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. Kevin Cooney is this week’s special guest. Cooney and Jeff Nolan are celebrating 20 years of Friday night football on WNPV 1440 a.m. and WNPV1440.com.
To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (https://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school) and Courier Times (https://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school) web sites.
SuburbanOneSports.com: The three Central Bucks schools enter league play with a combined 8-1 record. Your thoughts about those programs.
Drew Markol: “We’ll learn more about CB West than we have already this week when they play CB South. The Bucks are 3-0 and they look good. They mercy-ruled Quakertown in the rain on Friday night, and Quakertown is not a bad team. They’re young and they get worn down sometimes. You look at West, and the teams they have beaten are a combined 0-6. Now they have to play CB South – a team they haven’t beaten since 2013. It will be interesting, and it will actually be a very good test for West to see where they are. They have a small roster with only 41 kids, but they look good. Jack Fallon, the senior fullback, is a very good player. He’s probably a D-1AA player. The quarterback, Jack Neri, is big, and he’s got a good arm. West has some talent, but they’ve got to play somebody who’s going to hit them back basically. They’ll get that against CB South on Friday. That will be an interesting to see because South, East and West – their goals are always to win that CB Cup.
“South opened up with a nice win over Spring-Ford. They lost to Downingtown West, which just shellacked Neshaminy. It will be a good test to see where South and West are right now as we open the conference season. I think West is pretty good, and they could beat South. A lot hinges on the health of South senior quarterback Josh Consoletti. He’s been sidelined with an injury. I’ve heard whispers that he might be back this week. Those are the things you find out at about 6:45 on Friday if he’s warming up or not. I’m sure South wants West to think he is coming back so they prepare for him. The West team is a pretty good team. I know they haven’t played the stiffest competition, but they have some nice pieces on that team. If Consoletti doesn’t play, I give the edge to West. If he does play, it might be another story. South has a lot of bulk up front, and West doesn’t have the size. Not a lot of teams do have the size that South has up front. A lot does hinge on Josh Consoletti coming back for South. Right now, West really has it going on and they’re playing well. I would lean that way unless Consoletti comes back, and maybe it’s a coin flip if he does.
“You look at undefeated CB East hosting winless Pennsbury in the crossover game with the National and the Continental Conference. That’s going to be a tough game for East. Pennsbury is still Pennsbury, and that game could go either way. The Falcons played a tough schedule, and they played North Penn tough last week. That will be a good test. East is without Jake Ventresca, their thousand-yard running back from last year and all-state defensive back. He got injured early, and he hasn’t been back. They rely a lot on the passing game from junior quarterback Anthony Giordano out of necessity. Can they continue that? We’ll see. That’s a game Pennsbury has to win. They do not want to go 0-4 and still play Neshaminy and Truman. East is flying high at 3-0 – if they can get a win there, now they’re 4-0 and if you go 2-4 the rest of the way you probably get in the playoffs. Pennsbury/CB East is one of the big games of the weekend. It’s 11 o’clock on Saturday. It’s a weird time, but East still doesn’t have lights. Apparently, there’s talk about maybe next year getting lights, but we’ve heard the talk before.”
Todd Thorpe: “I think this is a big week for CB East. They’re coming off a really nice win over Bensalem, and now they’ve got to play Pennsbury this week, and that could be a war. That could be one of those games. Pennsbury has to have it, and it’s a statement type game for East if they can find a way to win it.
“CB West is 3-0 but its opponents are 0-9 in the first thee weeks. They have a big challenge in CB South this week. CB South is 2-1 and their schedule hasn’t been bad. They’ve played some good teams. If Josh Consoletti, the quarterback at CB South, is back, that will make a difference. He and Sean Smith have been a very dangerous combination. If you look at the teams these two teams have played, it’s not even close. South has played Downingtown West and, quite frankly, gave Downingtown West a better game than Neshaminy did. South beat Spring-Ford in week one, and Spring-Ford turned around and beat Truman the next week. South has played the better schedule. It’s a coin flip. West has some talented players, and I think that’s a real close game. I’m probably going with South in that one 28-26 or something like that, but I think that one could go either way. I think that’s a tough one to predict.”
