Montco Nips Bucks in Lions’ All-Star Game
To run in the June 9 Bucks County Herald.
Forget the oxymoron of a “first annual classic.” Friday night’s inaugural Bucks-Montgomery County Lions All-Star game at William Tennent was an instant classic.
After both teams scored go ahead touchdowns in the final 2:30, a wide field goal attempt on the game’s final play gave Montco a 19-17 win over their Bucks hosts.
The game didn’t open like the defensive duel it would become. Cheltenham and Temple-bound Braden Mack hit fellow Panther Akeem Brown for a 65-yard touchdown bomb on the contest’s first play to put Montco up 7-0.
Bucks responded with a 12-play, 70 yard scoring drive keyed by a nifty option pitch to Harry S. Truman’s Maurice Jackson that picked up 21 yards. A 20-yard field goal from CB South’s Stephen Iannuzzi trimmed the lead to 7-3.
When Montco bobbled the kickoff and Pennsbury’s Greg Lichtenstein pounced on it, Bucks had the ball at the Montco 38. Pennsbury’s Michael Alley hit Jackson on an 8-yard swing pass for a touchdown to put Bucks up 9-7.
The defenses then showed up in a big way. New Hope-Solebury’s Franco Mannino hit North Penn’s Nyfease West for a two-yard loss on Montco’s second play, which keyed a three-and-out.
“I think when that play hit is when we realized that these guys couldn’t run the ball on us,” assessed Mannino, who helped hold Montco to just three rushing yards. “The D-line got through all night and they struggled to block our D-line. Linebackers were flying around. They had to resort to passing, but getting the ball in the hands of their best athlete- their quarterback- is how they won the game.”
Three-and-outs became the norm for the next six possessions as just one team- Montco-managed a first down. That was nullified by Thomas Hewitt’s sack of Mack, one of the three the CR North Indian would have on the night.
The stalemates gave Quakertown’s Jake Bovard a chance to sparkle. Bovard, who will punt for Air Force next year, averaged 33 yards on his four boots.
“It’s not that much of an adjustment,” Bovard grinned. “It’s still a snap and still a punt.”
Mack finally broke the stalemate, going 4-for-5 on a 55-yard touchdown drive and plunging in from the one with 26 seconds left in the half. Neshaniny’s Jack Spingler broke up the two point try and Montco went into the half with a 13-9 lead.
Early in the fourth quarter, Montco went for it on 4th and one at their own 29. Neshaminy’s Harmon Yalartai and Pennsbury’s Jeremiah Wells stuffed Plymouth-Whitemarsh’s Nafeese Nasir, giving the Bucks the ball in excellent field position.
Facing fourth-and-goal at the nine, Quakertown quarterback Tom Garlick saw a seam and carried the ball 8 3/4s yards, which turned it over on downs. One play later, a gaggle of yellow jerseys swarmed Mack in the end zone for a safety, producing a 13-11 ballgame.
Bucks found themselves with the ball at their own 15 late in the fourth. Bucks moved the 85 yards in seven plays, keyed with an Iannuzzi 51-yard reverse pass to Pennsbury’s Rob Daly and ending with Garlick’s one-yard touchdown plunge with 2:21 left. The conversion failed but Bucks briefly had a 17-13 lead.
“They were playing a soft man defense so we had (Neshaminy wide out) Denzel Hughes run a lot of hitches and we kept banging them,” Garlick recalled. “Steve, on that reverse pass, threw it to Rob Daly and that was probably the biggest play for us. We got it down to the goal line and we had a huge O-line so we pushed it in.”
But it took less than one minute for Montco to go 64 yards in five plays. Mack’s 35-yard touchdown pass to West with 1:34 left gave Montco the lead for good, though CB West’s Sal Tossona blocked the extra point attempt. Bucks did march 70 yards in the final 1:34, and set up the 24 yarder that missed wide.
The Bucks County Lions hosted the North-South All-Star game for the last 40 years. Tonight’s game, the first Bucks-Mont All Star clash, honored the memory of Roger Grove. Grove was a long time head coach at Norristown and assistant at Neshaminy who sadly passed away on May 13. The Pennsylvania Coaches Hall of Fame inducted Grove in 2003.
Mack (13-23, 206 yards) and Hughes (10 catches, 94 yards) earned Offensive MVP Honors. Hewitt and Upper Dublin’s Isaiah Henrich took home defensive MVPs.
Brown’s 124 receiving yards led all players. Garlick completed 14-of-23 passes for 171 yards and Truman’s Justin Fant led all rushers with 35 yards on nine carries. Locally, Quakertown’s Rob Burns gained eight yards on seven carries while CB South’s Joe Vitelli caught a pass for five yards.
For some, like Columbia-bound CB East lineman Lamine Nouck-a-Nwal, the classic served as a chance to get one final game in before college ball.
“It was awesome and humbling that these guys chose me to be a leader,” said Nouck-a-Nwal, one of Bucks’ co-captains. “I was really looking forward to the All-Star game to get better as a player because there is nothing like practicing with All-Stars all of the time that they are pushing you. It was a good experience.”
For Mannino, it was a chance for a star at a Class AA school to play well among much bigger schools.
“It was a great experience and I wouldn’t have traded these few weeks for anything in the world,” said Mannino. “I had an awesome time and met some great people. Coaches were great. I felt like I competed well against these guys.”
It’s a challenge to get a group of disparate players- many of whom are rivals- to gel as a football team.
“The defense tends to come along a little bit faster because there is only so much they can do,” ofered Donnelly, the head coach at CB East. “Offensively, the guys put in the time. We repped and repped and repped. You can’t put in the full gamut there, but the guys put in the study time, the prep time and I think it paid off. There were very few miscues in terms of misalignments and things like that. And the guys made plays.”
“Coach Donnelly really helped us implement this offense and got us in the playbook,” Garlick echoed. “We just repped it up every single day.”
To a man, the Bucks players praised how quickly the team came together.
“From the very beginning, we talked about how this was a special game,” said Donnelly. “How guys who were once rivals are now teammates. I think that’s the biggest part of it. After the game, the guys talked before the coaches did, because they wanted to talk about how much this meant to them and I thought that was really special.”
“We really came together as a team a lot better than I thought we would,” admitted CB West starting line man Declan Mandeville. “From Day One, we were all just brothers. I made friends for life here. It was like we had been playing together for all four years.”
“We’ve been practicing for four or five weeks now, and had some two-a-days,” concluded Garlick, who is headed to Ursinus. “Team bonding is the biggest thing. These are all awesome guys. Every single one of them is going to be a stud in college. It’s great playing against some of the guys I’ll be playing with and against in college. I’m sure I’ll be seeing all of them down the road.”
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