Intelligencer/Courier 'Let's Talk Football (9-2-16)

Back for its seventh season, the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features Kevin Cooney, Drew Markol and Jen Wielgus.  Cooney, the Phillies beat writer, will handle the Bucks County Courier Times coverage area and also is part of a panel each Friday night on the WNPV/Intelligencer Scoreboard Show. Markol is the football beat writer for the Intelligencer area. Wielgus is a video sports reporter for the Intelligencer and Courier. All three are regular contributors on the weekly Game On show. To view this week’s show, click on the following link:  To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer/Courier Times web sites: and

Check out the picks by our panel of experts:  Your thoughts about Springfield Township discontinuing its varsity football program for the season.

Kevin Cooney:  “You obviously feel bad, and I believe it’s a sign of bad things to come and not just for that program, but I think it’s a sign of where this sport is going. Nobody really wants to talk about this, but participation numbers for a lot of programs are dipping. Springfield is not an area where there are a lot of other socioeconomic factors. There are some school districts where there are kids who can’t play football because they have to work or take care of someone in their family, and that’s a large reason the numbers are down. Springfield, let’s be honest, does not fit that mold.

“There are a lot of things going against Springfield’s program. They’re in the wrong league. They’re a Triple A squad in a league where everyone else is 5A and 6A. It’s very difficult to encourage kids to come out because, quite honestly, the odds of being successful are pretty long. I also feel you are seeing the number of kids coming out for football across the board is dropping. Even when you have power programs, they aren’t getting the 90-100 kids they used to, but maybe they’re around 50-55. I’m not comparing this to 1991. I’m comparing this to 2006. I think it could be the concussion stuff, the kids are playing other sports, and I think it’s a really, really dangerous trend for the sport.

“The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) released this week that in the state of California there are 100,000 kids today playing football, and you think – ‘Oh, that’s a big number,’ but last year it was 103,000, and a decade ago, it was 109,000. That’s a pretty significant drop in a fairly short amount of time.

“The other part of this is that Springfield is in a tough spot because you have La Salle literally across the street. You have Germantown Academy right down the road. You have private schools that will give you a pretty good look if you are in their program at the next level, and here you are getting your brain kicked in by 6A and 5A schools. I understand where maybe it’s difficult for them to draw, but I also think looking across the board – the other issues at play are really starting to creep in, and if I’m an administrator looking down the road – I’m not saying football is going away in two years, but are we heading for the day where it’s mega powers only, where some schools get out of the football business.

“It’s still the number one scholastic sport. I get it. It’s the moneymaker and all that, but if the numbers keep diminishing, there are going to be more schools like Springfield that, at least for a year, are going to say, ‘You know what – we’re not going to do that.’”  What are the implication to the SOL of Springfield cancelling its varsity season?

Kevin Cooney?  “At this point, I don’t know if there’s anything else those teams can do. Everyone was already locked into their schedules, and the schedules this year were chaos anyway because of that extra week. There were some issues in play that aren’t normally in play. You saw a team like Council Rock North that didn’t play a game in week zero or whatever they call it.

“It’s not like this happened in May where Springfield said, ‘We only have 18 kids. We’re not going to be able to field a team.’ We’re on the verge of September, and what can you do? What could you do if you were Springfield? Is it fair to put 18 kids out there, especially at this time of year when kids are not stretched out necessarily.”  Did anything jump out at you in week one?

Kevin Cooney:  “Quite honestly, the cream has already kind of established itself in the Continental and the National. North Penn winning against La Salle, to me, puts them on a path – if they don’t slip up – they’re going to be the number one seed in the tournament, and this year that has the carrot of – if you get to the district final, you’re going to be the home team. For North Penn to beat La Salle in that first game is huge. Now they have Downingtown East and Pennsbury, I think at this point it’s pretty clear that North Penn – at least on paper – is the top team in District One. I know La Salle had a backup quarterback in who hadn’t played a snap before. I understand all that, but the important thing for North Penn was – everybody has this mental block that if you’re a public school team, you’re playing for best public school team, and when you got to the state semifinals and played Prep or La Salle, you’re going to get beat. Nobody would ever say that publicly, but everybody kind of felt it. Now if you’re North Penn, you just beat La Salle, and you’re kind of thinking, ‘You know what, I’ll take my shot against anybody.’ The state semifinals are a long way down the road, a lot of things change, and there are no guarantees that if these teams meet in late November or early December that the results are going to be the same, but it’s at a point right now where you’re going to go ‘hmmm’ as opposed to just writing it off that it’s going to be La Salle or Prep going automatically through.

