Intelligencer/Courier 'Let's Talk Football' (9-22-17)

Back for its eighth season, the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features Drew Markol, Todd Thorpe and Jen Wielgus. Markol is the football beat writer for the Intelligencer area while Thorpe is the Courier’s football beat writer. Wielgus is a video sports reporter for the Intelligencer and Courier. Markol and Wielgus are 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 ( and Courier Times ( sites.

Check out the picks by our panel of experts:  Truman and Bensalem continue to be a big story as both teams improved to 4-0 last week. Your comments about Bensalem’s come-from-behind 41-18 win over Abington that saw the Owls score 41 points in the second half.

Drew Markol:  “I know it’s only a month into the season, but you can call it the year of Truman and Bensalem in the National Conference. I’ve been much more of a Truman supporter, and I still do think they have a better team than Bensalem, but all Bensalem is doing is going out and putting up impressive wins. Is it a great Abington team? No, but they still have some tremendous running backs on that team, and Abington is never a bad team. Bensalem goes out and does that to them – imagine if you’re Bensalem, if you had any doubts at all about how good you were, those are probably gone, for sure, because you’re proving yourself. Abington is a team that seven out of 10 years if you looked at it and think Neshaminy, Pennsbury and who’s the third team? I don’t want to say it’s a failsafe, but it’s Abington because it’s a good program. Again, maybe this year is a down year for them, but still, for Bensalem to do that – my god, that’s just a credit to what they’re doing. Those kids are probably going bananas, and they should be with the success they’re having.

“Ed Cubbage was turning things around at Truman when he was there. He gets the job to do the reclamation projects, and that’s hard. You’re not stepping into a Neshaminy or North Penn or a place like that where the machine has been rolling for decades. You’re going into a place where you’re used to and you probably accepted losing. To turn that culture around – holy smokes, that is very, very impressive what Ed Cubbage is doing because that is not easy. Let’s face it, Bensalem’s football history is not aligned with a lot of first place trophies. Bensalem and Truman across the Suburban One League, regardless of conference, they’re the story.”

Todd Thorpe:  “I talked with Keith Parrish, a first team all-league cornerback last year, and he’s Bensalem’s best running back. They’re not surprised by what they’re doing. They think they’re pretty good, and they think that they’re legitimate. They won some close games early, and I think they saw Abington as a real chance to make a statement. After falling behind, they just exploded. Give them a ton of credit. They’re a team that is starting to believe in themselves, and they’ve done one of the important things and that is rack up wins over 6A teams before the league season really gets kicking.

“You look at them, and they’re a 4-0 team that realistically – could they get three or four more wins the rest of the way?  I’m sure they’re looking at it as – why not us? They’re kind of the little engine that could. I talked to Ed Cubbage, and he believes in them. He likes the way they play defense. I think people are just going to discount them until they keep on beating teams. That Abington win was a real good first step for them.”

Jen Wielgus:  “Bensalem plays West this week, and that will be a good test for them even though it doesn’t count toward their league record because West has a good team.

“I don’t know what to make of Abington. They gave up 41 points in the second half, and the week before they went up big on Cheltenham, and Cheltenham came back and scored a bunch of points on them in the second half. That does not bode well.” Truman defeated Council Rock South 42-0 and has shut out three of its first four opponents. Your thoughts about Truman heading into this week’s Neshaminy game.

Drew Markol:  “Truman is legit. They received a little bit of hype before the season because they had some of the really good track kids come out for the team, but that still has to translate on the field. It is translating on the field. CR South has gotten a little bit away from the option they’ve been doing, but regardless, shutouts are hard to do. Obviously, shutouts don’t have very much to do with the offense. That’s good defense, and now you’re playing both.

“You look at that Truman/Neshaminy game this week – Truman hasn’t beaten Neshaminy since 1995. I thought long and hard about that game. Am I taking Neshaminy? Yes. Would I be shocked if Truman won? No. Would I have been shocked a month ago if I could hear myself talking a month later thinking I’d even give that one a second thought? Yes. Now it’s getting third and fourth thoughts. It’s unbelievable. The National Conference has always been – all right, Neshaminy plays Pennsbury the last week of the season. How good is Abington – does Abington have a shot to beat Pennsbury and Neshaminy?  It was basically, a three-game season. It was like – who would go 7-0 or 6-1 or 5-2. That’s what it was. Quite frankly, this is refreshing.”

