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 http://www.phillyburbs.com/sports/high_school/
SuburbanOneSports.com: William Tennent pulled off the upset of the SOL season so far with its win over Neshaminy on Friday. Share your thoughts about that game.
Dan Dunkin: “That was a shocker when you take the fact that Neshaminy was coming off a very disappointing home loss to Souderton, which every year is a battle with two good teams from rivaling conferences. They were angry about that loss, so you’re thinking they’re a clear favorite in the game against Tennent. You have to give Tennent so much credit in this game and feel good for those kids and that coaching staff. They came really close to beating CB West. This time they closed the deal. To come back and march 72 yards in the last minute to win that game – boy, that’s just really something. That’s a good Neshaminy team. They've lost two in a row, which hardly ever happens, but they have a lot of players on that team, and it’s time to get it going.
“From the Tennent standpoint, that win is something they can really build on. They’ve got a good senior group, and they have a really good collection of skill people with Cameron Jenkins, quarterback Joe Lutz, Jeff Ledford, et al. There was thought before the season that they would be a dangerous team offensively, and they are. Biz Keeny has gone to a spread-option offense, which was a great move. It accentuates their speed and makes them a running and passing team. They do a lot of stuff on the run. Their linemen are undersized, so they’re not caught up in the clutter of the middle of the field a lot. They can get out and one-on-one block.
“From the Neshaminy standpoint, I would not count this team out already. I just would not do that. We learned last year not to do that. In their two losses, they gave up a lot of rushing yards to Souderton, and then they got hurt at times by Tennent’s passing game. I think these are fixable problems. They are not a big team, but they do have the quickness, the toughness and the depth to get this done defensively. “Offensively, I think they’re searching. They’re using a lot of kids, but they haven’t scored a lot of points in the last two games, and that’s a little baffling to me. I think they’re going to get this sorted out. Listen, I think they’re a better team than last year. There’s a lot of season to be played. That team finished strong last year. This junior class in particular – I think it’s going to be up to some of these guys to step up along with some of the key seniors like Justin Andrews and guys like that.
“Neshaminy has twice the number of players of Tennent. From what I understand, Neshaminy actually could have put that game away in the first half, but they turned the ball over. Things happen in a football game to keep it close, yet I’m sure Mark Schmidt would find it unacceptable to lose to a team with half of his roster total. There’s no excuse for that. That says even more for the way Tennent hung in there, especially in the second half, and then marched 72 yards at the end. Just about all of Tennent’s kids play two ways. Much like the New England Patriots, Neshaminy rarely loses to teams they should beat.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Tennent will face a Council Rock North squad that lost to Abington. Your thoughts about that game.
Dan Dunkin: “Council Rock North is still a head scratcher to me. They’re 1-3. That was a close game against Abington. They’re getting a lot from their freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain and senior running back AJ Neilson, but they still just don’t do enough offensively. They’re going to have to score more points if they’re going to take a step this year. I think their defense is really going to be put to the test this week because Tennent stretches you out and makes you play the whole width of the field. They have weapons and can come outside-inside on you. Neshaminy shut down their outside run pretty well, but then they came back inside and ran just enough to help set up their passing game. CB South was CR North’s biggest test, but this is going to be a big test for North. Tennent has a good offense that will test CR North, particularly their front seven. Tennent has to be playing with a world of confidence right now. And their defense has to feel good about holding Neshaminy to 17. They could hold CR North to less than that, but they’re got to come with the same attitude they did against Neshaminy. I think those kids at Tennent believe now. There are a lot of seniors who are tired of not being over .500. They want to make the playoffs. It’s a realistic goal, and they have to win games like this one Friday to get there.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: After watching the Bensalem/Council Rock South game last week, share your thoughts about those two teams.
Dan Dunkin: “That was a good win for Bensalem. They’re on the upswing, and CR South is way down in one year. A lot of credit to Bensalem – they were more physical. They ran between the tackles really well, they throw it really well, they had good balance, and they were in control of that game from the outset. CR South right now just can’t get out of its own way. It’s a combination of things. They’re not the physical team they were last year, they have a hard time sustaining anything with a running game, and the fact that they don’t throw the ball at all is more magnified because they get behind and they can’t catch up. I’m surprised at how well teams are running on CR South. They were also a very good pass defense team last year but not this year. Bensalem converted just about every big third down that they had.
“Bensalem played a really good football game. This showed that even though CR South is really down this year, Bensalem is coming. We’re going to see if the Bensalems and Tennents can get to the top of the conference this year. That would be neat to see.
