Strong Second Half Surges Rams Past Titans
To run in the October 30th Bucks County Herald
One drive lasted one play. One drive took 16 plays. But Pennridge (5-3) used both scoring drives- plus a third- to hang 21 unanswered second half points on CB South (3-5) en route to a 28-17 win on Senior Night.
It was the second week in a row that the Rams entered the half trailing by at least two scores. They nearly overcame a 24 point deficit on October 16th to upset one-loss Pennsbury.
“Our coach told us that if we played ball like we did in the second half against Pennsbury, that we can play with anyone,” said senior Pennridge senior quarterback DeVon Balmer. “We really believed that. In the locker room, we said ‘We didn’t come out like we wanted to. But let’s pick it up, fire off the ball and make plays.’ We got it done in the second half.”
Stephen Iannuzzi’s 51 yard punt forced Pennridge to start their opening drive at the South-17. The Rams marched, with Balmer scrambling for 17 yards on third-and-eleven, then hitting classmate Dan Hockman deep on a 36 yard touchdown bomb two plays later to cap a ten play drive.
“We knew that their safety didn’t float with our crossing pattern,” noted Balmer, who completed 7 of 11 passes for 85 yards. “If I had to step up in the pocket, the backside post would be there. Dan found it and luckily made a great play on it.”
But the Titan defense toughened… and Iannuzzi was determine to do more than just punt. After swapping three-and-outs, South junior quarterback Sam Thompson hit Iannuzzi on a long pass that the punter/wideout took 81 yards to the house. It tied the game at 7 with 45 seconds left in the first quarter.
Titan defensive back Tyler Watson made a nifty open field tackle on a Balmer screen pass, forcing no gain and triggering a three-and-out. South then marched 68 yards in 11 plays, capped with big fullback Nate Norris rumbling eight yards to pay dirt and a 14-7 South lead.
Pennridge almost scored on their next drive- Balmer overthrew receiver Iziah Lewis by inches on a long pass in the end zone- but the Titans held. Thompson used two effective option runs, one keeper and one pitch to Norris, to help drive down to the Ram 17. Iannuzzi punched a 35-yard field goal through with five seconds left and the Titans took a 17-7 lead into the half.
“It was obviously a tale of two halves,” remarked South coach Tom Hetrick. “Offensively, in the first half, we were able to do the things we were hoping to do and do them pretty consistently. We were able to run the ball on a couple of timely plays. The big ball for a touchdown was nice.
“Defensively,” he continued, “they have some athletes. They’re a tough football team and we made some stops that we weren’t making on a consistent basis during the course of the season. We had a great vibe coming out. We knew we were going to have to fight. But just as many plays as we made in the first half, we didn’t in the second. (Pennridge) did and I give them a lot of credit.”
Absent the scoring bombs, the two defenses held their rivals to just 178 combined total yards in the first half.
Pennridge struck quickly out of the break. Hockman picked off a Jack Johns’ pass to give Pennridge the ball at the Titan 28. Balmer hit Connor Hansen one play later on a touchdown strike.
“We made some minor adjustments offensively and did some different things with formations,” said Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach.
Though there were still seven minutes left in the quarter, there was a feeling the game might be at stake when South went for it on fourth down at Pennridge’s 46. The Ram defense held, and the offense took advantage. Hockman and Ryan Gordon angrily took two carries for 18 yards, and then Balmer, seeing no one open, took off and catapulted against the pylon for a score. The Rams took a 21-17 lead.
“The dive got people pretty excited and that was a big help to give us momentum,” Balmer commented.
South would not go quietly. Watson took the Ram kickoff to his own 49. Sophomore Nick Tarburton entered the game as Pennridge’s leading tackler. He made his presence felt, blowing up a reverse. It forced another fourth down and when Lewis broke up the South pass attempt, Pennridge averted another threat.
“We wanted to play together. We know we’re a second half team,” said senior linebacker Judens Desrosier. “We came off slow off the ball in the first half. But we knew what we had to do and we did it.”
Penalties and a Ken Hussein sack moved the Rams back and gave the Titans a short field. Thompson’s 26 yard scramble on the last play of the third quarter set up first-and-goal. But on third and goal, Desrosier pounced on an errant pitch and regained possession for Pennridge.
Balmer made two critical third-and-long conversions: with his arm on a 14 yard completion to the Rams’ leading receiver Ryan Cuthbert, and with his legs on a 14 yard scramble. And his surging 15 yard quarterback sneak- you read that right- on fourth and one kept the drive alive. Pennridge ended their 16 play drive when Desrosier smashed into the end zone from twelve yards out with under two minutes left.
“Once we got that last first down, I knew that this is the spot where they like to give me the ball,” said the 215 pound Desrosier, who feels confident “inside the ten.”
South was coming off of a nine point win against Abington in which they had three different backs rush for over 100 yards each. Tonight, Norris led the Titans with 63 yards on 17 carries; Thompson added 58 on 11 rushes.
“My heart goes out to my guys,” confessed Hetrick. “It’s never a question of effort. They give pure effort all of the time.”
Balmer’s 96 yards on 13 carries led all rushers and continued a trend: despite averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground this year, Pennridge still has not had a 100 yard runner in 2015. Balmer is one of five Rams to lead his team in rushing yards in a game. Gordon added 55 yards on eight carries. Hockman rang up 65 yards on 11 touches.
“(DeVon) showed his scrambling ability tonight,” Hollenbach commended. “He has been throwing the ball well all year but to know when to pull and run the football, and to take care of the football…for him to make 15 yards on the quarterback sneak was amazing.”
“When all is said and done, (Pennridge) wants to run the ball,” Hetrick observed. “But they have the ability to do two things. They have the ability to bring formations in and pound the ball but they obviously have the ability to open things up. The quarterback is gifted with his fit and they have guys on the edges who are pretty good so you have to sort of treat them as two different teams.”
Pennridge is on the playoff bubble but this win helped their chances. “What I really did,” Hollenbach emphasized, “was to say to the seniors that on Senior Night, you cannot lose. This is about the seniors. Are you going to come together and lead us to victory? That was my challenge. And I think they stepped up. I’m really proud of the way they played the second half against a really good South team.”
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