Todd Thorpe:  “It’s tough not to be impressed by the offensive numbers Truman is putting up. They’re just slaughtering teams. I will say this – their last six opponents are probably going to be better than all four of their first opponents, so they’re getting to the heart of their schedule starting on Saturday at Neshaminy. Truman has got a lot of offensive weapons, and they have a good coaching staff that has really implemented them well. No matter who they’re playing, you can’t sneeze at a team that has close to a 40-point margin of victory through the first four weeks. They’re just destroying teams, and that’s impressive in itself.

“I think Truman is for real. I think they’re one of those teams that is going to be there late with a chance to do something in the playoffs – not just make the playoffs but do something and get a round or two. You have to shut down their running game. At some point, they’ll run up against a team that might be able to do that. It might be this week, but so far, so good. Nobody’s been able to do that.

“This is a moving week in high school football. This is a week when good teams are playing each other, and you’re going to get to see where teams stand. Is Truman for real? Does Truman belong in the conversation for a conference title?  If you beat Neshaminy or you even play well against Neshaminy, you really make a statement. This is a huge week for Truman. I know they’re probably going to downplay it – we have the rest of the season to play and stuff like that.

“In contrast, if Neshaminy wins the game, it kind of erases that whole Downingtown West loss and puts them back in the driver’s seat in this conference because they’re still the team to beat. Until you beat them, they’re still the team to beat. There’s a lot of intrigue, and I’m curious to come out and see who gets the win in that game, how close it is and what type of game it is too. Neshaminy is going to want to throw it all over the place and Truman is going to want to run it. Neshaminy’s strength is their defense, so we’ll see.”

Jen Wielgus:  “I was at the Truman/CR South game. Council Rock South could not stop Truman’s athletes. Those kids hit the line of scrimmage, and they are gone. They have David Akinwande, Sayyid Saunders, and then they gave the ball to Enzo Poulson and Habeeb Baba, who broke long runs. It was crazy. I thought that game was going to be a much better game than it was, but Truman just completely dominated it. Last year at this time, Truman was 1-3, and they have a legitimate shot to not only go 5-0 but completely shake up what anyone thought was going to happen in the National Conference, so that’s pretty exciting.

“I went to Truman’s preseason camp, and coach LaPalombara said, ‘We always have athletes here, and we’re always pretty good on offense. What’s really going to be key for us is defense. I’m not saying Council Rock South has a light-‘em-up kind of offense, but Truman’s defense was good. You knew with Galen Snyder in charge of the defense they were going to be improved, but to be that solid on both sides of the ball, this is the kind of Truman team we have not seen.

“I don’t think anybody thought that Truman/Neshaminy was going to be a bad game, but it turned out to be one of the unquestioned highlights of the season. Honestly, looking at the way Neshaminy’s defense has been a little soft, particularly in their one loss to Downingtown West, I don’t think it’s a stretch to pick Truman to win that game. Listening to the way coach LaPalombara talked to them after the game against South – those kids believe. Who knows what’s in their hearts, but I don’t think they’re intimidated. They are at Heartbreak Ridge, and Neshaminy is tough to beat there. To me, the race in the National Conference is now Neshaminy, Pennsbury, Truman and Bensalem.”  After covering the CB East/CB South game last week that saw CB South pull out a 37-28 win, your thoughts about those two teams.

Todd Thorpe:  “You look at the records even coming out of that game and say, ‘One team is definitely better than the other team,’ but on the field, that wasn’t the case. CB East was right there with a lead in the third quarter of that game. In the end, South was able to get a couple of big scoring drives late to win. That game was two teams not really separated by that much despite the fact that one is now 4-0 and the other is 1-3. CB East coach John Donnelly told me after the game that his team’s lost by four points, by five points and now by nine points, so they’re not far off. That being said, South is playing good enough and beating some decent teams along the way.

