thing Cheltenham has done – they believe that they’re that good. It’s not an accident that they’re there. They think they can win this district title and go on to states. I wouldn’t vote against Cheltenham playing at home. We know Cheltenham’s home field is an advantage to them. That’s not the best playing surface, and they practice on it and know that surface. A lot of these teams that play on turf come to Cheltenham – good luck.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Upper Moreland rolled to a 37-14 win over top-seeded Springfield Township in Class 4A and now will face Bishop Shanahan for a district title. Your thoughts.
Drew Markol: “I talked with coach CJ Szydlik about this. They were a fourth seed in a four-team bracket in Class 4A, and Springfield Township was the one seed. I said, ‘Do you think your kids were a little spooked by that?’ He said, ‘No, the kids compare and they know who played which teams. They have a lot of confidence, and they went out and played like it.’ You look at common opponents between Bishop Shanahan and Upper Moreland, and it’s Sun Valley. Upper Moreland lost to Sun Valley 27-23. I asked him about that, and I said that seemed out of character because Sun Valley had a long losing streak. He did not use it as an excuse, but he said they had a two-hour bus ride and they got down there shortly before the game was starting. He knows they have another long bus ride to go play Bishop Shanahan. We’ve all made that ride – it’s a long ride, and you couple that with you’re on a bus, and it’s on a Friday at rush hour. That’s just one of the things you have to deal with when you’re a lower seed. Maybe they learned a lesson, maybe they’ll leave earlier.
“I think with the way Upper Moreland is playing- again, they played bigger schools in the American Conference, and that can hurt or help their seedings, but they’re not intimidated when they play teams, especially when they’re playing teams their own size. I bet they find it easier, I imagine they would. When you play teams bigger than you enrollment-wise, they’re usually bigger than you physically too.”
Todd Thorpe: “Good for Upper Moreland – they went and beat Springfield in the 4A playoffs. I kind of thought that their experience playing these 6A and 5A teams during the season would help. They took some lopsided losses against some of these teams. The fact that they have the fortitude to go through that and keep on playing and beat schools that are of similar school size – they’re doing what they have to do. I think this week is an interesting matchup. Bishop Shanahan is a similar team. Playing in the Ches-Mont League, they’re playing against bigger schools every week. Bishop Shanahan was also the lower seed going into their district game. I really can’t even forecast this game because I don’t know enough about these teams to say which is going to win. It’s interesting that it plays out this way.
“Upper Moreland - you can’t hold its school size against them. They are the size that they are. In a sport like football, there are years you’re not going to beat the bigger schools, and there are years when you have the right kind of senior class that comes together and you can beat anybody, but there are other years where your school size works against you. When you’re talking about 6A schools that have 15-20 seniors on their roster as opposed to schools with less than 10 - I’m not saying that’s Upper Moreland, but that’s a difference. In the sport of football, seniors are fully developed physically in terms of that age group. Your development as a football player between 14 and 18 is drastic, and the more seniors you have going through your weight program and going through your training, the better. The smaller schools when they go against bigger schools, it’s difficult to maintain that. You can’t punish Upper Moreland. They play who they play, and now they’re in districts. You don’t know how they’ll match up until they get on the field because there’s not really a comparison that you can make.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Pick the winners for this week’s game involving SOL teams.
Drew Markol: Cheltenham, Bishop Shanahan "but that’s a coin flip," Garnet Valley, North Penn, Coatesville.
Todd Thorpe: Cheltenham, Bishop Shanahan, Garnet Valley, Downingtown West, Coatesville.