Back for its ninth season, the popular Intelligencer/Bucks County Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features the ‘Game On’ crew: Drew Markol, Todd Thorpe and Jen Wielgus. To view this week’s show, click on the following link: http://www.theintell.com/videos/hsgameon/ To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (http://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school/) and Courier Times (http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school/) web sites.
Check out this week’s picks by our panel of experts: http://www.suburbanonesports.com/football-forecaster
SuburbanOneSports.com: William Tennent snapped its 27-game losing streak with its win over Upper Moreland. Your thoughts.
Todd Thorpe: “Everybody has been talking about William Tennent winning – to play Upper Moreland, a team that won the conference title last year. It’s a completely different looking Upper Moreland team. They have Caleb Mead, their running back, but there’s not much else back from last year’s team, including the coach, Adam Beach. Upper Moreland could be rebuilding and retooling this year, and Tennent went in with a bunch of guys that are tired of losing and have been part of that. You talk about a Kip Mooney, guys that have been on the team two years ago when they didn’t win, guys that were on the team last year when they were beaten up a lot. They come out and win – you have to feel good for those kids. Tennent is not the winningest program in the world, and I’ve said it all along that I think the perception you can never win at Tennent is false. I’ve seen some teams have winning seasons there. You’re probably looking at only a half dozen in the last 20 years or even less than that, but it’s not impossible to win there, but you’ve got to get some consistency. You’ve got to get a real program in place and kids coming out. It’s got to be a 12-month-a-year program, and you have to have good participation in the offseason in the weight room and at the workouts. That’s what Rich Clemens is going to try and build there, and you hope this is a good sign. I don’t know how many wins they’re going to get this year. Getting the first one is the most important one, and hopefully, there’s a couple more in there. For the program’s sake, I think they need that.”
Drew Markol: “For the opening week of the season, you expect North Penn and Neshaminy to be tight, but the biggest surprise to me was William Tennent beating Upper Moreland. In Upper Moreland, you have the defending SOL American champs. I know they lost a lot to graduation, but William Tennent had a 27-game losing streak dating back to 2015. You think about that – the players on the team now were freshmen when this losing streak began. Upper Moreland recovered a fumble in the third quarter and runs it back a mile - 75 yards - for the tying score, and you think – this is what happens to teams that are struggling. Something goes wrong and they don’t recover. Instead, Eddie North strips Upper Moreland’s runner to give Tennent possession in the fourth quarter, and then Kip Mooney throws the winning touchdown pass. Those things usually happen the other way against Tennent, so maybe this is a harbinger of good things to come. I don’t know how many games they’re going to win, but at least the streak is over.
“With a new coach in Rich Clemens and to come out and beat a decent Upper Moreland team like they did, just imagine the joy the Tennent kids felt. That may have been the longest losing streak in the state, and for them to get that win was tremendous because it was always something that was mentioned. When you talked about Tennent football, it didn’t take long to mention the losing streak, but now that’s gone, and they can just concentrate on the season ahead of them. They have Bensalem this week, and they’ll go into that one sky high, and how many times have you said that about a William Tennent team over the past couple of years? You haven’t, so good for them.
Jen Wielgus: “Always great to see a team break a long losing streak, but Tennent's win over Upper Moreland is especially significant in that the Panthers have a new coach who's trying to establish a program while dealing with a lot of challenges - low numbers, being located next door to a dominant private school in Archbishop Wood, lack of recent tradition - so kudos to Rich Clemens and his players. They have another winnable game this week against Bensalem, where Clemens used to serve as an assistant. In that capacity, he helped to build up another struggling program that went winless for a long stretch just a few years ago. That's obviously an intriguing matchup.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: The game of the week last week was the North Penn/Neshaminy game that North Penn won in double overtime (34-33). Todd, you covered that game – your comments.
Todd Thorpe: “I think both of these teams are going to be better for having played that game. North Penn gets the power points because they won the game and Neshaminy doesn’t, and that’s the tangible thing you look at, but what you really look at is that game was one yard away from Neshaminy winning and North Penn losing. To me, it doesn’t really affect either team that much, who won or who lost, because of the type of game it was. I think both teams are going to get better. There was a lot of sloppiness involved in that game, and both coaches had a lot to work with in the film room, but you could tell that they are two of the better teams around because of the talent level that was on display.