“Kevin Hopkins is really gutty. He’s a small quarterback – 5-7 - and he’s really improved. He throws it really good on the run, he makes good decisions, and he runs the ball well himself. Bensalem has good running backs – Alex Archangeli and Ian Pisarchuk. They run tough, and their receivers are really good. Donnie Reed is probably the best tight end/wide receiver in the whole area. What Bensalem had to do – its line had to come along with these skills players because they have a good group, and Kevin Kelly said the CR South game was by far the offensive line’s best game. If they can be cohesive moving forward, they could win a lot more games. With that kind of firepower, if they get that kind of consistency blocking, they’re going to be good.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Bensalem will face anAbington team that is coming off a win over CR North. Your thoughts about that game.
Dan Dunkin: “That’s a seemingly evenly matched game on paper. It’s another chance for Bensalem to show they can move into the upper tier this year. Their offense should be playing with a lot of confidence. Except for one game, Abington’s defense, to its credit, has been playing well while their skill position guys kind of get their legs. It’s not an explosive team like last year, but their line play on both sides and their defense are keeping games close.
“The big test for Bensalem in this game will be – since its line had not played consistently well until the CR South game, can they do it again, and they’ve got to do it again because this is a good defensive line they’re playing against. They’re going to have to keep them off balance. Bensalem’s passing game can certainly get a team back on its heels. It’s an interesting test for Bensalem. If Bensalem can win another one against a team that finished ahead of them last year, it would be great for their program.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: With everything that has transpired in the first four weeks of the season, what are your thoughts about the National Conference?
Dan Dunkin: “I don’t think the conference is as good as last year, but it’s not as down as some people are saying. We’ll find out more as we go forward. I think it’s a good thing when a Bensalem beats a CR South, when a Tennent beats a Neshaminy. That’s good because the bottom of the conference is coming up some. CR South is the one team that has shocked me. Pennsbury, right now to me, is the clear favorite in what a couple of weeks ago looked like a conference without a clear favorite. They’ve got it all going on with the running game. Getting Daquan Mack - a 255-pound fullback with acceleration who is going to UMass- back is huge. They’ve got a lot of depth at running back. Their sophomore quarterback, Breon Clark – a transfer from Bensalem, has really gotten people excited. Their offense is rolling now. Their offensive line is in gear. They replaced three big starters from last year who graduated, and those kids are doing a really good job up front. Pennsbury’s staff has been together a long time, and they do a really good job of merging the offensive line with their ground and pound running attack. They’re coming off a big rout of Truman, which doesn’t tell you a lot, but they played a killer pre-conference schedule that really made them a good team, especially with the way they played against Downingtown East two weeks ago. They’re healthy, and they’re ready to roll. They’re physical. This could be a classic Pennsbury team. Galen Snyder thinks they can keep improving. He says they’ve gotten better every week, and that tells you something.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Souderton defeated Central Bucks West on Friday night. As the beat writer who covered that game, share your thoughts.
Kevin Cooney: “The one thing we learned from that game is that the Williams kid from Souderton is really good, and they have a lot of different people who can carry the football. They’re a good football team, but there were times where you almost felt like they were sleepwalking and you wondered – were they in it. When Ed Gallagher was asked what kind of a win it was, he said, ‘It’s a win.’ It was serviceable, it was not pretty, it was not a defining moment statement game. It was just one of those nights where they – on talent – beat a team that doesn’t match up as well.
“West has good players. I like the Riemenschneider kid, but I don’t think they match up against the big four in that conference, and that’s tough. Their best shot was they would try and catch Souderton a little flat, and I thought they did early on, but Souderton rose to the occasion in the second half. Anthony Williams breaks that 60-yard touchdown run and away they go. You could see it coming. The game kind of went according to form.
“We’re going to get a better gauge for Souderton this week when they played CB South. We’ll get an idea whether they can handle a high-powered offense, and we’ll see how physical they can be. That’s going to be a very physical football game. Souderton did a pretty good job against Neshaminy, but quite frankly, maybe Neshaminy isn’t what we thought they were.
“It is clear right now through four weeks that the power in the Suburban One League is in the Continental Conference between North Penn and CB South, Pennridge with Mike Class, who is keeping them going, and Souderton. In a way, that’s great for the conference, and in a way, it could become a demolition derby. If that’s the case, that’s a problem. They could beat each other up where none of them survive long term in the playoffs. It’s a very weird dynamic in this conference.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: The marquee game in the Continental Conference on Friday night is Souderton at Central Bucks South. What are your thoughts about that game?
Kevin Cooney: “When you look at CB South, you look at Josh Adams, and the question I have for Souderton is how do you stop him. Momentum is such a big thing. Look, CB South did not play as well last week as they had the previous two weeks. They had a little bit more of a struggle to get by Hatboro-Horsham, but I think at this point, you have to look at the way CB South is playing. They have a lot of momentum.