“Pennsbury/North Penn was interesting only because North Penn played a freshman quarterback, Ryan Zeltt. With Kolby Barrow being hurt, they went with the freshman, and they were able to find a way to win the game, which was a good sign coming off their loss to La Salle. Pennsbury was desperate. North Penn at 2-1 is in a league with three undefeated teams. Souderton, CB East and CB West are all 3-0. North Penn is 2-1 and CB South is 2-1, so you’re talking a top-heavy league with a lot of teams with good records. It’s just the opposite of the National Conference, but it’s the same thing. We’re now going to see where people stand. A lot of these teams did not play the toughest schedule of non-league games. Now you’re learning.”
Kevin Cooney: “If you look the Continental, I think North Penn is going to be fine. North Penn struggled on a sloppy night down at Pennsbury and found a way to win without their starting quarterback. I think they’ll be fine down the road. When you look at the CBs, they’re a surprise on the positive. If anyone said they would be a combined 8-1 after non-conference, they probably would have laughed at you, and yet, here they are. Souderton is 3-0, and they look like they have a lot of talent. The question is – will any of those four teams – or Pennridge for that matter if you want to throw them into the hunt – really push North Penn? I still don’t see that yet, but there are plenty of areas where those teams can blossom and go and win in the playoffs. If you’re 3-0 right now, all you have to do is go 3-4 the rest of the way and you’re probably going to get in the playoffs this year. This is a good start for all of them, and it’s going to help raise the tide when we get to week nine and 10 and we start talking about teams making the hunt.
“Remember a couple of years ago – we all kind of looked down our nose at Upper Dublin, and Upper Dublin went and won the District 1 4A championship. This is a structure that I don’t think anyone can say for certain – this team is clearly number one and this team is a fraudulent 3-0. I don’t think that exists anymore because so many of the teams who are 2-1 or 1-2 are playing non-conference schedules that are just brutal. Take North Penn – North Penn is 2-1 playing arguably the toughest scheduled outside of St. Joe’s Prep in Southeastern Pennsylvania. They haven’t looked great, and people are going to look down on them a little because of that La Salle loss. It’s weird.
“Coatesville is 1-1, but they were the favorite coming in. They lost to Harrisburg, who beat them in the state semis last year. I would imagine they’re still one of the favorites. Downingtown West might be the next team up.
“The team that may have the most riding on this week is Pennridge because if you’re Pennridge and you’re 1-2 and you’ve really not looked great and then you’re going down to Crawford to play North Penn, it’s a little bit of ‘show-me’ time. North Penn – you don’t know the status of their starting quarterback. They really haven’t had the offensive explosion since they played Neshaminy in week one. For Pennridge, there’s no more, ‘Okay, you’re 1-2, but you’ll beat up on the CBs and you’ll beat up on Souderton. That’s not a given anymore. If that’s the case, Pennridge is going to have a long road to hoe if they get blown out this week.”
Todd Thorpe: “If you’re Pennridge – the way they’ve lost some of these games, they’re not competitive enough right now. They’re 1-2 and scored 13 points in in the last two games combined. They just don’t have the offense and only scored 13 points in their week one win over Delaware Valley. I wasn’t at last week’s game, but it looked like Perk Valley handled them right from the start. This is Cody Muller’s second year as the head coach, and I’m sure there are some growing pains there. Like anything, when players graduate that are really talented, you have to find new guys to step in, and a lot of times it’s not as easy as just inserting a player. You have to have the talent. I think there’s been some talent drop-off there when you look at the talent they’ve had the last few years. They’re waiting for new guys to step up. That’s the good thing about high school football and high school sports in general – there’s usually another guy that comes along and steps up. It’s just a matter of time. Sometimes it doesn’t happen now, sometimes it happens next year. Right now we don’t know where Pennridge matches up in their league. They may match up with the Central Bucks schools very well. They may match up very well with Tennent and Souderton, but they have North Penn this week, and this is a bad time to play North Penn.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Your thoughts about the National Conference heading into league play.