“I look at the other side of the coin too. If you’re Council Rock South or if you’re Quakertown, you’re licking your wounds, and saying it’s a must-win before Labor Day is a little strong, but you’re at a point where you need to reverse this trend in a hurry. You can’t find yourself 0-2 and getting blitzed again like they did last week. I would expect better efforts out of both teams, but it was probably a real kick in the pride, if you will, for both of those teams. This is a week they can’t get embarrassed again. If you get embarrassed this week, that snowball turns into an avalanche real quick.

“I think Neshaminy’s win is a good win. Roman Catholic is a lot better than people may have thought coming in. I think the team that won last week and is nervous is Pennsbury. Trailing in the fourth quarter to Frankford, they go down and score – that’s a nice drive, but they dodged a bullet at the end. Frankford was inside the 10 before a holding call called them back. You’re talking dangerous territory there for the Falcons. Now they’re scheduled to play La Salle at home and North Penn on the road next week, and it’s daunting for them. Offensively, they’re obviously struggling.”

Drew Markol:  “North Penn had lost to La Salle six times in a row on opening night, and that has to be in your heads. All the kids know those facts. It had been a long time since they beat them in the playoffs too. La Salle is depleted because their quarterback, Isaiah Jones, who used to play at Germantown Academy, unfortunately tore his knee up, so they had to use a backup quarterback. It did make them one dimensional, but that La Salle team is still a really good team – they have a good defense. North Penn came out, and they were they were throwing the ball all over the place. Reece Udinski, the senior quarterback, was running on called quarterback runs, and he did a nice job. They dropped a couple of passes early, but they kind of got that fixed. With Ricky Johns out there at receiver, teams have to double cover him, and Justis Henley, the junior receiver and also defensive back, gets overlooked, but that kid is good. He’s going to be the man next year for sure for North Penn. He also saved a touchdown at defensive back - he tipped away a pass. At the last second, he kind of made a lunge for it and just got a fingertip on it and saved a late touchdown that you never know could have altered things.

“For North Penn, there are a lot of weapons there. They may have to shore up the offensive line a little bit because La Salle was able to put pressure on them. They got to Udinski a couple of times, but again, you’re not facing a La Salle defense every week either.

“It was a good win for North Penn. They haven’t been 1-0 since 2008. I know they always say they don’t care about seeding as far as district playoffs are concerned, but given your choice, you’d rather play at home than on the road. That’s a good win because La Salle is going to win a lot of games too. Those power points are going to help.”

Jen Wielgus:  “That win was kind of a monkey off of North Penn’s back, even though North Penn doesn’t ever seem to get down if they have a rough start to the season. That’s a statement win for North Penn. It doesn’t matter who La Salle has or doesn’t have. For North Penn to come out like that, they’re the team to watch in the area. Good luck anyone beating them.”  Your thoughts about some of the SOL teams that had a rough start in week one.

Drew Markol:  “Father Judge has gotten overlooked in the whole St. Joe’s Prep, La Salle, Archbishop Wood Philadelphia Catholic League dominance, but Judge is pretty good. They’ve always had plenty of size, and they have athleticism. That’s a pretty good team. I think they’re better than we think but just get overshadowed by the big three. For Council Rock South, obviously, it’s tough to lose like that, but you have to regroup and say, ‘Okay, we have nine more to go,’ and you have to do your best to forget about it.

“For Quakertown, again, they played a team like Archbishop Ryan, and you could lump Ryan in with Judge on that same tier. They’ve been historically pretty good, but they also get overshadowed by Prep, La Salle and Wood. With Quakertown replacing 16 or 18 starters they lost – as (coach) George Banas said after the game, ‘You can have a lot of success on the lower levels, but it gets real on Friday night at seven. The other team is trying to win too, and they’ve been working all summer also.’ You have a young team in Quakertown, and they ran into a pretty good Ryan team. I don’t want to sell Ryan short either.

“Now Quakertown has to go to Souderton after they beat Plymouth Whitemarsh last week. I was over at Souderton the other day, and that team is pumped. There’s nothing better than winning. It cures a lot of ills. They saw what happened with Quakertown losing, and Souderton is saying, ‘Hey, we could be 2-0.’ All of a sudden – 2-0 is pretty darn good, and you have that rivalry, and they’re saying, ‘We have a shot here.’ What Souderton seems able to do – instead of just running the wing-t, they had some empty backfields, and they’re throwing the ball a bit too, so they’re just adding another dimension. (Joey) Curotto had over 200 yards passing – he throws a nice ball. It was a big win for them against PW and a shot to go 2-0 for Ed Gallagher and his team.”