“Start with Neshaminy – Oleh Manzyk. I’m not going to call him a one-man show because he’s not because they’ve got other pieces, but he really was spectacular on both sides of the ball. You look at a kid like that, and you can’t expect what you’re getting from him on offense. Two years ago he was a wide receiver, last year he was a tight end, and Friday he lined up in the backfield at tailback and rushes for over a hundred yards, two long runs, three touchdowns – just an incredible performance. On defense, he’s in on about 80 percent of the tackles. It’s a good thing he played as well as he did. I think they were sloppy in a lot of other areas, but I think that’s a Neshaminy team that’s going to figure it out. They’re going to be real tough to beat in their conference. You saw some of the results in that conference last week, and you don’t want to make too much about wins and losses the first week of the season, but you can see they’re probably going to be head and shoulders above everybody else. It doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to lose a game – they do, but they have a lot of talent.
“As far as North Penn goes – I’ve seen a lot of North Penn teams, and it’s tough to say this one is any more than anybody else, but I just see a ton of depth and a ton of athleticism in a lot of different areas. They come at you with size, strength and speed. Their depth at running back was on display Friday. They lose their starting running back, Shamar Edwards, in the first half, and he had 96 yards rushing in the first half. I don’t know what his status is going to be, but that’s a blow. They lost a kid (Nick Intrieri) on the first play of the game, but they have the depth, and they can come back at you. They insert Julian White (who was sidelined with cramps) for the two-point conversion, and he’s the guy that tackled Oleh Manzyk at the one-yard line. You could see how they’re going to get better and better and better.
“(Quarterback) Solomon Robinson is the first run-pass threat they’ve had. They’ve had some pass-run threats, but you can go all the way back when they had (Adam) Hearns in the early 2000s since they’ve had a kid who can really break the game open with his legs. With their passing game – Jon Haynes had a very, very big fourth quarter in that game. He had two huge receptions on their two scoring drives in the fourth quarter – one when they were trailing 20-16, and on a third-and-12 play, he catches the ball on an out to the sidelines and gets 20 yards. You can tell he’s a big playmaker, and he’s going to be big as the season goes along. It’s tough to really gauge because you’re not sure what the pieces are going to look like when they play that clean game, but they showed just a lot of skill level. Both teams did. I was impressed. For an opening game, that was about as good as you get.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Drew, you staffed the Pennridge/Delaware Valley game. Talk about Pennridge.
Drew Markol: “I saw Pennridge against a pretty good Delaware Valley team. That team went 12-1 last year and lost to a pretty good State College team. They’re a 5A program, but they’re good. I heard one of their coaches before the game was asked about his team, and he said, ‘We’re loaded,’ and to have a coach admit to that is rare. They are pretty good. Pennridge could not run the ball at all. Ryan Garner, one of the top returning backs in the SOL - I believe he had 31 yards rushing. He’s very good, but they were keying on him, so what they did was they just started throwing the ball. Senior Zak Kantor, who just kept improving last year at quarterback – well, he’s gotten better. I tell you – Pennridge has a star in the making in Jon Post, who’s a wide receiver. He’s 6-5 and probably 215 pounds. He played football as a freshman and a sophomore, he sat out last year to concentrate on basketball, but he came back to football. I talked to him after the game, and he said, ‘I really missed football. I went to all of the games last year and realized how much I missed it.’ He’s not a basketball player playing football. He’s a football player playing football. He’s big, he’s got good hands, he’s got good speed. He’s going to be a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams. Cody Muller, the first-year coach, said, ‘I tried to hide him all summer from other teams because I didn’t want to tip my hand.’ Well, now the cat’s out of the bag. You could throw a jump ball to him when you’re down close, but you could also throw it to him and he can run after he catches it. I know it’s only one game, but he is very impressive. Neshaminy might put (Oleh) Manzyk on him or maybe they put Cory Joyce on him. That will be a good game. Neshaminy obviously doesn’t want to start the season 0-2. Pennridge can throw the ball, and I say this a million times – a lot of high school teams have a heck of a time defending the pass. We’ll see. As far as games this week, that’s very, very intriguing.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Any other games last week that you thought were noteworthy?