Kevin Cooney: “It’s funny and maybe this is more my style, but I’ve looked at the storylines that have been more surprising on the negative side than the positive side. For example, if you look at the National Conference right now, it doesn’t look good. You have Neshaminy whose defense has really struggled through, granted, a tough non-conference schedule. For them to give up the amount of points they gave up to North Penn and Downingtown West last week, that’s got to be a real concern. Maybe not for getting to the playoffs but what they could do if they do get there.
“Pennsbury being 0-3 – they have another great non-conference schedule and everything, but the offense just hasn’t been there to the tone that everybody wants. You can go 0-3 and still not be panicking, but you better have some baseline, and I don’t know if they do at this point because the offense has really struggled. Do I think that could come around? Sure.
“You can really throw the National Conference up, and you have Abington who is 2-1 and a bit of a surprise. I don’t think anybody is popping balloons over there just yet that they’re the favorite. You have Neshaminy who’s 1-2, you have Pennsbury 0-3 who has struggled offensively. Truman has struggled the last two weeks. They got blown out by Spring-Ford. Bensalem is 2-1, but to be honest, how are they going to survive with attrition and everything moving forward. Right now, the two Council Rocks, to be brutally honest, are a bit of a mess, so where are you? I don’t know if there’s a good feeling if I’m in the National Conference.”
Todd Thorpe: “The Neshaminy loss was an eye opener in that you got to see how good Downingtown West was. They’ve got a Division 1 quarterback – Will Howard - going to Kansas State, they had beaten CB South the week before. A lot of people were saying they could be a contender for the District 1 title along with their rival Coatesville. They were all that was advertised. They had the quarterback, running back, receiver. They have a lot of good things going for them, and Neshaminy was not at that level. Neshaminy’s got a young defense, and going against a quarterback liked Howard, it was going to be a tough night for them. Neshaminy was playing without junior running back Chris James, who had a shoulder injury, and that hurt, but it’s still a lopsided loss either way. Neshaminy and Pennsbury are both in the same boat. They both play really tough non-league schedules and took some lumps. Now we get to see where they stand going into their league.
“Truman had a bad game against Spring-Ford. I think that’s a game they’re shaking their heads about a little bit because I don’t think they expected it. Now last week, they played a good Academy Park team, and they led the game with three minutes to go but gave up a late touchdown. They are a couple of minutes away from being a 2-1 team, and we’re not having the same conversation. Truman’s season is going to come down to a couple of games – Neshaminy, Abington and Pennsbury. If Truman wins two of those three, they’re right back in the playoff hunt, and we’re not too concerned about what happened in early September, but they need to take care of business this week against Council Rock South and for their mindset, do it impressively, play well because the tougher part of their schedule is going to come around pretty quickly. Just like we say about Pennsbury, just like we’re saying about Neshaminy, you schedule tougher games because you want to be better by the time the league starts, and you want to be better in October than you were in September. We’ll see. I don’t think we know enough about Truman right now to know what they are.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Any surprises in week three?
Drew Markol: “You look at Abington and Cheltenham. Abington is 2-1 with a nice win over Cheltenham – they also beat Cheltenham last year. Cheltenham is a good 5A team, and Abington beat them again this year. Abington’s only loss came against Northeast. As I talked about today in the paper, people laugh and say, ‘Oh, Northeast is a Public League team.’ Northeast is 3-0 and also beat a pretty good Penn Wood team. Northeast is not a slouch. That loss by Abington to them in week one is not a horrible loss. Good job by Abington going 2-1 and beating Cheltenham, a big rival. Quarterback Tamir Berthau had a couple more touchdowns. He’s a senior who has a lot of experience, and he’s doing a good job.
“Neshaminy looks a little down – Neshaminy played Downingtown West, and it was 48-6. I think that’s the first time Neshaminy has ever been mercy-ruled at home. That’s hard to do. You look at those Downingtown teams – both West and East. Would anybody be shocked if those two were in the district semis along with Coatesville and maybe a North Penn or Garnet Valley. That’s how good they are. So Neshaminy’s got to rebound – they’re 1-2.