“South had a little bit of an injury to quarterback Jack Johns – he didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and that could be trouble down the line even though coach Tom Hetrick did say he didn’t expect it to be something that kept him out of playing the rest of the way. Sophomore Josh Consoletti came in for Johns, and he showed a lot of poise. That’s one thing you’re seeing in high school football – usually when teams have to go to their backup quarterback, you have kids that usually know how to play the position waiting in the wings to come in. You’re seeing that more and more where you’re not getting kids that are completely lost when they get in the game, and I’m seeing that because I’ve seen backups play quite a bit over the past few weeks. I don’t think they have a huge drop off with him, but Jack Johns is 6-6, 6-7. He has a really big arm and they throw the ball. Their primary offensive philosophy is to throw the ball downfield. They did that against East, and they had some home runs.

“East did a lot of crazy stuff. They did an end-around pass that was successful. The running back threw a pass that was successful. They did an end around on a kickoff return that came back for a touchdown, so East pulled out their bag of tricks. East is a pretty good team. Their wide received Chris Lochetta is a pretty good player, and Evan O’Donnell does a pretty good job of getting those guys the ball as well. By no means do I think East is going to be a team that you can just discount the rest of the way because I think they’ll give a lot of teams trouble, especially in that league.”  The four teams that figure to be in the hunt for the SOL American Conference title will be playing each other this weekend. Quakertown is at Upper Dublin, and Upper Moreland is at Hatboro-Horsham. Your thoughts about those games.

Drew Markol:  “You look at Upper Moreland and Sterlen Barr – that kid runs for 372 yards last week and averaged 26 yards a carry. It’s hard to comprehend. Think about that, and then you look at Hatboro-Horsham. I was a believer in Hatboro-Horsham in the early going, and I’m sticking with them as far as the American Conference is concerned. Is Upper Dublin right there? Yes. Is Quakertown right there? Yes. Is Upper Moreland right there? Yes. Is it a coin flip when they all play each other? In my mind it is, and I think it’s a coin flip when Upper Moreland plays Hatboro-Horsham this week.

“I do like Hatboro-Horsham. That quarterback, Chris Edwards – he’s just good. He’s composed, and he just plays smart. He’s been a quarterback there for a long time, and he’s playing like it.

“You look at Quakertown/Upper Dublin. I give a slight edge to Upper Dublin, but would I be shocked if Quakertown beat them? Not in the least. Those are good games, and that’s what you want. A lot of times you don’t get that, so we should enjoy it. Before the whole Bensalem/Truman thing came along in the National Conference, we thought that the American Conference would be the best and most competitive. I think it will be. You have four teams with good shots.

Todd Thorpe:  “Those two games are kind of like the first game of round robin. Quakertown/Upper Dublin – Upper Dublin has some good wins, and they’ve beaten teams they’ve been picked to beat, and Quakertown is a team that’s beaten some teams as well. The team that emerges there is probably the favorite to win the conference. Meanwhile, everyone is going to keep overlooking Upper Moreland. They have a running back in Sterlen Barr that puts up 370 yards in a game against Plymouth Whitemarsh. Hatboro-Horsham has a chip on their shoulder. They’ve played pretty well this year. They lost the one game to Central Bucks West, but they’ve beaten some good teams, so Hatboro-Horsham is right there too. There’s something about Hatboro-Horsham/Upper Moreland – you’re never quite sure. You think Upper Moreland might be a little bit better than them, but then you go back and think – there’s no reason to think Hatboro-Horsham isn’t right there with them or better than them just because that rivalry through the years has been so one-sided towards Hatboro-Horsham. It’s hard to believe that game won’t be competitive and Hatboro-Horsham doesn’t have a chance there because I think they do. I haven’t seen Sterlan Barr play, but wow, those are crazy numbers he’s been putting up.”

Jen Wielgus:  “Honestly, I don’t have a feel for either of those games. Upper Moreland/Hatboro-Horsham is a rivalry that goes way back. I was looking at our picks for ‘Beat the Experts,’ and everybody has Hatboro-Horsham winning.

“That American Conference race is maybe the most interesting because it’s so bunched up. There isn’t a clear favorite. If you asked me to pick one, it would be between Quakertown and Upper Dublin, but I don’t know. We’ll learn a lot this weekend.” North Penn at Pennridge might be the marquee matchup in the SOL Continental conference. Your comments about those two teams.

