Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier: "Let's Talk Football" (8-27-21)

Back for its 12th season, the popular Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features football beat writer Drew Markol. To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer ( and Courier Times ( web sites.



SuburbanOneSports:  Share your thoughts about the SOL National Conference entering the 2021 season.


Drew Markol: “Starting with the SOL National Conference, you have to look at the best teams from a year ago. Last year was an odd year that hopefully we’ll never see again with some teams playing two games, some teams playing 10 games, some teams playing five. It was just a mess. The best team in the conference last year was Pennridge. They were undefeated in National Conference play and made it all the way to the district championship game before they lost to one of their rivals in Souderton. I look at Pennridge as the team to beat for now. They lost some key people, but coach Cody Muller always has some good players back, so we’ll start with them as the top team.


“After that, the conversation has to go right back to North Penn. The Knights – who didn’t play Pennridge - lost one game last year to Neshaminy the opening week of the season and then they won their last four easily. I had more than one coach tell me that North Penn was the best team in the district last year. They just had that one loss, and in the COVID year when only four teams made the district playoffs instead of the usual 16, you lose a game you don’t get in, so North Penn didn’t get in.


“Then you look at Neshaminy – the team that beat North Penn. They also went 4-1, and their only loss was to Pennridge, and Pennridge beat them up pretty good, but there’s another team that lost a lot to graduation, but they always seem to find a way. The same goes for Abington – they had a 3-2 record last year, and I expect more out of them. The Central Bucks schools – it was a down year for all of them. None of them had a winning record, but they only played five games. I think CB West is a sleeper team again like they were a couple years ago to keep an eye on. Then you have to wonder about Pennsbury. They were 0-5. I went back and checked to see when or if Pennsbury ever had a season without a win, and I couldn’t find one from a program like that. A young team last year and COVID - I expect a turnaround there, but going into the season, Pennridge - until somebody beats you and you’re  the returning champ, you go into the next year as the team to beat. That’s how I always look at it. I have to stick to my guns. Things can change very quickly after a couple weeks of the season. I just give the benefit of the doubt to the team from a year ago.


SuburbanOneSports:  Who are some of the players to watch in the SOL National?


Drew Markol:  “When you look at Pennridge, linebacker Phil Picciotti is a junior now, and he’s getting offers from all over the place. His latest one was from Penn State. All the big schools – West Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State - are all on him. That’s how good he is. He started last year along with Shane Hartzell, another tremendous Pennridge player who is now at Villanova. Picciotti is one of the top players in the state. He was an all-state pick last year. He’s listed as only a linebacker, but I think come Friday night he’ll be in the backfield running the ball. That would not be a shock to anybody. He’s definitely not only one of the top players in the Suburban One League but in the state.


“North Penn senior running back Khalani Eaton is in his third year as a starter. He’s an absolute threat every time he touches the ball. He ran for over a thousand yards last year in just five games. If you do the math, that’s pretty good. He kind of gained a half step last year. He may have been a little heavier than he should have been as a sophomore, but last year he had that extra gear that if he got into the open - he was gone. He’s also big – he’s about 210 pounds. He’s one of those run around you or run through you kind of players, and he can do just that.


“North Penn quarterback – junior Ryan Zeltt – when North Penn coach Dick Beck started him as a freshman, you knew he saw something because very, very few freshmen see the field at North Penn. Now he’s a junior – he can make all the throws, he’s about 6-4, he runs well. He’s another player colleges will be absolutely after, so he brings a lot to the team too.


“Neshaminy lost their running back Craig James who had been their big guy for three seasons, so they’ll need somebody to emerge, and the other schools too – it’s the same thing. We’ll find out soon enough who the next group of really good players will be in the conference.”


SuburbanOneSports: Your thoughts about the SOL Continental Conference.


Drew Markol: “In the Continental, Souderton was undefeated in conference play last year and would go on to win the district title, beating Pennridge in the title game. They lost to St. Joe’s Prep in the state semifinal. If you talk to Souderton coach Ed Gallagher, he is always bluntly honest. He said, ‘We’ve got a pretty good group of players back, and we should contend again for a district title.’ It’s nice to hear that from a coach who tells it straight up.


You also have to look to Quakertown, which gave Souderton a heck of a game and led the game at halftime last year. That was Quakertown’s only loss in the Continental. They’re led by senior quarterback Will Steich, another kid who started as a sophomore and learned the ropes a bit. George Banas, the head coach at Quakertown, saw something in him, and Quakertown will be a team to watch in the Continental.