Drew Markol: “Quakertown had a nice win against (Central Bucks) East, and you know they’re thinking with all the players they have back – they lost the SOL American title by one game. They lost to Upper Moreland. Well, they look at the scores, and they say – Upper Moreland lost to William Tennent. Maybe Upper Moreland is not as good as last year. We beat a pretty good CB East team and now we go against a Souderton team – when you think of Penn Wood, you think of basketball, but they’ve got a pretty good football team all of a sudden. They’ve got a good quarterback. They’re playing Pennsbury this week. There’s a reason they’re scheduling tough games. They think they’re onto something. Can Souderton bounce back? We’ll see. I’m sure Quakertown is pumped. That’s another tight game. I know Quakertown needed a late stand to hold off East, and now they’ll be slugging away with Souderton. If you’re Souderton, you don’t want to go 0-2. Nobody does, but Quakertown goes in sky high and they should.
“Bensalem came from behind to beat Frankford. That’s not a bad win, and it just kind of proves that Bensalem is getting a taste of winning. When they fall behind, they’re not just throwing in the towel. There’s a big difference – it’s more than a fine line. You go back to William Tennent’s game with Upper Moreland. Teams with not so great history - when something goes wrong, something else goes wrong. Bensalem is developing a pretty good program, and when something goes wrong and they’re trailing, they keep playing, and it pays off. Frankford is always a pretty good Public League team. Northeast is very good, but Frankford is usually pretty solid. That’s a good win for Bensalem – they came back late in the game and got a win. I’m a huge fan of what the momentum does when a team gets a first week win because you’ve been working since Jan. 1 to get ready for last weekend. If you lose that game, the pressure ramps up for the second one, so that was a nice win for Bensalem.”
Todd Thorpe: “You have to be real impressed with what Pennridge did against Delaware Valley High School with a new coach (Cody Muller). Obviously, the passing game was real good with Zak Kantor throwing for over 300 yards and five touchdowns. His favorite target was Jon Post from the basketball team who is playing football for the first time since his sophomore year. They had a big game. I wasn’t at the game, but the stats kind of pop off the chart a little bit.
“Cheltenham beating Council Rock South. South had a really bad injury to its quarterback (Alex Vera) early in that game, but give Cheltenham credit. Its defense pitches a shutout, and they find a way to get a win in their opener. Cheltenham had a rough year last year, so that’s big for them getting that win.
“I really love Truman showing that they’re not going to be a one-year wonder. They came right out of the gate with a huge offensive performance. That’s a good example of a program that Mike LaPalombara is trying to establish at Truman. Same as Tennent - if you get some consistency and year-round numbers coming out, you know who you’re getting come August and you’re not guessing. You know what guys are going to be on your team, and you know they worked hard all year. Truman is now in year two. I thought they made huge steps last year when they made the playoffs. I don’t know yet, but could they be even better this year? Even better than they were last year is pretty close to competing for the conference title if they can do that. I don’t think anybody should be surprised based on the track record of that coaching staff. You get guys from that track team – as good as that track team has been, and Javeer Peterson is certainly one of those guys. You have potential for a team that can be pretty good, and that’s good to see.
“Those are the games that stood out off the top of my head. Obviously, CB West got a shutout win over Hatboro-Horsham, and that’s big, and Quakertown wins at nail biter against CB East. There were some interesting results, but weeks two and three usually provide a pretty good indication of where these teams are going to be weeks four through 10.”
Drew Markol: “You look at the North Penn/Neshaminy game – they haven’t played since 2015. It was much anticipated, it’s the first week of the season, and it actually lived up to its billing. North Penn pulled it out with a 34-33 win in double overtime. Neshaminy goes for two in the second overtime after scoring, and North Penn stops them. Julian White had a huge game. He came into the backfield for North Penn, and he’s a defensive end. He’s a stalwart for North Penn, and he was just tremendous.