Todd Thorpe:  “I’ve seen both of those teams plan, and I think that’s a good game. It’s a total contrast in styles. Pennridge is known for its physicality – when you have Nick Tarburton, that’s what you do. You hit hard and you let guys know you hit them, and I think that’s going to be Pennridge’s strength. I also think North Penn is a pretty physical team too, and they’re not going to shy away from that. I don’t know what Owen Thomas’ status is going forward, but he might be the second best linebacker with no disrespect to Jake Reichwein at CB West, who’s good too. What a conference for linebackers. North Penn is better at the skill positions, but Pennridge has good running backs. Josh Pinkney (who was injured in last week’s win over Souderton) is a pretty good player. Nick Tarburton is the best defensive player in the league. There are a lot of reasons to think Pennridge will be right there in the game. In the end, it will probably come down to execution, and in that regard, I’ll take North Penn.

“Justis Henley appears to be set at quarterback now. He’s very dangerous. I’d get the ball in his hands every play if I could, and having him at quarterback, you could do that. Their passing game didn’t appear to be hurt last week. I know he threw a couple of touchdown passes, and I think that’s going to be there. It’s just going to be a physical game, and it’s going to be a good one to watch because with all the aerial attack and 40-point games that go on in high school football, this one might be a good one to watch because it will be a little old school. You’re going to see two teams smacking it around a little bit because you have some real physical players in that game. If North Penn wins, they’re the team to beat again. I don’t think there’s any doubt that they are. It’s just a matter of how close Pennridge is and how close CB South is. We’ll see. Is this a year like five years ago when CB South and Pennridge both beat North Penn? That’s the only time North Penn has lost in this conference since they went to that format.

“I just get the feeling with Justis Henley at quarterback now and with four weeks under their belts and some soul-searching type losses that North Penn is there again. Last week’s final score against CB West (28-14) is not indicative. They were up 28-0 and kind of didn’t put their foot on the gas pedal to make it more. It’s a credit because Dick Beck doesn’t do that. He doesn’t run it up on opponents. North Penn is back, I think, if they win this game coming up.”

Drew Markol:  “Pennridge is starting to show me something. When they went down and lost to Neshaminy in week two of the season, you thought ‘Okay, now they’re playing one of the big boys.’ But to shut out Perk Valley like they did and to take care of Souderton like they did, I was over there at practice, and there’s a lot of confidence going into the North Penn game on Saturday. I think now when you look at the Continental Conference – forever it’s been North Penn and who’s behind them, but I think it’s a three-team race with Pennridge, North Penn and Central Bucks South. I think all three of those teams will make the district playoffs regardless, but who will win the conference title? That’s up for grabs.

“I would say that North Penn is favored, but you have to think they’re a little bit vulnerable. They’ve given up a lot of points at times to some really good teams, but they took care of business against Central Bucks West.  I think Pennridge might just try to jam it down their throat and see if they can be stopped. I think if there’s any ‘weakness’ with North Penn, it might be the interior of their defense. We’ll see. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the route Pennridge went.

“Justis Henley at quarterback gives North Penn that whole wildcat thing, and you do have the ball in the hands of your best player all the time, but by doing that, you remove him from being an outside threat, so the defense can adjust accordingly. You’re kind of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Henley was a quarterback a couple of years on the freshman team. He can throw it, and he’s a smart kid, but again, you’re taking him away from being on the outside where he’s really dangerous. He’s also a very good defensive back, and that’s probably what he’ll play in college, so do you put your starting quarterback at defensive back? Do you run that risk? If he gets hurt, now you really have problems. Moving him moves a lot of dominoes around.”

Jen Wielgus:  “The only time I saw Pennridge was against Neshaminy, and they’ve since changed their quarterback. Nick Tarburton can make a huge difference in a game, but he can’t win the game by himself? To only give up three points in two weeks is pretty impressive. The question is will they be able to score enough to beat North Penn because we definitely know North Penn can score. I think the key will be how Pennridge’s improved defense holds up against the best team in the league because I think you can still call North Penn the best team in the league.

“North Penn is obviously the favorite to win every game they’re in. We’ll definitely learn a lot about Pennridge this week."