“Also, you can never discount Upper Dublin. You have the Council Rocks - Council Rock South, I think, could surprise people. Then you go down to Harry S Truman, which didn’t play last fall. They played in the spring. We’ll see. Their coach, Ben Johnson, thinks it will be a positive that his kids were playing in the spring, which is better than just weight lifting and doing something else and not playing. Is he trying to make a positive out of a negative? I don’t think he is. I think he might be right. He had that team together for a block of time and getting ready for games that other schools didn’t have. It will be interesting to see – Truman could be right in the mix too. Bensalem has a new head coach – Alexander Houston, who played for Bensalem. He’s in their Hall of Fame, he played at Colgate, and after he graduated from Colgate, he went and played in the Arena Football League, and he comes in to take over a Bensalem team that has struggled for a long time and hopefully will be able to turn things around a bit.”


SuburbanOneSports: Who are some players to watch in the SOL Continental?


Drew Markol: “From Souderton, you’re looking at senior running back Brayden Porter. He played a lot last year. Jalen White, who is now playing at Robert Morris, got banged up a bit. He hurt his thumb, and Porter stepped in. When White got healthy, he became the main guy again, but Porter was a very strong complimentary player, and he’ll be the guy this year.


“Another player is Souderton’s Shaun Purvy, who’s a junior. He played last year as a sophomore on a district championship team, which tells you something. He’ll do everything. I’m sure Ed Gallagher will work him in on offense, he’s the anchor in the secondary on defense, he’ll return punts and kicks. I doubt anybody is going to kick or punt to him, so I don’t know how many chances he’ll get to return punts and kicks, but when he does, he’s just an electric type of player. It will be interesting to see there.


“We talked about Will Steich, the quarterback from Quakertown who is a third-year starter, which is a rare thing at the high school level to have a three-year starter at quarterback.”


SuburbanOneSports:  Your thoughts about the SOL American Conference.


Drew Markol: “In the American Conference, it will be interesting to see Cheltenham – they were in the state final two years ago, lost at the buzzer to Archbishop Wood. They didn’t play last year in the fall. They ended up playing in the spring in the same league Truman was playing in. They went 2-2. They do have a new coach – Troy Gore is taking over for Ryan Nase who was let go. It will be interesting to see what he will do there. There’s a lot of talent at Cheltenham. If he can keep them there and keep them away from the Preps and La Salles and the Woods, Nase proved you can win at Cheltenham, taking that team to the state final, so they’re always a team to watch.


“Upper Moreland comes back with a loaded team. They won their first state playoff game in school history last year, nearly won in the quarterfinals, and they return key components of that team. I give a slight edge to Upper Moreland over Cheltenham as far as the top dog, but again, we’ll see.


“The rest of the conference – William Tennent is starting to show some signs. Can they keep trending upward? We’ll see. Wissahickon was 3-3 last year – good for them. Can they keep that up? New Hope-Solebury has a new coach in Mike Pacitti taking over, and now it’s their second year in the SOL. How can they do? They were 3-4 last year. They’re another team that showed some life. Then you have Plymouth Whitemarsh and Springfield Township who go back and forth on the seesaw – more good than bad, but I can’t put them in the same breath with Upper Moreland and Cheltenham.”


SuburbanOneSports: Who are some players to watch in the SOL American?


Drew Markol:  “You look at Upper Moreland, who might have the two best players in the division in senior quarterback Byron Hopkins, who is in his third year there too, and senior tailback Cam Jackson, another outstanding player to keep an eye on. Hopkins can run it and throw it, Jackson can score from anywhere. Ryanl Olexa is a very good receiver and gives Hopkins a nice target. A lot of things going on at Upper Moreland with players returning and a lot of confidence from last year, which is huge on any level especially high school.”


Drew Markol’s predications (winner highlighted)

Friday, August 27

Cheltenham at Abington

Bensalem at Norristown

Central Bucks East at Ridley

Plymouth Whitemarsh at Central Bucks South

Coatesville at Central Bucks West

Upper Moreland at Council Rock South

Chichester at Harry S Truman

William Tennent at Great Valley

Belmont Charter at Lower Moreland

Archbishop Wood at Neshaminy

Souderton at North Penn

Downingtown East at Pennridge

Pennsbury at Academy Park

Quakertown at Southern Lehigh

Kensington at Springfield Township

Wissahickon at Upper Dublin

Saturday, August 28

New Hope-Solebury at Council Rock North