Quakertown Wins Turkey Bowl After Frantic 2nd Half Rally
To run in the December 3rd Bucks County Herald
Quakertown has battled neighboring Pennridge on each of the last 86 Thanksgivings.
Few of those clashes saw as furious of a comeback as the 2015 edition.
Down by three touchdowns at intermission, the Panthers (10-3) used 28 unanswered second half points to stun host Pennridge 28-21. Thursday marked the first ever Thanksgiving classic held at the Rams’ (8-4) Helman Field.
“They had a really good scheme going where they weren’t giving us a whole lot in the passing game,” noted Quakertown coach George Banas, whose charges were held to just 72 total yards in the first half.
As a 21-0 halftime score would indicate, the first act was all Pennridge. Ram senior cornerback Dan Hockman leveled a huge third down sack on Panther signal caller Tom Garlick to end a series. The Rams then marched 43 yards in six plays. Senior fullback Judens Desrosiers’ four-yard touchdown plunge capped the drive.
That was the pattern for the next two cycles. Pennridge sacks killed the next two Quakertown drives. Desrosiers ended the next two Ram drives with touchdown runs. Desrosiers slammed in from six yards to end a penalty aided 68 yard march, and followed it with a one yard touchdown plunge late in the second quarter to put Pennridge up 21-0.
Senior quarterback DeVon Balmer keyed Pennridge’s third scoring drive by hitting classmate Connor Hansen on a 27 yard pass to set up first and goal.
“Offensively, we were coming off of the ball and playing power football,” assessed Ram coach Jeff Hollenbach on the first half. “There wasn’t too much trick stuff. Defensively, we were playing tough football too.”
But did anyone in the standing room only crowd think Quakertown would just roll over in their rivalry game?
“This isn’t the way we want to go out,” thought Panther senior cornerback and running back Jon Potynski. “This isn’t how we want to end it. We got a talking to at halftime.”
“I went on a little bit of a tirade, I’ll be honest,” confessed Quakertown coach George Banas. “I think that woke some kids up. I told them that they can pack it up on the bus and go home right now, or they can start to play Quakertown football.
“After that, we went outside and game planned as coaches, and decided what we had to do to stop the edge and what we could do offensively to get our guys rolling.”
The Panthers opened the second half with two momentum changing plays. Senior lineman Dom Melso belted Desrosiers for a five yard loss and then Panther defensive back Jack Chenoweth picked off a Balmer pass. Fullback Nick Bonomo’s 39 yard gash set up a three yard Rob Burns’ touchdown run and the Panthers were on the board.
“I think when you get into these momentum games- and this was a momentum game- it is really hard to get that momentum back. That’s what happened to us,” Hollenbach believes.
Garlick, who completed 13 of 21 passes for 89 yards, hit senior receiver Aaron Besch for a 15 yard gain on Quakertown’s next possession. Besch, whose four grabs for 39 yards led the game, returned the favor on the next play, connecting with a wide open Garlick on a reverse 42 yard flea flicker for a touchdown.
“It was the momentum change after Jack’s pick,” felt Besch. “From the get-go, we scored and then the quick score from the reverse pass put us down by just one touchdown. It became a game.”
“I did play quarterback in 10th grade on JV,” reported Besch. “I was Tom’s backup. We had a trick play this week and we knew it was going to work.”
Pennridge seemed to gain some momentum after recovering a fumble, but Potynski picked off a pass two plays after the recovery.
“When your defensive line is getting pressure and getting into the quarterback’s face,” deflected Potynski, who also had 47 yards on six touches, “it’s easier to come up with a play. Extending the play for us makes it easier to get to the ball. They played great up front.”
“We went back to a couple of seniors at defensive end and told them they had a chance to right a wrong in the first half,” Banas explained. “They stepped up in the second half. We went to a base and were able to bring a little more pressure to confuse them. Our secondary played a heckuva game picking them off.”
Senior Burns picked up 22 yards on a misdirection and rushed 20 yards in the end zone on a sweep one play later to tie the contest at 21.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice but Potynski did, picking off another Ram pass two plays later. The Panthers moved 24 yards in seven plays. Burns’ three yard scoring run with 4:10 remaining in the game was the 52nd and final touchdown of this remarkable Panthers’ career. Burns led all rushers with 140 yards on 23 carries. His nearly 3800 career rushing yards rank among Quakertown’s all time greats.
Pennridge still had time for one march, but a James Palush sack on third down forced a Hail Mary, which fell harmless.
“Out of the half, I very calmly asked them to fight every single play and to give the heart and effort that Quakertown football players had every game this season,” Banas continued.
“It’s probably the best feeling in the world now,” said Potynski.
Desrosiers’ 50 yards on 13 carries led the eight different Rams carried the ball. Hansen added 65 yards on three runs and a catch.
“We have several different sets that different running backs play in,” said Hansen prior to the game. “We have a Big Man offense which is three fullbacks and power football. The one that I’m on is the Wing-T, where we go to the outside and play misdirection football. We have a slot formation where it’s more of a pass first.”
More than just another running back, Hansen also embodies why this rivalry is so special.
“My grandfather played for Pennridge. So did my Dad, who graduated in 1981,” Hansen stated. “He still talks about his football career and how big of a day it was for him to play Quakertown on Thanksgiving Day. I think it’s amazing that, even today, we’re still celebrating this day and how great of a day it is for all of us to still be playing on Thanksgiving.
“I think we all realize it. This year, I think the same thing is going to happen- how everyone knows that this is a huge game and a huge tradition,” Hansen concluded.
Hollenbach could still remain in the Thanksgiving spirit despite a difficult loss. “I personally am thankful for this team,” said the coach who signs his emails ‘Have an Awesome Day.’ “They played their hearts out all season. They really believed and I really appreciate that.”
The Panther seniors, who have assembled consecutive 10+ win seasons, leave the program knowing that they’ve built something special.
Pennridge has the series edge, but this win marks Quakertown’s third straight “W” against their larger rival. Banas seems to have found the recipe for a winning Turkey Bowl: Add defense to some Garlick. It’s okay if it Burns.
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