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By Scott Huff
COATESVILLE - The first decision of any football game comes before the game when the coin is tossed.
And the fate of North Penn (14-1) in its PIAA Eastern State Final game with Bethlehem Liberty (14-1) may have come when Knight coach Dick Beck elected to defer to the second half.
“I wanted to kick off with the wind at our backs, so they would start at the 20,” said Beck, whose kicker Brandon McManus routinely kicks the ball into the end zone.
“I was jumping for joy when they chose to defer to the second half,” said Bethlehem Liberty coach Tim Moncman after his Hurricanes bested the Knights 21-14. “I was going to take the ball if we had won the toss.
“I knew that the team that took the early lead was going to have a huge advantage,” added Moncman. “And you can’t score if you don’t have the football.”
Liberty accepted the opening kickoff and pieced together a punishing 18-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback Anthony Gonzales.
The drive took nine minutes, 14 seconds – and the Hurricanes owned the line of scrimmage as all 18 plays of the drive were running plays.
“We expected them to roll out more, run more option, and throw the ball a little,” said North Penn senior Tyler Smith. “But they came right at us and pushed us off the ball.”
Liberty pushed the ball into the end zone for the 6-0 lead – and that lead would remain the same as Knight senior Anthony Taggart blocked the extra point.
North Penn came right back, though, and took the lead on the ensuing drive. The Knights traveled 64-yards on 13 plays to reach pay dirt as Ronnie Akins scooted in from the three-yard line. McManus added the PAT and North Penn held a 7-6 lead.
Liberty responded with another scoring drive before the close of the first half. The Hurricanes stormed 57 yards on 11 plays with the scoring play coming on a four-yard TD pass from Gonzales to senior Devin Street.
A Gonzales-to-Brandon Brader shovel pass for the 2-point conversion made the score 14-7 with just 14 seconds remaining in the half.
The excitement didn’t end with the Liberty touchdown, however, as Akins gathered in the ensuing kickoff on the NP 23-yard line and was knocked out of bounds on the Liberty 29-yard line with 0:01 left on the scoreboard clock.
However, the scoreboard clock - according to the officials – was wrong. And the half was over.
“I would have liked to have had one more play,” said Beck. “But really, a 47-yard field goal into the wind or a jump ball pass into the end zone aren’t good scoring opportunities.”
North Penn made the most of its scoring opportunity at the outset of the third period to tie the game at 14-14. The Knights marched 73 yards on just eight plays for the score – a four-yard TD burst by Akins.
The highlights of the scoring drives were a pair of pass receptions by Smith. Smith caught a 40-yard aerial from Akins and also snagged a 24-yard pass from senior quarterback Justin Davey.
The series that defined the outcome, though, would come on the next Liberty possession.
The Hurricane offense did not have a single play lose yardage throughout the game – with one exception. On second and nine from the Liberty 47-yard line, Gonzales was sacked by senior Knight defensive lineman Drew Brady for a 10-yard loss.
On third-and-19, Gonzales drilled a 31-yard pass completion over the middle of the field to Horvin Latimer for a critical first down.
“That third down conversion was the play of the game,” said Beck. “They made the play – we didn’t.”
Four plays later, Liberty scored what proved to be the winning touchdown when Brader darted around the right side of the Knight defense for an 18-yard touchdown run. Chris Bedoya’s extra point gave the Hurricane a 21-14 lead.
And that score would become the final score.
The North Penn defense came up with a huge stop at its own seven-yard line with 3:20 left in the game. And the Knights had 93 long yards to go to extend both the game and the season.
North Penn cranked out three first downs and advanced the ball to the Knight 49-yard line.
On first down, Davey threw an incomplete pass. And on second down, Davey threw an interception to Hurricane defensive back Marc Olivia with 1:20 left in the game.
“That was a bad call on my part,” said Beck. “We had moved the ball with the run and the short pass, and I got a little impatient.”
Liberty was able to run out the clock for the victory and a date with Bethal Park next week in Hershey for the state championship.
And those final seconds ran out the season for the North Penn Knights.
“It was an awesome season, and we are proud of what we have accomplished,” said Beck. “And really, only one team is going to be happy at the end of the year.”
“This is very tough to swallow,” said Smith as tears streamed down his face. “We knew they were a good football team, and they outplayed us tonight.
“On that last drive I really thought that we had a chance,” added Smith. “But it just wasn’t the ending to the game that we were looking for.”
Or the beginning of the game, for that matter, either.
Bethlehem Liberty 6 8 7 0 - 21
North Penn 0 7 7 0 - 14
L: Gonzales 1 run (kick blocked)
NP: Akins 3 run (McManus kick)
L: Street 4 pass from Gonzales (Brader pass from Gonzales)
NP: Akins 4 run (McManus kick)
L: Brader 18 run (Bedoya kick)
First Downs: [L] – 17; [NP] – 10.
Rush Yards: [L] – 209; [NP] – 89.
Pass Yards: [L] – 53; [NP] – 107.
Total Offense: [L] – 262; [NP] – 196
Punts: [L] – 1-31; [NP] – 1-24.
Penalties: [L] 1-10; [NP] – 2-10.
Rushing: Klotz 20-80; Gonzales 20-66-TD; Brader 11-57-TD; Muhl 2-6. Totals 53-209- 2 TD.
Passing: Gonzales 4-4-0; 53 yards – TD
Receiving: West 2-18; Latimer 1-31; Street 1-4-TD. Totals 4-53- TD.
Interceptions: Olivia, Klotz.
Rushing: Akins 13-54- 2 TD; Smith 5-18; Davey 5-9; Needhammer 4-8. Totals 27-89- 2 TD.
Passing: Davey 7-10-2, 107 yards. Akins 1-1-0, 40 yards. Totals 8-11-2, 107 yards.
Receiving: Smith 5-83; Akins 3-24. Totals 8-107.