Pennridge Outlasts Q’Town in Snowy Turkey Day Classic
To run in the December 1st Bucks County Herald
This was the Thanksgiving menu in Quakertown:
Generous helpings of defense. Two big scoops of Jesse Knepp. A slice of snow and a ladle of Americana.
Senior tailback Knepp broke off touchdown runs of 63 and 51 yards to lead his Pennridge Rams (7-5. 3-4) to a 22-12 win over the host Quakertown Panthers (4-8, 2-5). It marked Pennridge’s 50th win in the 81st installment of this Thanksgiving tradition.
Defenses dominated the first half. Knepp’s second quarter touchdown run from his own 37, and a 25 yard Dan Caya field goal on the half’s last play gave Pennridge a 9-0 lead at intermission. Caya’s field goal was aided by two controversial Quakertown penalties on the drive.
As snow blanketed the field, Knepp, who finished with 172 yards and broke the 1,000 yard plateau for the second straight year, ended the half with 116 yards on 10 plays. Everyone else gained just 129 yards.
“Our main goal was to shut down #7 (Zac Gravelle) because he is obviously a real good quarterback. He not just throws well but he can also run well,” said Pennridge captain DL Cory Cowdery, who had two tackles-for-loss and a pass break up.
But as the snow stopped, Quakertown’s Gravelle started. His 14-yard touchdown run capped a nine play drive which opened the second half and cut the lead to 9-6.
Early in the fourth quarter, Pennridge’s John Dubyk recovered a fumbled handoff at the Q-47 when the Panthers went for it on fourth-and-one. Ram fullback Brandon Cope’s one yard touchdown plunge ended the drive, giving Pennridge a 15-6 lead.
Mike Potynski answered with a 45 yard kickoff return. Four plays later, Gravelle raced 17 yards to the house on a draw, cutting the lead to 15-12 with 7:43 left.
All game long, the slippery footing seemed to favor the defenses. “We expected it to be wet so we practiced using quick, short steps. If you over extend, you start to slip. It wasn’t too bad in the first half but in the second half it got slippery and slick,” assessed Cowdery.
But Knepp still had one burst left in him. With 2:00 left, Pennridge faked a reverse. Knepp found the right edge and raced 51 yards for the insurance touchdown.
“We went on the reverse on the one play and got big yards out of it,” described Knepp, “We tried the fake reverse and they bit on it. It was pretty wide open. I just had to burn a couple of guys.”
Quakertown can take pride in their defense posting an outstanding effort for the second straight game. And they return Gravelle, who finishes 2010 with over 1,600 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards.
“I’m real proud of our kids. They didn’t give up. They’ve really stepped up the last couple of weeks and toughened up on defense,” observed Quakertown head coach George Banas.
The 2010 Pennridge defense meanwhile surrendered less than 14 points in eight of their games.
“Over all I think the kids just did a good job learning their assignments and executing on defense.” said Pennridge Randy Cuthbert, who praised several underclassmen for “stepping up.”
With the season in the books, both coaches could reflect on 2010.
“All season long, I’m proud of how these kids have changed. Their attitudes, effort and relationship with the coaches. They’ve become young men. Men learn from things and adjust,” offered Banas.
“They have great attitudes, they work well together, they do well in school. They’re just an all around nice group,” described Cuthbert, “and I think they’re going to go out in the world and be successful.”
Knepp summed up the spirit of Thanksgiving. “I’m thankful for Jesus Christ dying for the cross for me and for giving me the athletic abilities to play football.
“And I’m also thankful to my line for coming out here and doing a great job.”
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Thursday marked the final time that two remarkable seniors suited up for their high schools.
Cope and Quakertown OL/DL Jake Swearingen leave big holes for their 2011 teams to fill on the field.
And even bigger ones in the classroom.
Cope was a first team All-SOL Continental pick linebacker last season and Pennridge’s leading tackler in 2010.
“All throughout summer on every play, no matter where the ball was we would all fly to the ball,” Cope observed. “I think it really showed on the field because when you watch film of our games you see all of our guys hustling.”
He also picked up 723 yards as a bruising tailback. “I loved it personally and I enjoyed getting the ball,” he said. “Unfortunately, it came with (some injuries) but those are the things you’ve got to get through. Football is a fast, collision sport.”
It is Cope’s 4.3 GPA, National Honor Society membership and top 5% class rank that really makes him valuable to college recruiters.
“I started realizing that school work was important and in order to be successful as a human being you need to put fun away sometimes and just focus,” Cope credited.
“Brandon is a first class person, student and player. He has been a great role model for the younger players,” commented Cuthbert on his captain.
Swearingen is cut from the same cloth. “I think his GPA is a 4.6, he is number two in the class, and he does a lot of community involvement as well,” Banas revealed.
Last season, Swearingen won first All-SOL Continental accolades as an offensive lineman for a Quakertown playoff team that rushed for over 200 yards a game. The Panthers rushed for almost 1,000 yards while averaging 33 points in their four wins. Someone has to open those holes.
“From a blocking standpoint, we have great coaches who do a great job with their schemes,” Swearingen noted. “They help to make sense of the whole offense.
Not that Swearingen needs a lot of instruction. “I’m a competitor. I’m trying to do my best because I know its going to pay off down the road. It will help me have a successful life.
“You have to have your priorities straight. It’s God, family, school, then sports and then everything else after that. You have to focus on what will really help you in the long run,” he concluded.
An officer in Quakertown’s National Honor Society and an aspiring engineer, Swearingen won awards in April’s Pennsylvania Technology Students Association conference.
It won’t be the last awards – football or academic – that Cope and Swearingen will collect going forward.
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