Rams Rally; Reign in Randy’s Return
Before Pennridge and Emmaus even kicked off Friday night in Sellersville, there were enough sub-plots to challenge any editor’s word count.
“They started a little slow this week,” said Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach, “but by the time we got to 7:00 we were good to go. And we were very nervous. That first quarter, we played so nervous.”
Pick a story line. Pennridge, who went 12-2 and made the District 1 semi-finals, entered the contest as the defending SOL Continental champions.
The game marked the return of Hollenbach, who led the Rams to a 73-25 record as head coach between 1997 and 2004.
Across the sidelines making his Emmaus debut was head coach Randy Cuthbert, who went 55-43 in eight seasons with Pennridge as Hollenbach’s successor. Cuthbert, a former Pittsburgh Steeler running back, left Sellersville to take the Hornets’ job in May.
Small wonder there were several TV and radio outlets converging at Poppy Yoder Field, a game that lived up to the hype in a 33-27 overtime Ram win. Pennridge scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in the last two plays of regulation to force the extra frame.
The focus was the coaches, but in the first half was an Emmaus White-out: Hornets’ captain Kyzir White had two pick-sixes, which combined with his 4-yard touchdown catch on a fade route and Will Miller’s 96 yard kickoff return to give Emmaus 27 first half points.
Pennridge countered with a 17-yard touchdown strike from QB Matt Pasquale (15-for-27, 247 yds and 3 TDS) to captain/WR Micah Stutzman, and a 53-yard connection from Pasquale to all-state RB Mike Class. Two failed conversions put the visitors up 27-12 at the half.
But Pennridge’s defense truly became Ram tough in the second half. Pennridge forced Emmaus to a three-and-out in their first three second half positions; the Hornets managed just 24 total yards in the second half and overtime thanks to the play of LBs Ryan Sterling and Josh Beare, who combined for 8.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.
“We just played with heart, a lot of heart. We tried our best and did our jobs,” Baere said.
“We made mistakes in the first half that cost us the lead, but we stressed if we had a good second half, that we could win it,” Stutzman added.
“We just challenged their heart at halftime. There weren’t a lot of adjustments. I did a few things offensively,” Hollenbach offered. “Dave Heying did an unbelievable job with this defense. We only had two returning starters on defense so to play this well in this kind of atmosphere…oh my goodness…”
The defense finally yielded Pennridge a short field; Class’ two yard touchdown run capped an 8 play, 36 yard drive midway through the fourth and cut the lead to 27-19. After forcing yet another three and out, the Rams marched 77 yards in 13 plays.
Class (27 touches, 207 yards) might be the returning 2,400 yard rusher, but Stutzman’s heroics forced overtime. He caught a 13-yard pass on a key 3rd and 10, and then grabbed the winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. Stutzman (7 catches, 126 yards) also snagged the two-point conversion.
“We ran X-Pylon, the play to the corner, on second down. I caught it, but the DB made a great play on it and knocked it out of my hands,” a cramped and hobbling Stutzman relayed. “I was kind of bummed about that.
“But we ran the same play on fourth down. I got open again and hung on to it.”
Emmaus went three and out, and missed a field goal to open overtime. Class’s 10-yard TD scamper once Pennridge got the ball back gave Hollenbach the win in his second Pennridge debut.
Pennridge’s offense changed from last year’s spread to Hollenbach’s traditional wing-T. While the “new” offense is stereotyped as being run-focused, it also opens up the passing game.
“Whenever everyone is keying on Mikey (Class), we have the misdirections and waggles. On the conversions, everyone is going one way and we can run a throwback,” Stutzman noted. “It’s fun. There are pros and cons but I do get open.”
“A lot of these situations, where they knew we were throwing, I’m running play action because it sets up getting to the perimeter. We’re not in the pocket very much. We’re getting to the edge and it paid off,” added Hollenbach, who also had high praise for his offensive line and for the mobile Pasquale.
Hollenbach’s familiarity with the program undoubtedly helped Pennridge’s transition. “We did the same as always,” Baere noted. “Keep practicing, work hard and play hard.”
“It feels pretty good,” grinned Hollenbach, who won or shared five conference titles in his first go-round at Pennridge. “I’m thrilled with the coaches and the kids. It’s basically a new coaching staff and kids who are new to us. To come together like this is a great way to start.”
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