“You wonder what’s up with Pennridge. They lost to Perk Valley, they’re having trouble scoring. I know the linebacker, Shane Hartzell, the junior who’s one of the top players in the conference, got hurt in that game, and who knows if he’ll be able to be back. Pennridge has to right the ship. Now they’re 1-2.
“Looking at a couple of nice surprises – looking at a teams like Upper Moreland, who’s 3-0, Plymouth Whitemarsh is 3-0 and perhaps the biggest surprise – William Tennent is 2-1. I don’t think they’ve had more than two wins since 2015. It’s been a very long drought for them. They beat Council Rock North 35-10 last week. It’s good for Tennent. They need to get some wins and get some confidence. The Continental Conference probably won’t be too kind to them. They’ll have a lot of tough games they’ll have to play. Having Tom Santiago, who had been at Tennent a couple of years ago, come back for his senior year as a running back, he’s good, he’s legit. He was Wood’s main ball carrier last year on a team that went to the state semis, and now he’s doing his thing at Tennent. He’s a guy you can give the ball to 20 times a game. That’s a nice thing for a coach.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Heading into league play, what are your thoughts about the American Conference?
Todd Thorpe: “One of the games I wanted to comment about was Abington/Cheltenham. It’s such a great rivalry game. I was at Abington’s game the week before, and they were talking about that game already and how much that means to the community. That’s a great win for Abington because Cheltenham is pretty good. It’s tough to put anybody as a favorite in the National Conference, but that’s the best win of any National Conference team so far. That was huge for them, and it doesn’t really hurt Cheltenham that much because they’ll play 5A, and they’re back in their league now. Aside from Upper Dublin, Cheltenham is going to match up with a lot of teams in that league. I think they’ll match up with Upper Dublin. Upper Dublin is a little more highly considered right now, but Cheltenham has good players as well. It’s going to make for an interesting American Conference race.
“Upper Moreland and PW are 3-0, so you have a lot of teams playing well. It’s tough because you don’t want to discount these non-league games. A win’s a win, and when you add up district playoff points, that counts for something. What’s the difference between playing a really good schedule and a really bad schedule? A lot of times, it’s the difference between being 1-2 and 3-0. I think in all three conferences we can say there’s a lot of intrigue right now. You can clearly look at the American and say Upper Dublin and in the Continental say North Penn, but you’re probably talking another half dozen playoffs spots coming out of this league, and I don’t think anybody really knows which teams those spots are going to. It makes it interesting. Personally, I’m glad when league plays starts because you get a chance to see where teams stack up against one another in games that really matter. This is league play, this is what counts. It’s going to be very interesting. I don’t have any idea right now.”
Drew Markol: “Upper Moreland at 3-0 – I think they can make the American Conference interesting. Last year was a bit of a stumble for them, but they’ve been right there. They’ve won conference titles. Maybe they replaced Quakertown this year as the three you look at – Cheltenham, Upper Dublin and Upper Moreland – because Quakertown is off to the rough start. It’s good for Upper Moreland. You like to see them bounce back. They’ll have a run of two or three years and then they’ll have a blip, and now they’re cresting upward again. I like their quarterback, sophomore Byron Hopkins. He does a lot of nice things. Players like that can keep them in games. We’ll learn more with the start of conference play, but 3-0 for Upper Moreland – you obviously can’t ask for more.
“And Dan Chang at Plymouth Whitemarsh – they’ve been struggling for the past two years, and they get off to a 3-0 start. We kind of overlook them because of their recent struggles. Who knows? Maybe they get themselves in the mix too.”
Kevin Cooney: “Upper Dublin in 5A is going to be really good. I would have a better feel about Cheltenham if they didn’t lose to Abington. For a team like Cheltenham, this week is important because you have to bounce back right away, and now you’re getting into conference play.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Any other games in the first week of conference play that jump out at you?
