Quakertown defeated Pennridge in the 93rd annual Thanksgiving Day game. Photos provided courtesy of Kim Supko. Check back for a gallery of photos: https://solsports.zenfolio.com/f745224687 (Gavin Carroll photo courtesy of Tracy Valko)
QUAKERTOWN 22, PENNRIDGE 6
It doesn’t get much better than this. At least not for fans of Quakertown football.
In front of an overflow crowd at Alumni Field on a picture-perfect fall day, an underdog Panther squad – with just one returning player from last year’s 13-1 squad on the field - did what few gave them a chance to do, rolling to a 22-6 win over Pennridge in Thursday’s spirited rivalry game.
“It’s been the story all year – everyone counts us out. That’s how everything is,” said senior Vinny Pellegrini, the lone Panther who was on the field for last year’s game.
This was the 93rd Thanksgiving Day meeting of the two teams and certainly one of the most memorable for the Panthers, who made it two wins in a row over the Rams.
“Last year, we had the whole big season,” said Pellegrini. “But then this year – it felt like at one point we were against the whole entire world, and now everybody came together, and it was just one big happy family. It was the best (way) to finish off the season.”
The Panthers delighted their fans – a sea of blue packing the bleachers – by opening up a 14-0 halftime lead and extending that to 22-0 before the Rams scored a late touchdown.
“I’m just so proud of this team,” Quakertown coach George Banas said. “We’ve been through so much this year. This one means a lot.
“To come out and win this year – last year was phenomenal, take nothing away from that, but this win today might have meant more just because we’ve been through six major surgeries. We’ve had so many guys go down. We had one kid on the field from last year today.”
That one kid – Pellegrini - helped anchor the Panthers’ offensive and defensive lines that set the tone early, holding the Rams on fourth down at the Quakertown 30 on their opening possession and then marching 70 yards for a touchdown.
“It was extremely important to start the game off the right way,” Banas said. “Defensively, we were able to hold them and set the tone a little bit, and then offensively, our offensive line did a tremendous job. Our running backs ran hard. A couple of kids really came out of their shell – bright things on the horizon, for sure, with what we’ve got back there.”
A highlight of the TD drive was quarterback Vince Micucci connecting with Brett Hileman for 45 yards to the Rams’ 15. Capping the drive was sophomore Aiden Whiteley, who punched it in from a yard out for a 6-0 lead.
“We were harping all week that if we start the game hot and we continue doing what we do, we win this game, and that’s what happened,” Pellegrini said. “We had these two weeks off (between games), and we were just going at it, trying to have fun and just trying to carry whatever momentum we have.”
The Rams were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, and the Panthers drove 68 yards for another score, a drive that included back-to-back big runs by Hileman (13 yards) and Carroll (18 yards). They also benefitted from several Ram penalties with Whiteley taking it in from a yard out for the TD and then bulling into the end zone for a successful two-point conversion and a 14-0 Quakertown lead.
“I thought we had a great game plan,” Banas said. “You get a pretty good amount of time to watch (film). I think I watched eight films. Our offensive coordinator did, and he came up with a great game plan. We were able to win the line of scrimmage, and that was huge.
“Brett Hileman ran the ball extremely well for us today. Gavin Carroll just came out of his shell today, running the ball. Whitely, for his first varsity game, had two touchdowns.”
For his part, Pellegrini wasn’t surprised to see the young players step up.
“Injuries suck, they happen, but it’s just next man up,” the senior lineman said. “That’s why we practice – everybody gets reps on offense and defense. It’s just next man up if somebody goes down.”
On the opening drive of the second half, the Panthers went 66 yards for a touchdown on 11 straight running plays. Micucci scored from a yard out, and Whiteley converted a successful two-point conversion with a tough run into the end zone that put the Panthers on top 22-0.
That score stood until the Rams – sparked by several big pass completions by freshman quarterback Noah Keating – got on the scoreboard on the first play of the fourth quarter when Keating took it in from a yard out. Neither team scored the rest of the way, and all that remained was for the Panthers and their fans to celebrate when it was over.
“We were locked in today more so than anything,” Banas said. “Pregame-wise, the kids were so locked in, and they gave us a whole lot of motivation – pregame and during the game. There was a whole lot of motivation. When that happens, you know how 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids - when they get fired up, look out. That definitely helped us.
“I’m so (darn) proud of this senior group to hold it together. When John (Eatherton) goes down (with an injury), it’s the next guy up. Just so many guys like (Nick) Laudenberger, Pellegrini, (Owen) Jaegers at D-end – I’m so happy for them. After last year, everybody was saying – we’re not going to win a game, we’re not going to be competitive, so for them to come back after a 13-1 season where we lost all but two (starters) to have a non-losing season, to make the district playoffs, then especially to win on Thanksgiving – they set the bar.”
Carroll led the Panthers’ ground game with 105 yards on 16 carries behind an offensive line comprised of Pellegrini, Laudenberger, Brian Hendrzak, Kendre Lopez and Andrew Gansz.
“We practice the hardest out of any group on the field,” Pellegrini said. “Everybody does their job, but when we win up front, everybody else wins. That’s how it goes.
“I think this game was my favorite game because of the atmosphere, the packed stands. It was amazing being on the field and just smiling the whole game. It was awesome.”
For the Rams, Keating threw for 115 yards while Brennan Fisher’s 97 rushing yards – which included a 45-yard run late – led the ground game.
“I never felt like we were out of the game,” Pennridge coach Chuck Burgy said. “I felt like some things didn’t go our way, and our kids didn’t bail. They had to fight – guys like Tyler Wetzel and Hunter Burdick, guys that have carried the team all year just trying to do everything they can to pick us up and get us over that hill, but a couple of mistakes here and there - it felt like kind of the way things have gone this year. Just one play away, one stalled drive or an inopportune penalty. I never felt like we were out until right at the end.
“I know coach Banas always has them ready for this one regardless of how either team is coming in. I thought he did a great job with them this year in what was termed to be a rebuilding year with a young team after the season last year. He always has them ready to go I’m not surprised with the way they came out, emotionally charged up.”
Quakertown (4-2 SOL) closed out its season with a 6-6 record while Pennridge (1-6) was 2-9.
Pennridge 0-0-0-6. 6
Quakertown 6-8-8-0 22