Intelligencer/Courier Times 'Let's Talk Football' (Wk3)

Back for a third season is the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football,’ featuring high school football beat writers Kevin Cooney and Dan Dunkin.  Cooney, the Phillies beat writer, covers schools in the Intelligencer area while Dan Dunkin – who has been covering sports at the high school and professional level for 25 years - will cover teams in the Courier Times area. Both share their perspective on the teams in their coverage area. To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the web site  North Penn earned a big win over Archbishop Wood on Saturday night. Share your thoughts about that game since you were there.

Dan Dunkin:  “North Penn plays its typically brutal non-conference schedule. I really thought it was going to be a coin flip game. I picked North Penn because I thought Wood wasn’t quite as dominant as last year, but they’re still really good. It’s going to take them a few weeks to really hit their stride.

“I thought North Penn could stand up to the Wood running game with their great linebacker play. It wasn’t starting out that way. Wood totally dominated the first half. They had the ball for 38 plays to North Penn’s nine. Both teams had trouble hanging onto the ball. North Penn fumbled two consecutive kickoffs and lost them.

“We overuse the word momentum sometimes, but not in this case because we saw the momentum flip just like a light switch when Steve Gozur made that great strip and fumble recovery and 94-yard run. That turned from a potential 17-0 Wood lead to 10-7, and it was a totally different game after that.

“North Penn’s running game completely took over in the second half. It was just a great credit to their coaching staff and their kids for the resilience they showed, and it showed what a great program they are. It was huge for North Penn. I think they’re starting to see how good they can be. They obviously have another big test with St. Joe’s Prep this week. They have great overall line play and depth, and they have two terrific impact players in Kyle Mayfield and Gozur. 

“Both teams still have things to work on. Wood found out what they need to do to improve on both sides of the ball, but they’re going to be a threat to win the 3A state title again.

North Penn is clearly the class of the SOL. I don’t want to say prohibitive favorite but a strong favorite to win their conference again. To play the schedule they do – win or lose, they benefit from it. They lost to La Salle 20-7, but La Salle is a powerful team, and they go toe-to-toe with them. Last year they lost to La Salle in the first game, and then they come back in the playoffs and beat La Salle. They’re not lacking for confidence. Dick Beck will keep them grounded, keep them working on a lot of things. They have a great shot to go way deep in the playoffs again.”  Bensalem pulled off the upset of Pennridge. Comment on that game.

Dan Dunkin:  “They dodged some bullets in the first half, and Mike Class is a terrific running back and got his yardage, but you have to give Bensalem a ton of credit. They hung in there and took advantage of those second chances they got and came back to win. That says a lot. That’s the second year in a row they’ve beaten Pennridge, which is a good program under Randy Cuthbert. They’re a better Pennridge than they were last year. Last year Bensalem played them at home and beat them. This year, while Bensalem had some things go their way, the thing that stood out was their passing game. They had a pretty good one last year with Davonte Newkirk, one of the top receivers in the area. Now it’s Donnie Reed who has really taken his place as their top receiver, and he really hurt Pennridge. He had a ton of yards and three touchdowns. Kevin Hopkins had a great night at quarterback – he’s improved. That’s really helped Bensalem a lot. Bensalem has that big-play capability now. Kevin Kelly and his staff are building the infrastructure with the line play. I’m interested to see if they'll do better in the SOL National, but that was a huge win for them. A lot of people are looking at Pennridge as maybe a dark horse or a team that can be there right after North Penn in their conference, so Bensalem beat an upper echelon Continental Conference team. That should really give them a lot of confidence.”  Both Council Rock schools struggled on Friday night. Rock North fell to Central Bucks South 58-21 and Rock South lost to Father Judge 34-14. What are your thoughts about those two squads?