“Oleh Manzyk, the Neshaminy linebacker and tight end, was moved to the backfield also, and he picks up 150 yards. On defense, he had 13 tackles and a fumble recovery. You basically had two of the blue blood programs in District One going at it and putting on a good show. We’ll see what happens this week when North Penn plays La Salle and Neshaminy plays Pennridge, but you give the North Penns and Neshaminys the benefit of the doubt that they are good, and they’re going to stay good. It was just a great game for the first week of the season, and it’s a good one for both teams to play. If you’re Neshaminy, you lost to North Penn, but North Penn might go 10-0 in the regular season. It’s not going to hurt your district seed. The same goes for North Penn – Neshaminy might go 9-1. That’s one of my pet peeves – go out and play the better teams because the benefits, win or lose, often outweigh the problems. I think that was the case because they went and put on a great show. They both know that if they play each other again, which they may well do, we can probably expect the same kind of thing.”
Jen Wielgus: “The games I attended last week were CB West-Hatboro Horsham and CB East-Quakertown. West looked solid on defense against a Hatboro team that played hard, physical football. The Hatters are going to be a tough opponent in that American Conference, no doubt. I know new West coach Rob Rowan was complimentary of how H-H took his team out of their rhythm on the ground, but if the Bucks can keep getting Jack Neri-to-Luke-Benson 43-yard touchdown plays, they'll be dangerous. Benson is a big weapon.
“As for Quakertown-CB East, even though Panthers coach George Banas wasn't happy with his team's performance, letting East come back from a 20-0 halftime deficit to almost tie it in the second half - a penalty negated a great TD catch by Anthony Giordano from East QB Evan O'Donnell, and that was a killer - I was super impressed with the performance of Quakertown RB Michael Terra. He's a player to watch this year, for sure, and I'm working on a feature story on him for ‘Game On’ because he's just so fun to watch. He has a hard-nosed running style and just refuses to be taken down. Quakertown's defense also is a strength, to no one's surprise, given Banas' background as a linebacker. If they clean up their mistakes, I firmly believe they have the ability to go undefeated in the regular season.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Looking ahead to this week, which games jump out at you?
Todd Thorpe: “Neshaminy at Pennridge is one. It’s too early to call it a must-win, but I think Neshaminy will have to go into that game pretty hungry to get a win. They can’t afford to lose two in a row and just show some improvement from week one to week two. That all being said, if Pennridge comes out and has another real good performance and finds a way to get a win – all of a sudden you’re looking at Pennridge at 2-0 and you’re saying, ‘Is that a real threat for North Penn later in the year?’ I’m sure Pennridge will be measuring their game against Neshaminy compared to North Penn’s game against Neshaminy.
“Speaking of North Penn, they play La Salle, the annual game they play every year. I think this is a game that North Penn usually tries to get better from. A good performance against a La Salle team is usually a good sign to come for the rest of the year. Those are two games that really jump out at you.
“I’m going to Bensalem/William Tennent, kind of a fun game between two teams who you really went into the year not knowing a lot about because I thought Bensalem at 5-5 last year had an okay year – not as good a second half as they did first half, but they lost some pretty skilled guys at talent positions, and they come back and get an exciting win over Frankford in their opener. You welcome in Tennent, and Rich Clemens coached at Bensalem previously – that game could be fun. Coming off their first win, it will be nice to see what each of those teams have and whoever wins that game is 2-0 and you have to pay attention these next few weeks to see if they’re contenders or pretenders. In high school sports, you hate to say something like that, but you really get to see who has a chance. Week one is always good because it’s a chance to see what each team’s got, but weeks two and three are really a good chance to see who might be factors weeks four through 10. That’s what I’m looking forward to over the next couple of weeks.”
Jen Wielgus: “There are a couple games that jump out at me this week, and you have to give North Penn and Neshaminy credit for scheduling such a challenging nonleague slate. This isn't anything new. North Penn vs. La Salle seems like it's become a tradition, and the outcome doesn't really ‘matter,’ considering that North Penn's biggest goal is to get battle-tested for the postseason. I think the Knights take this one, though, harnessing the momentum of last week's epic win at Neshaminy. And speaking of Neshaminy, the only reason I'm not picking the Redskins to win at Pennridge is because I need to disagree with Drew and Todd on some of the picks to make our ‘Game On’ show a little more interesting. I think Pennridge clearly has a shot to win; the Rams are one of the top teams in the area, returning key skill and line players, and they exploded last week against Delaware Valley behind QB Zak Kantor and WR Jon Post. I'm heading to that game, and I hope it lives up to billing.”