Jen Wielgus:  “What surprised me was Council Rock South getting shellacked by Father Judge (40-0).  I didn’t think their offense was going to be great, but I didn’t think their defense would struggle that much. It’s week one, I get it, but it’s going to be really tough for anybody but Pennsbury to give Neshaminy a run in that league.

“Council Rock North hasn’t played a game yet, but they lost their entire defense too. Hopefully, Council Rock South finds a way back from that, but that was a real big shocker, definitely. If Council Rock South doesn’t win this week at CB West, you’ve really got to worry. I think everybody expected West to be better with their new coaching staff last year to really make a difference, and it’s good that they are. I’m sure the West fans are super excited to see the kind of physical play they showed in their win over Hatboro last week, but you have to think Saturday is a winnable game for South.

“I’ve covered Archbishop Wood, and I’ve seen (Archbishop) Ryan, and they’re always a tough team. They might not be the best, but you look at the tough, physical, teams they played in the Catholic League, so they have to be tough and physical. Quakertown really started the season as a huge question mark. George (Banas) has done a great job building up numbers there, but he had so many great athletes over the last number of years that have now graduated. Now he’s got kids that are waiting their turn but just don’t have the experience. That’s a tough team to play against the first week, and I’m not really shocked that they got beat that bad.  Not having Noah Wood in that game was a huge loss for Quakertown, but you really start to think it’s good they’re playing in the American Conference against teams that are smaller.

“Quakertown will be at Souderton this week, and Souderton has to be really confident right now. I’m sure George will find a way to get those kids up, and this should be a good game. These are huge games for Quakertown and CR South.

“After going to Ridley, Truman has to play Upper Dublin this week. Truman has had a tough non-league schedule even when they had quite a few good athletes. It’s hard to rebuild and play a tough schedule like that, but hopefully, they’ll take some positives out of it. I wouldn’t say Upper Dublin is a world beater, but Truman is really going to take their lumps this year. They really only have Jorden Freeman back with any varsity experience.”  Any thoughts about any of the other games?

Drew Markol:  “CB East did a good job in its win over Cheltenham. They lost a lot too, and now they’re thinking, ‘Everybody wrote us off because we lost a lot, but now we have a shot to be 2-0 because we’re playing at Hatboro team that lost to West. We can silence our critics a little bit, and say – we’re pretty good too.’ So East is brimming with confidence.

“For Council Rock North, they didn’t play last week. I don’t know how they couldn’t find a game, but you wonder how much that could hurt them having only one scrimmage and then trying to get adjusted. They’ll be excited with a first-year coach (Matt McHugh), but you need that game action, and to not have had it and be playing a CB South team that won last week and has that extra week – that makes it a little bit harder for Council Rock North. It will be interesting to see – can they adjust or will they adjust or will the rust really come back and bite them?

“Upper Dublin lost a ton and their quarterback (Ryan) Stover is going to Towson, but they came out last week, and they looked good. If you’re Truman, it’s hard. They played Ridley – a very proud program - last week. They have a new coach, but it’s still Ridley, and they had to play them down in Folsom, and that’s just tough. Now they come back and get Upper Dublin, who has kids remaining from that (district championship) team that obviously helped. Sometimes the luck of the draw is not your friend, and Truman has to bounce back quickly.”

Jen Wielgus:  “I know people that really expected Upper Moreland to roll in its game with William Tennent (a 7-0 UM win). Even though Upper Moreland has had a great run, they’re kind of rebuilding a little bit. That would have been a good game for Tennent to win, but at least they didn’t get blown out. Tennent plays Bensalem this week, so that’s another good game. Obviously, Bensalem is on a 27 or 28-game losing streak – depending on who you talk to, and Tennent is trying to make a little bit of a statement.

“Maybe it’s just a media invention, but Council Rock North has basically cleaned house in terms of its staff, and (former head coach) Adam Collachi is now on the CB South coaching staff, so that game is a little bit interesting. Obviously, Council Rock North is another big question mark. They didn’t play last week, so we don’t know anything about them. They lost their entire defense, and you could never talk about Council Rock North without talking about Brandon McIlwain because he was a once-in-a-generation talent and now he’s gone, so the CR North at CB South game stands out. You want to know – what does CR North have. CB South – I don’t know if you’d call it a nice win against Abington, but there were people that picked Abington to win that game. There are no big stars, and the Adam Collachi factor is interesting.