Drew Markol: “We touched on some of the games to look for this week – CB West at CB South, Pennsbury at East. Quakertown at Upper Moreland could be a good one too. Quakertown – at 0-3 – they need to win. There’s no ifs, ands or buts. They have to win that game, and Quakertown coach George Banas will instill that in them. Quakertown went to sophomore quarterback Will Steich fulltime against West. They had junior Tyler Merwarth, the junior, playing quarterback most of the time for the first two games, but now Quakertown has gone to Steich, who showed some pretty good composure and a nice arm for a sophomore, so they may be onto something, but he’s young and that team is young. They need to get a win. We’re talking about a team in Quakertown that qualified and won a district playoff game last year, but they did it with a senior-heavy team. If you’re them, you’re saying, ‘Okay, we put 0-3 behind us, let’s go win the American Conference title,’ but in order to do that, you’ve got a tough order against 3-0 Upper Moreland at Upper Moreland where the fans will show up. Quakertown’s fans also will show up. They have two of the best fan bases going. I wish more fans would come out to these games. That’s a very good game. You probably have to give the edge to Upper Moreland based on what we’ve seen in the early season, but Quakertown knows how to win games they have to win.”
Todd Thorpe: “Certainly in most years Quakertown would give Upper Moreland a really good game. Upper Moreland has played a couple of PAC teams, and you don’t really know how good those teams are. We were talking about Pennsbury – maybe Quakertown is better than its 0-3 record shows. Maybe this is a team that can go 5-1 the rest of the way. Are they a team that can do that? We’ll find out. By all accounts, Upper Moreland is a team that’s pretty athletic and has some good skill guys. They’re always well organized. That’s a program that is sometimes down because of its school size, and their senior class isn’t as big as the others, but it looks like they’re back, and they’re a factor to be a playoff team if they can get the job done. But you can’t sleep on Quakertown. They’re a team that competes in this league year in and year out. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a close game somewhere in the low 20s, both teams could have a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. I’d give Upper Moreland a slight edge in this one though.”
Todd Thorpe: “Pennsbury has to win its game at CB East, and if I’m at CB East, I’m saying, ‘I have to win it too because nobody thinks we’re for real, they think we played a soft schedule, and we want to prove we’re for real.’ I think CB East has a lot of motivation as well, but if Pennsbury loses this game, it’s going to be very difficult for them to bounce back. Last year these two teams played, and Pennsbury was in the same spot, and Pennsbury won a close game. I think the big question this week is – can Pennsbury’s defense avoid giving up big plays because CB East has really passed the ball well through the first three weeks, and Pennsbury has been susceptible to big plays. They played better defensively against North Penn than they did against Penn Wood, but their offense wasn’t able to put points on the board. Pennsbury isn’t a bad team, but they’re finding ways to lose. They have to turn this around. I think they go in real desperate, and I think Pennsbury wins this game by a touchdown or so. I think they’re focused and have the confidence they know what they’re going up against and they can turn it around like they did a year ago.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Congratulations to Kevin Cooney and Jeff Nolan, who are celebrating 20 years of the Intelligencer Scoreboard Show on WNPV1440.com.
Kevin Cooney: “It’s been pretty amazing how we got it going. A lot of that is with the help of Jeff Beideman and Jeff Nolan. When we got the show together, we thought, ‘This is something fun, this is something different.’ We didn’t have the Saturday paper at the time and we don’t know. We knew how much passion there was in the region for high school football. We felt it was almost a great town hall at the end of the night where people could get all their information in one place, and from the newspaper standpoint, we could preview what we were going to write about Sunday.
“The best part about it is we’ve had a lot of fun. We’ve gotten to talk about a lot of great kids, talk about a lot of great coaches and teams. When we started, we would have state championship teams at North Penn, at Neshaminy, at CB West, but we had fun with everybody. I think that’s been the most rewarding thing, realizing there are kids who played in our first year who are just about to have their own kids get into high school football programs. That shows how old it is beyond looking at my receding hairline and my graying hair.
“Honestly, Jeff Nolan is the driving force. Nolan is the North Star. He’s the one who does the audio highlights on a weekly basis. He does it all week, and he’s made all of us look really good. In addition to that, he’s been as good a friend as you could have. It’s been really fun and I love doing it.”