“Souderton thought they had proven their big game chops. When you beat Neshaminy, you think – all right, Souderton has arrived. Souderton is ready for the big games. Now with Neshaminy losing last week, it’s almost like a moving target. There’s a lot on the line for Souderton. You feel like you’ve got some momentum. This is a huge game. If Souderton wins it, they’re in real good shape. Souderton needs this game more than CB South. It’s not because one is 3-1 (Souderton) and the other is 4-0 (CB South). It goes more towards the psyche thing. CB South right now is playing with a world of confidence and has been able to score points at will. If Souderton is going to be a real player in this thing, they’ve got to shut them down and hold them to under 28 points to realistically have a shot. If they do that, I think they have a shot.
“This game is going to boil down to Souderton’s defense against CB South’s offense. To boil it down to its basics, I don’t think Souderton wins a shootout. I think for Souderton to win they’re going to have to play good defense, they’re going to have to play a little ball control offense. If they do that, they have a good shot. If this game is in the high 20s or 30s, that’s when Souderton is going to be in trouble.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Pennridge travels to CB West on Friday night. Your comments about that game.
Kevin Cooney: This is a must-win for CB West. West is 2-2, and no more than four teams will make it out of that conference. If West is going to stick around in the hunt, they’re going to have to win this game. Pennridge has played pretty well. They had the speed bump against Bensalem, but Mike Class has carried them on his back. At some point, they’re going to have to get more weapons. At some point, somebody else is going to have to step up and take some of the load off of him, but this is a must-win for West ,and for Pennridge, maybe not so much at this point.”
SuburbanOneSports.com: Even though neither team is in your coverage area, what are your thoughts on William Tennent’s win over Neshaminy?
Kevin Cooney: “The strangest part is I don’t have a feel for anybody in the National Conference right now. Neshaminy didn’t play a tough non-league schedule until they played Souderton. That hurt them, I think. I know the frustration Neshaminy has felt because they’ve tried to play good non-league teams, but it’s been tough for them to get quality opponents. They have hit their heads against the wall trying to find quality non-league games. It’s funny because some people look at their nonleague schedule and say, ‘Oh my god, what are they doing? They’re scheduling cupcakes.’ But it’s not for a lack of trying. It’s really difficult because teams don’t want to play that tough non-league game. With the new point system coming in and rewarding people even if they lose (against a strong team), that will make it a little easier. I think what has hurt Neshaminy is they played Northeast and Hatboro, and I don’t know if those games geared them up for Souderton, and then there’s a letdown in the Tennent game. I think that’s pretty obvious.
“Neshaminy has had these years before where they’ve struggled. They’ve had 5-5 years - years when they’ve missed the playoffs. It could be one of those times for them. The good part for Neshaminy is I don’t think the conference is that overwhelming.
“Pennsbury has played a real tough non-league schedule, and Pennsbury right now has probably separated themselves from everyone else. Look at Abington. Abington has flaws. Look at CR North and CR South – there’s nobody there that really strikes the fear of god in you.
“Mark Schmidt’s teams have had years like this in the past. I think this could just be one of those years. You have to put it into perspective. There’s only one team that you can guarantee being there every year, and that’s North Penn. The other pieces tend to mix in and out. Until someone in the conference beats North Penn, it’s going to be North Penn and everybody else. We’re at the ‘everybody else’ phase of it.
“When you look at the three conferences, it’s pretty defined right now. There’s one team in each conference. It’s still North Penn in the Continental Conference, Pennsbury is the one in the National Conference even though they’re 2-2 and there are other teams with better records, but Pennsbury is the class of the National, and Plymouth Whitemarsh is clearly the class of the American Conference. I think the teams in the Continental Conference are closer to contention on a district level than anyone else in the others.
“There has to be a little perspective here. There are years when Pennsbury is good, and there are other years when Pennsbury has slipped back. CR South has been that way, and so has CR North. Neshaminy of all those teams has had the most success. They’ve won a state title, they’ve been to another state final. They’re probably more consistent than anybody in the National Conference, but it’s not inconceivable that teams kind of mix and match out from there. That’s part of the nature of the beast in that conference.
“Schmidt had a bad year in ’03 and came back in ’04 and went to the state final. They had a bad year in ’06, finished around .500, and the next year came back and ended up going to the district final. It comes and goes. I think that’s something people have to consider and take a step back. People think every year it’s going to be flowers and roses. I’m not saying you expect Neshaminy to lose to Tennent, but they’re 2-2. It’s not inconceivable they could lose just one game the rest of the way. They could be 7-3, and this could just be a speed bump. How they react is going to be a big thing. This is where we’ll learn something about Neshaminy. They will face Truman this week, and that’s the perfect bounce-back game.”