Dan Dunkin:  “I’m really astounded how poorly both of their defenses have played. I certainly didn’t expect it from CR North because defense was going to be their calling card this year. I know Josh Adams from CB South is a terrific running back – he had 250 yards and six touchdowns vs. CR North - but it’s look in the mirror time for CR North. It’s a concern if you’re a CR North fan because they climbed back to respectability last year, and they weren’t expecting a drop-off this year. They wanted to at least maintain because they had a good number of kids coming back, but they took two giant steps back these last two weeks. No matter how much their offense struggles – they were used to that last year, and their defense kept them in games. That’s not happening this year. Sometimes when that happens you hit the reset button, and you work harder. Adam Collachi said tackling was a big issue last week. These next two weeks are critical for them. Rock North plays Hatboro-Horsham this week, and they have got to win that game. If Rock North does not win this game, you’re looking at a 2-8 season.

“Rock South is even more disappointing than CR North because they have taken their program to a high level. I was on the record saying they’re reloading now. I was wrong – they’re not reloading. They’re rebuilding as evidenced not just by their two losses but how badly they’ve lost. They lost more than half their defense, but they had some kids back with experience. That program is better than that. I hold them to a higher standard than I do CR North. In fairness, Father Judge is a very strong team, and losing to them is nothing to be ashamed about, but the Hawks got pounded. They’re getting run on, and they’re not generating much offense.  You can’t ask them to be the offensive juggernaut they were last year, but they’re behind where I thought they would be at this point.

“CR South plays Pennridge, and that’s a must-win for them heading into their conference schedule. It really is. They need a confidence booster. Last year, as strong as Rock South was, they only beat Pennridge 2-0, so Pennridge knows how to defend their triple option. That is a problem because CR South is not going to change anything. They’re going to line up and say, ‘Here we come. We know you stopped it last year, so try and stop it this year.’ That’s asking a lot when you haven’t lined up and done the job this year. That’s a tough one for CR South. They just need a huge turnaround this week.”  William Tennent looked like it had Central Bucks West on the ropes but ended up losing 28-10. What are your thoughts about Tennent?

Dan Dunkin:  “Tennent NEVER comes through in a close game, and there are precious few of those. They had a chance, but they blew it. There are no excuses. They have some experience back. At some point, you need to see a team close out games like that when they have an opportunity. They get blown out the first week against Wissahickon, so you’d like to give them credit for making it a close game and being in the lead, but no, not really. I wouldn’t give them too much credit because this program has got to start getting around .500 at some point. It’s just the same old thing – mediocre year after year.”  Abington lost to Plymouth Whitemarsh 45-17. What are your thoughts about Abington after that game?

Dan Dunkin:  “I think a lot of us thought Abington had gotten to a point where they’re going to be pretty decent every year, but the loss of some of their skill players was obviously a huge one. I do think they can make some adjustments and be better in the conference season, and they’re obviously going to have to. They’re getting big-played, teams are doing what they want to offensively against them, and really, that’s what Abington did to other teams the past couple of years.

“I think with a lot of these teams, some inexperienced quarterbacks and teams not being used to playing with the offensive system is having an effect.”  Neshaminy notched its second shutout in as many games with its 45-0 win over Hatboro-Horsham. Your comments about the Redskins.

Dan Dunkin:  “Neshaminy has played extremely well the first two games, but they’ve only really had one game. Hatboro-Horsham didn’t show up on Friday, but there’s a different feel at Neshaminy this year. We know they’ve got good players, we know they’ve got good coaches, and they came in with an attitude this year. They’re playing four quarters, they’re taking no prisoners, they’re making a statement, they want to mash everyone in their path, they’re mad about last year, and it shows. I like to see that. I think they’re really on a mission this year.

“Souderton will be a good test for them on Friday night. Souderton is a real good club. Year in and year out, even when they don’t have their better teams, they’re very competitive. Ed Gallagher is one of the best in the area. We all know that. His kids compete. Souderton and Neshaminy have a terrific rivalry. Their games are close, they’re hard fought. Souderton lost a really tough one last week to a very good Unionville program, so I look for a lights-out game.

