Rams Advance in Thanksgiving Day Warmup
To run in the November 9th Bucks County Herald
Special teams can win- or lose- games when teams are evenly matched.
Halfway through the second quarter of a defensive stalemate against visiting #10 Quakertown on Friday night, Pennridge’s Oliver Jervis blocked a punt and returned it to the Panther-15.
“We practiced that all week,” said the 6’6” Jervis. “We knew they punted a little funny. We worked on my coming off of the edge and driving them back.”
“When you have a 6’6” kid, I think everyone can figure that out!” chuckled Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach. “We’re trying to get Oliver to do some things in the punt game.”
Three plays later, Kyle Schetter pounded it into the end zone, giving the #7 Rams a 6-0 lead. Pennridge (9-2) pulled away to top their ancient rival 24-0 in the first round of District One AAAAAA playoff action.
“We made too many mistakes against a quality team who didn’t make mistakes, and they were able to capitalize,” said Quakertown coach George Banas. “I thought our defense played very well. We just needed to find a way to punch it in.”
Pennridge blocked a second punt and started their next drive at the Panther-17. Christian Morano wrapped up Schetter for a first down loss and the Panther defense turned away Pennridge on fourth down.
But poor field position- Quakertown (8-2) started three drives inside their 7- plagued the Panthers. Pennridge tightened the screws after halftime and yielded just 38 total second half yards.
“We had a lot of checks going into the game and we kind of faded away from that,” Jervis explained. “We went back to our normal defense.”
Fullback Nick Tarburton’s 23-yard rumble keyed Pennridge’s opening second half drive that ended on a Zak Kantor 20-yard touchdown pass to Tucker Chaikin. Pennridge recovered a muffed kickoff- a big special teams play- and Kantor found Joey Devine on a 41-yard bomb. Tarburton scored from five yards out and in 20 seconds, the Rams increased their lead to 18-0.
“I saw the receivers beating them deep so I put the ball out there,” Kantor said. “They made some really good plays and the line gave me enough time to do it. It was a called play with some options, but we felt confident out receivers would get open.”
Schetter’s 14 yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter ended the scoring.
The Rams rushed for 348 yards on 54 carries, yet no run went for longer than 31. Tarburton’s 111 yards on 14 carries led all rushers; Schetter added 97 on 15 totes. Evan Exner ran for 66 yards on eight carries, emblematic of Pennridge’s running back by committee. Josh Pinkney leads the team in rushing yet both Schletter and Ryan Garner trail him by less than 45 yards.
“It’s great,” Kantor noted. “It keeps defenses on their toes because they don’t know what to expect. We have some speed and some power. They’re all good backs.”
Friday marked the seventh time this season that Pennridge yielded a dozen or fewer points. “Cooper Chaikin coming in at safety,” explained Hollenbach. “You wouldn’t expect a sophomore secondary guy to make that difference but we’ve had 12 interceptions in three games and Cooper is a big part of our coverage. The defensive front can create issues and now the quarterback has to make a quick decision, and the secondary has been capitalizing on that.”
Kantor had insights into Pennridge’s current six game win streak. “The defense is doing a great job and on offense, everyone is doing their job,” said the quarterback.
Christian Patrick led Quakertown with 84 yards on 15 carries. Patrick needs just 56 yards to reach 1,000 for the season.
He’ll get the chance. These teams meet again in less than three weeks for the 88th edition of the Thanksgiving game. Despite the rivalry, both coaches felt their teams were on an even keel entering Friday.
“I think we were locked in,” Banas felt. “I’m ecstatic that we’ve made District playoffs three of four years.”
The Rams’ playoff journey continues on Friday when they travel to #2 Perkiomen Valley (10-1). Pennridge handed the Vikings their only loss, a 29-0 throttling, in Week Three.
“Our team has a vision,” Jervis concluded. “We want to go one at a time. If we get too high heads, we’ll do something stupid. So we just kept it level. Now it’s on to next week.”
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