“CB East – you would hope they would be physical and tough. I haven’t covered a lot of Hatboro games, but it seems as though that’s something they’ve lacked. They’ve been small. Hatboro is improved, and they have to show it.

“I picked Frankford to beat Pennsbury last week, and that was a close game. Now they play La Salle this week. People are overlooking Pennsbury this year. That should be another interesting game.”  Any games on this week’s schedule that you think are especially interesting?

Kevin Cooney:  “Neshaminy at Pennridge is interesting because the two of them are like the great unknown. Again, I think everybody and their brother is conceding the Continental to North Penn, but almost everybody says that Pennridge is a playoff team, a quality team, a team that can make noise in November. How they handle Neshaminy – who they beat last year before Neshaminy got rolling in their season – I think will tell where this is going.

“I think it’s a big game for Neshaminy because, again, it’s a revenge game for what happened last year, and the other factor is you have to find a way to keep pace with North Penn. Just for the mental edge that could happen – I think it’s a big game for Neshaminy. I actually think Neshaminy is going to play really well this week and win.

“There’s always an overreaction to week one, and I’m guilty more than anybody. Was Pennridge that good or did Norristown play that poorly (in a 49-20 Rams’ win)? That’s a question we find out this week. Pennridge can actually lose a close game, and people will still feel really good about them. How they handle a Neshaminy team that before the season everybody felt was a district title contender and is on that short list – how Pennridge handles Neshaminy will go a long way toward telling where their season is heading.

“Souderton will host Quakertown, and Souderton has a history of – they can’t stand prosperity. You look at last week and you think they’re going forward. They beat PW and all that, and you’re coming in against a team that got drilled. One – it’s a rivalry game on 309, and two, to be frank, Souderton has to show they’re a different group than they’ve been. Koby Khan is really good, and they did a lot of good things last week, but this is where you have to see if they keep their focus and they’re not lulled into a false sense of security because the team they’re playing this week lost 47-7.

“I thought it was a good first week, given what we normally see. Weeks two and three tend to be dreck. Week one can be fairly interesting because you find out what you don’t know. I think this will be a telling week for a couple of teams. This is bounce-back week. This is when you kind of figure out where the heck you are. You get a better feel after week two. You can fool somebody week one, and you can fool yourself, but week two – if you’re bad, you’re digging a grave real quick. We’re not talking when North Penn would lose the first three to (Archbishop) Wood, La Salle and Prep. No, you lose your first two and if you get blown out again, that sticks.”

Drew Markol:  “I think we have to temper this a little bit on both sides. That Roman Catholic team (Neshaminy defeated 28-20) did not have a good season last year, only one win, but apparently they got a couple of really, really good transfers. I covered the North Penn game, and before that game started, I was talking to some people, and I heard from more than one person ‘Watch Roman Catholic give Neshaminy a fight.’ It turned out that folks were right because Roman did give them a fight. Maybe Neshaminy looked at the press clippings. They’re kids, and they see a lot of people have them second in the state and Roman only won one game (last year). I’m sure their coaches were saying, ‘This team is better than their record,’ but it’s hard to convince kids of that when they see the numbers.

“With Pennridge, Norristown is a very, very young team. The quarterback for Pennridge, Jagger Hartshorn, was huge. He had five touchdowns in the first half and had a remarkable game, but now they’re playing Neshaminy, and it’s the old story – you play a lesser team and punch them in the mouth, they kind of shy away. This Friday, if you punch a team like Neshaminy in the mouth, they’ll punch you back, so it will be interesting to see how all of that goes down. What a game for week two. That’s the kind of game that’s a potential late round district playoff game that you’re getting on Sept. 2 before Labor Day.”

Jen Wielgus:  “I don’t know if anybody is surprised to see (Pennridge QB) Jagger Hartshorn do such a great job in the first week. It was against Norristown, but he really was a standout in their camp. Everybody in that community expected a lot of big things from him.

“That sets up a really nice showdown against Neshaminy this week. Not that it wouldn’t be on its own, but you have two of the best quarterbacks in the area going against each other and two teams that have really gone at it the last couple of years with Pennridge stealing two wins in a row over Neshaminy. That’s a huge game this week.”

*The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of