“Two things stand out about Neshaminy. Their defense – though again they’ve only had one real test with Northeast – has a ton of depth, they’re playing with an edge, and they attack the ball. They really swarm to the ball. Offensively, they have a lot of depth at running back. They look quick on both sides of the ball out there. They’re quick and they’re aggressive, and it’s a good combination.”  Pennsbury earned a big win over Frankford on Friday and this week travels to Downingtown East. What are your thoughts about the Falcons?

Dan Dunkin:  “I’m really interested to see how they play against one of the top teams with one of the top passing games in the area. They fared well ultimately against a very good passing team in Frankford, so they should have some confidence from that. Tom Hose had the game-turning interception, and offensively for Pennsbury, Daquan Mack has been injured, but their running game really produced last week. Shawn Pepper, who was hurt last year and couldn’t really play offense, has really given them a boost at running back. They have good depth there. I think Friday’s game against Frankford was a must-win for them. They have the toughest pre-conference schedule in District One. I think everybody expects them to lose to Downingtown East, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on that. I think if they can get Friday’s game into a physical game and control some clock, they have a chance in that game. It would be great for them if they could win that. After that beating they took at Easton, the way they came back last week and won a tough game showed something. They had to win it in the fourth quarter, so that was a big week for them. Now they have to follow it up with a very competitive week. They’ll find out a lot about themselves. It will be their running game against a very strong passing game, so we’ll see.”  Share your thoughts about North Penn’s big win over Archbishop Wood and the Knights upcoming game against St. Joe’s Prep.

Kevin Cooney:  “The thing that impressed me was how this game turned on a dime. Here’s Wood going in, about to make it 17-0 when Steve Gozur strips the ball. North Penn didn’t really move the ball at all in the first half. Then suddenly, wham, they’re back in the game 10-7. They come out and Kyle Mayfield has a great second half. They deserve a lot of credit because the Wood team they were facing is really good, and that’s an understatement.

“That game was played in awful weather conditions, and I know it’s awful weather conditions for both sides. There were a lot of fumbles, and the game was a little bit sloppy. We have seen teams fall behind 10-0 or 17-0 and tend to say, ‘All right, it’s not our night. Let’s pack it in.’ North Penn showed pretty good guts coming back. We’ll see where it goes. It’s interesting.

“That was a big moment for North Penn because instead of 0-2 and looking at St. Joe’s Prep next week and maybe looking at 0-3, now you’re 1-1, you have a little more confidence, maybe you beat Prep at home, and away you go. If North Penn goes into its non-league schedule 2-1, they’re in line for a top district seed because quite honestly from what we’ve seen, everybody else seems like they have some flaws.

“St. Joe’s Prep is the one team that has really been able to score a lot of points on them over the last couple of years. According to Kyle Berger, of the three games in the Dick Beck era that a team has scored 50, Prep has done it twice. Obviously, they have an explosive offense. Their defense has had issues in the past holding teams down. That’s been their bugaboo when they get in Catholic League play.

“The La Salle game was just a bad matchup for North Penn. The Wood game showed their guts, and I think this one will show how talented they are. If you they go 2-1 through this schedule, I think away they go. I think 2-1 at this point would put them on top of almost everybody’s District One poll. I know Downingtown East is up there, and I know Neshaminy has played well, but I think the caliber of play they’ve faced is superior to both of them.”  Pennridge was defeated by Bensalem in overtime last week, and Souderton lost a tough game to Unionville. What are your thoughts about those two teams?

Kevin Cooney:  “Bensalem has always given Pennridge a little bit of a fit, but obviously, this is the type of game you have to win. You lump Pennridge and Souderton together. These are two teams that you hope that at the end of the year they don’t look back at that and say, ‘That’s the reason we didn’t make the playoffs.’

Quite honestly, Pennridge is going to have to find other answers than (Mike) Class. I know he had all three of their touchdowns last week, but at some point, teams are going to take Class away, and somebody else is going to have to step up and win the game for them or help them out or something.

“That’s a thing we see in high school football – all right, this natural talent will always find a way to get it done. Yes, but teams that win consistently have two or three of those guys, and that’s one thing I wonder if Pennridge has right now. I wonder if they have that Robin next to his Batman. If they don’t have that, North Penn will take it away from them, CB South will take it away from them, and even Souderton could take it away from them.

“I wonder if this is the type of year – and I know it’s early to start looking at this – but we’re 20 percent of the way through this whole thing that we go through for playoff seeding. If you’re thinking a four-loss team is getting into the playoffs, I don’t see it this year. I just really don’t. You have to plan that you need to be three losses or under, which means when you get in the conference you better play well. Plus, Pennridge will be hindered a bit because they play one less conference game because they play the Quakertown game on Thanksgiving, and that could be a win.

Honestly, that’s a tough break for them. I don’t know how they filled that week. It used to be Lansdale Catholic, and that used to be a point drain because you only got Class AA and now AAA points for it. Pennridge needs to start buttoning things up. If they’re going to make a run at this thing, they have to play better, and they can’t afford to lose games like that.

“The same goes for Souderton. We can lump Souderton into this conversation too. Souderton better only have one more loss on their schedule before they go to North Penn that final week of the season because it gets to a point where you start projecting out, and four-loss teams could be in trouble this season. If that’s the case, you don’t want to have to go into North Penn and try and win on the final day of the season and try and sneak in. Souderton played Unionville Friday, and they have Neshaminy this week. It’s a tough schedule. Souderton needs a signature win this week. They need to beat Neshaminy and get that signature win. Otherwise, they’re going to be fighting uphill all the way through this season again, and that’s going to be a very difficult proposition when you look at the way North Penn has played and you look at the way CB South has played.

“Pennridge is playing Council Rock South, and Rock South has struggled to this point. It’s all there for Pennridge. This is a big bounce-back game for them. They played Rock South well last year. It was a 2-0 game. This is the type of game you have to win if you want to be considered a contender.

“Neshaminy will be the favorite going against Souderton. Neshaminy has played very well the first two weeks, but again, they beat Northeast and Hatboro-Horsham. Certainly there’s enough talent there. The talent in-house there makes you think this could be a really good team in what could be a down National Conference. You saw Abington, which struggled and spotted PW a 27-point lead before they woke up, and they’re not good enough to do that. They’re a decent team, but they’re not good enough to really get into that kind of grind. Even Pennsbury struggled a little against Frankford. They eventually pulled away and won, but you have to find consistent play here. That’s one of the keys for these teams.”  Central Bucks South was impressive in its win over Council Rock South, and Central Bucks West and Central Bucks East both improved to 2-0 with wins over William Tennent and Norristown respectively. Your thoughts about the Central Bucks teams.

Kevin Cooney:  “CB South is playing more physical football, and they’re playing a better brand of football than all of us expected. They obviously have a sophomore running back – Josh Adams – they like. You’re talking about a team that right now has shown they’re able to build a program. That’s a pretty good thing for that program to be able to lose what they lost and still find a way to get the job done. I think that’s pretty impressive.

“Central Bucks West barely beat Tennent, but they’re 2-0, and they won a roller coaster game. For teams like West and East, I think it’s real important to get off to a 3-0 start. I think it gives them a push. It gives them a little bit of a confidence boost.

“Quite honestly, you didn’t know what kind of year they were going to have, and now at least they’re in the conversation. Give them credit, and you see what happens late in the year. It does give a program a lift when you’re not constantly looking like you’re four feet down in the well before you get to the start line.”  Upper Moreland notched a 10-0 shutout over Quakertown. What does that mean for both of those squads?

Kevin Cooney:  “Upper Moreland had a good year up until two years ago, and then they stepped back. As for Quakertown, Quakertown will tell you that the problem is they don’t win the numbers game. This is something we all agreed upon from the time when they got moved into the Continental Conference from the American Conference and they didn’t have the numbers some of these other schools have. I think George Banas is going through that now. They may not want to use that necessarily as an excuse, but they do have a legitimate point. They have been affected more than anybody else in the conference. Quakertown and Tennent are the two schools that have been impacted greater by this conference setup than anybody.”