Throwback Thursday: The 2003 North Penn Knights
The North Penn Knights have dominated PIAA AAAA District One football since the turn of the Century. In the ten years since Dick Beck became Head Coach, the Knights have won six District One titles. The best North Penn team of all was the 2003 squad – this mighty machine combined speed with power to compile a 15-0 record and capture the AAAA State Championship.
At the end of the 21st century’s first decade, the 2003 Knights of Coach Beck were recognized by the Philadelphia Inquirer as Southeastern Pennsylvania’s Team of the Decade.
The momentum for 2003 began in the 2002 District One playoffs when the Knights overwhelmed previously undefeated and favored Downingtown on the Whippets’ home field. The Knights returned a veteran group for the highly anticipated 2003 season.
Coach Beck said recently that, “ We were loaded with talent – we had size and speed and could run and throw”.
Two-way standout Kevin Akins teamed with big fullback Jim Casertano to form a strong tandem of running backs. Juniors Adam Hearns and Eric Halberstadt had battled for the starting quarterback slot. When Hearns emerged, Halberstadt seized the strong safety position for his own. Beck states that the two were very close in ability.
The 2003 offensive line was very nearly the equal of the outstanding 2002 group.
The Knights worked their way through a difficult schedule that included decisive wins over Cardinal O’Hara, Bethlehem Catholic and Glen Mills, along with the traditional Suburban One National Conference opponents.
In the District One playoffs, always tough Ridley and northern neighbor Pennridge were dispatched, 28-7 and 42-21. Pennridge, with its star Greiser, led 7-0 in the first half and had marched inside the North Penn 30. Hearns then returned an interception for a touchdown and the Knights were on their way.
In the District One Final against Interboro at Wissahickon in a virtual replay of the 2002 final, the Knights jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on short runs by Casertano and Akins. The Bucs got back into it at 14-7 by halftime, but North Penn scored first in the third on 11-yard dash by Akins and traded scores with Interboro until the final whistle, winning 43-28.
In the state AAAA semi final against Easton, the Knights had five different players score TD’s and rolled to 471 yards of offense. Quarterback Hearns was the standout for the Knights with 275 total passing and rushing yards. The Red Rovers star backs, Piperata
and Gouldburne combined for more than 320 yards – impressive but not nearly enough to derail the Knights.
Pittsburgh Central Catholic was expected to provide a severe test in the State Championship game at Hershey with its mighty-mite back Jarvis. A Saturday blizzard postponed the game to Sunday but neither the delay nor the weather itself delayed the inevitable North Penn victory and following celebration. With the Knights ahead 7-0 in the first half, safety Halberstadt intercepted a Viking pass on his own 12 in a pivotal play. However, a blocked punt deep in Knight territory did enable Central to tie the score. Then Jarvis ran 41 yards to the North Penn 16 with a pass on the last play of the first half.
North Penn turned the game around in the third quarter when Casertano and Hearns scored. Taking the second half kickoff, the Knights marched 61 yards in nine plays, including Casertano’s 35 yards with a Hearns screen pass. Later, in relief of Hearns, Halberstadt dashed 66 yards for the final Knight score
Overall, North Penn had pounded the Viking defense for 454 yards of total offense. Akins had gained 210 yards on 26 carries.
Two-way standout Akins received first team All-State honors as both a running back and defensive back. He had rushed for more than 2,000 yards. Casertano was also a first team All- Stater . He had scored 21 touchdowns in 2002. Akins played defensive back as a senior starter at Boston College. Casertano’s promising career at Delaware was cut short by injury.
Hearns later played at I-AA Coastal Carolina, while Halberstadt was a three-year starter at linebacker for Duquesne.
Center and defensive end Mike Partain became a captain and four year starter at Columbia. Jeff Ball was a three-year starter at Rhode Island. Wide receiver Deanco Oliver finished his college career at IUP.
Coach Beck had been a star two-way lineman on Mike Pettine’s 1984 and 1985 Central Bucks West teams, receiving All-State recognition. After a strong career at Temple as a three-year starter, Beck joined the coaching ranks. He worked as an assistant at CB West for four years, then became the defensive coordinator for Mike Pettine, Jr. at William Tennent, and followed him to North Penn. He became the Knights’ head man in 2002.
Dick’s record at North Penn is 119-20 and includes the phenomenal six District One championships.
“Surreal – a feeling like no other”, is the way Casertano describes his 2003 North Penn experience. “We were loaded at every skill position”. Casertano also believes that Dick Beck was the “perfect man for the North Penn job”, although he had enjoyed playing for Mike Pettine, Jr. as a sophomore.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
Share This Post: