Blogs > The Best of Don Seeley's Columns

Former Mercury sports editor Don Seeley passed away in June 2013 from a heart attack. For more than a decade Seeley wrote about local sports. Featured here are his columns that were previously printed in The Mercury.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Challenging times ahead for contenders

This column originally ran in the Oct. 27 edition of The Mercury.

No one could ever guess the number of times they’ve heard “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” in their lifetime. It’s one of the oldest clichés, if not most unoriginal lines, endlessly quoted by everyone from motivational speakers to sales managers and, yes, even football coaches.

The late Joe Kennedy reportedly preached it to his sons long before they began their political careers; Billy Ocean wore it out the already worn-out phrase as the theme sound for The Jewel of the Nile in 1985; and the line appeared in the popular Hagar the Horrible comic strip a few years back. Heck, even millionaire Baron Marcel Bich gave us a French version of it (“Quand le chemin devient dur, les durs se cheminent”) one time.

No one knows for sure if Owen J. Roberts’ Tom Barr, Pottsgrove’s Rick Pennypacker or Upper Perkiomen’s Keith Leamer will be uttering it this week (or next) in their respective locker rooms or not … but they may.

All three of their teams are situated right smack in the middle of a tight Pioneer Athletic Conference championship race, not to mention right smack in the middle of an even tighter District 1-Class AAA playoff chase.

Depending on who does what, of course, the PAC-10 title may not be officially decided until Thanksgiving morning. But who gets into one of those eight

postseason spots will officially be decided this weekend, if not next weekend.

First things first … especially for Barr and his Wildcats.

Owen J. Roberts (5-1, 7-1) travels to Boyertown on Friday, then entertains Perkiomen Valley the following weekend. A win over the Bears would clinch a second straight playoff berth and, in all likelihood, a first-round game on the home turf. And if there are any questions that do remain after that, they’ll get answered with a win over the Vikings.

Hey, the Wildcats can tackle a lot of bonus points in these two games – both Boyertown and Perkiomen Valley are Class AAAA rivals with a combined nine wins on their cards. But don’t forget OJR has only won three of seven PAC-10 meetings with the Bears, who’ll likely be snarling a bit after the stunning setback to Spring-Ford last Saturday. And last season, remember, it wasn’t until the final seconds ticked off the clock with Perkiomen Valley inside OJR’s 10-yard line that the Wildcats were able to hang on for a 27-26 win and end a three-year skid against the Vikings.

It’s just as interesting – or dare we say tough – for both Upper Perkiomen and Pottsgrove.

Leamer and his Indians (4-2, 6-2) haven’t come close to beating Pottsgrove the last two times they’ve met, but they need a win this time around to mathematically remain in the PAC-10 race (and pick up a lot of new friends from OJR), and to hold onto or improve on its No. 6 spot in the district playoff points standings. And next week’s visit from St. Pius X won’t necessarily be a pleasant one considering the improved Lions have an issue with giving up an average of 42 points in their five straight losses to the Indians.

Pennypacker, of course, is aware that two wins – over Upper Perkiomen and then Phoenixville – will assure his unbeaten Falcons (6-0, 8-0) will clinch no worse than a share of a second straight PAC-10 title as well as the so-called home field advantage for the playoffs. He already knows enough about the Indians, and remembers how Phoenixville, currently as healthy as its been all season, gave up three big plays – and only three big plays – in last year’s 21-7 loss to the Falcons.

Neither Barr, Leamer nor Pennypacker ever struggle finding the right words to keep their respective teams on their toes. But they may slip in the old “when the going gets tough” approach sometime this week or next.

At least they’d be telling the truth.


There was a time not so awfully long ago when Spring-Ford was hard to beat at home. Even though that has changed a bit over the years, one thing hasn’t – the Rams haven’t lost a Saturday afternoon Homecoming game (at least since 1990), and it hasn’t mattered if they were the top-dog or the underdog.

And have they ever entertained the alumni in the eight games. In 1990 (against Pottstown), 1991 (against Upper Perkiomen) and 2004 (against Boyertown), they came from behind in the fourth quarter of each of those games to pull out a win. Then in 2005, they pulled out an overtime win over Perkiomen Valley. The next three were a little easier to sit through, with winning spreads of three touchdowns or more. But the Rams made up for lost time last Saturday – and had their fans back on the edge of their seats again – by putting together another fourth-quarter comeback (not to mention last-minute defensive stand) to edge the Boyertown, 17-14.


Bernie Roell may be more concerned about Daniel Boone’s postseason soccer fortunes right now, but for the first time since the second week of last season he isn’t The Mercury’s leading kick scorer in football. Don’t be too alarmed, he’s just a point behind Upper Perkiomen’s Matt Kirkpatrick.

It’s definitely one of the better seasons for area kickers, though.

Kirkpatrick, who earlier this month set PAC-10 records for the longest punt and best punting average in a game, has given the Indians a big boost on special teams. Roell is still one of the strongest and most accurate placekickers and could well end up on top the scoring board when all is said and done this season. And don’t overlook Boyertown junior Aaron Sassaman, who shares the area-high in field goals this fall with three.

But an injury or other setbacks have cost the area two valuable kickers – Methacton’s Nick LaPerche and Phoenixville’s John McInally. One of the area’s best kickers the past two seasons and only a junior, McInally tore his ACL during a soccer game four weeks ago, has been sidelined since, and is scheduled to undergo surgery.

And down at Perkiomen Valley, Justin Morgan continues to boot point after point ever so quietly and, by season’s end, may erase the PAC-10 record for career placements.


Pottsgrove quarterback Terrell Chestnut and backs Maika Polamalu, Kayvon Greene and Preston Hamlette have lugged the football a combined 232 times for 2,119 yards and 34 touchdowns. Now that may not sound all that impressive, but it breaks down to this – 9.1 yards per running attempt, and a touchdown every seven carries. That is impressive.


Perkiomen School’s O.C. Hightower fits in with the big-play crew, too. His last seven carries have covered 218 yards and ended in six touchdowns, and his last eight receptions have covered 220 yards and ended in four touchdowns. In other words, in Hightower’s last 15 touches on offense alone, he’s generated 438 yards – or 29.2 yards per play – and 10 touchdowns. That certainly qualifies as a “Wow.”


Pius hoping to change its history

This column originally ran Oct. 23 in The Mercury.

BUCKTOWN -- Some teams have their way with others. It just doesn’t seem to matter who’s better, or who’s good and who’s not so good, and forget about the won-loss column.

Fortunately, time erases most trends. And, as new players come and go, so do the memories (the best as well as the worst of times, that is).

But there are a few fellas, coaches in this instance, who may want to weave a little bit of that history into the ol’ pre-game preachings tonight.

No one more, perhaps, than St. Pius X head coach George Parkinson.

Yes, the Lions are 3-2 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference and 5-2 overall. Yes, they’ve already won more league games than the five teams before them did. Yes, those five overall wins are the most by any Lions team in seven years. And, yes, they’re about a first down or two behind Calvary Christian – actually a mere 1.2 points behind – in the District 1/12-Class A playoff points standings.

But as good as it’s been for the Lions so far this season, they’re fully aware they can ill-afford another loss if they hope to retain a lane in both those PAC-10 and postseason races.

And there’s no bigger challenge, at least for now, than Owen J. Roberts … the same Owen J. Roberts that has more than once in the past defied the odds (and logic) in match-ups with Pius.

The Wildcats (4-1, 6-1 overall) are just a game behind unbeaten Pottsgrove in the PAC-10 and situated right smack in the middle of the District 1-Class AAA playoff points standings themselves. In other

words, they’re pretty darn good themselves. And their track record against the Lions is, well, rather impressive – or disheartening to the Pius faithful.

For one, the Wildcats have not lost to Pius since getting blanked 27-0 back in 1995. That’s 13 straight wins, if you’re counting. Moreover, they’ve won 18 of the last 21 meetings since joining the league back in 1988. And if you care to go back to when they started playing one another in the Ches-Mont League, OJR has had the upper-hand in 26 of the 32 games (with one ending in a tie).

Former St. Pius head coach Dave Bodolus was almost speechless after a couple of upset losses to OJR, as was Ray Gionta following his one and only game against OJR.

Bodolus had a difficult time explaining what happened in 1999 after his heavily favored Lions were thumped 38-14 by OJR, the lone blemish in their PAC-10 championship season. He had an equally difficult time explaining what happened two years later when the heavily favored Lions came up short in a 32-29 thriller with the Wildcats before regrouping and playing their way to the PIAA-Class AA state semifinals. And Gionta wasn’t exactly a chatty one in 2002 after a 19-14 setback to the Wildcats with a team that would make its way into the postseason as well.

Obviously, Parkinson and his Lions would like nothing more than a win tonight to end the mystique – or whatever they call it – and hit the breaks on their 13-game skid.

They’re all still working on the respect factor. Some critics are quick to point out their five wins have come against teams who are a combined 7-28, and the only two teams with winning records on their schedule thus far have beaten them.

That may be a bit unfair, especially if you chat with OJR head coach Tom Barr, who sat in on Pius’ win over Spring-Ford last Saturday and had nothing but very good things to say about the Lions.

And when made aware of OJR’s long rule over Pius … “I don’t want to hear about that,” Barr said.

Neither do the Lions, who’d like nothing more than to bring a little magic of their own to the field tonight.


Three other PAC-10 teams, as well as Daniel Boone up in the I-C League, cannot afford to look past this weekend’s games.

OJR cannot take Pius lightly, of course, not with what is on the line and not with longtime rival Boyertown up next. Depending on where your allegiance lies, the OJR-Boyertown series has been one of the best for more than 50 years, even back when it was North Coventry battlin’ the Bears.

Upper Perkiomen has to take Phoenixville very seriously and not look ahead to next Friday night’s visit to Pottsgrove. Yes, Phoenixville may have started 0-for-5, but both the training room and sick-bay are almost empty now and the Phantoms’ improved health has certainly showed the past two weeks with back-to-back shutouts.

Pottsgrove, like Upper Perkiomen, is at Methacton on Saturday. The Falcons stack up as the favorite in every imaginable category. But hunger, the hunger to end disappointment and reverse one’s woeful ways, is one incredible intangible that you can’t measure with those first-down chains. Plus this is Week Eight – and if you knew your PAC-10 history you’d know it’s the week that has produced more surprises and upsets than any other week of the league season.

Up in the I-C, Daniel Boone travels to Pottsville and hopes to make it four in a row over the Crimson Tide. The Blazers can then focus on Muhlenberg – who they have lost to 19 straight times – in a bid to tackle the Section One title.


The Hill School sure can’t look ahead to next week’s game with defending Mid-Atlantic Prep League champion Blair Academy. The Rams take a long bus ride to Wyoming Seminary on Saturday, and a win could put them in a very enviable spot to avenge last year’s lone MAPL setback (to Blair) and run off with a championship. And with quarterback Jack Detmar a “probable” return to the lineup, the Rams will have a considerably better passing threat to go with their productive run game.


When Abdul Smith graduated a year ago and went off to Rutgers, a lot of people thought Perkiomen School’s program would switch off. Not so.

One big reason has been the play of O.C Hightower, who has run for three touchdowns, pulled in five touchdown passes, and scored five other times – an area-high – on kickoff or punt returns and off defensive turnovers.

The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Hightower, who along with teammate Bruce Brittingham give the Indians as good as one-two punch as any other in the Philadelphia region’s private school sector, have Perkiomen on pace for its winningest season in 31 years.


Tireless Jim Algeo and his Lansdale Catholic football teams pulled off a few big wins and big upsets during their 22 years in the Pioneer Athletic Conference. All of them may pale in comparison to last Monday afternoon’s 36-27 victory over Bishop McDevitt.

The Crusaders were winless in six games this season, thanks in part to a young and inexperienced lineup, and were ailing a bit with a few starters either less than a 100 percent or out of the lineup entirely. Bishop McDevitt, on the other hand, was undefeated.

Surprise, surprise … and what a great gift for Algeo, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary two days earlier.


Algeo’s son, Dan Algeo – the head coach at Cardinal O’Hara – may want to steal one of those upset formulas from dad. His Lions are 7-0, but will meet Philadelphia Catholic League Class AAAA power St. Joseph’s Prep (5-1) on Saturday night. The Hawks’ lone loss this season was to North Penn back on Sept. 19.


Think before sounding off

Enough is enough. Now it’s my turn to Sound Off.

As you can see, my name and photo (sorry) are below and to the left, attached to this column as it always has been for 29 years here at The Mercury. I am going to make a point or two, and I’m going to huff-and-puff a bit.

And whether my opinion is right, wrong or indifferent, right-on or off-the-mark, in-the-know or out-of-touch, realistic or naïve, remember one thing – it is my opinion.

Yes, like every one of you (the reader, or the one who doesn’t read but sure hears about anything and everything the least bit contentious), I have an opinion, too.

But unlike way, way too many people today – most of whom, surprisingly, are otherwise well-educated and well-spoken – I will not hide behind some mysterious moniker in a publication’s have-your-say column, nor hide behind some ingenious screen name on speak-out-dot-com-this or speak-out-dot-com-that web site. The anonymity, or the ambiguity, provides everyone the opportunity to convey facts, of course. But it also affords everyone a distorted freedom to put fiction and fantasy into words, or words that go well beyond insult and injury.

The difference here is that I’m held accountable for each and every opinion I make in print. The nameless aren’t.

So here goes…

* * *

It’s been nearly 20 years since Susan Powter, shaved head and all, sat on a chair in front of millions of television viewers and rose to fame with her catch phrase, “Stop the insanity.“ But her expression keeps coming to mind every time I read these anonymous messages about high school football coaches in newspapers – including our own here at The Mercury – and peruse the other unsigned letters and emails. What’s even more ironic is that most of them don’t even come close to the mean-spirited squeals coming out of the stands on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons, so easily heard by anyone traipsing the sidelines during games.

You used to wonder how everyone (almost everyone, that is) became such an overnight expert. To a certain degree, we can credit ESPN, the innumerable radio and television talk shows, and the endless stream of dot-com-this and dot-com-that web sites for such schooling. And don’t forget instant replay. Heck we even have entire replays (what we used to call reruns of games), sometimes for two or three days on our screen. Certain plays, often the whole ballgame, are analyzed and psychoanalyzed, studied and scrutinized. Maybe it’s overplay?

But sitting on a sofa or up in the stands watching doesn’t quite provide the insight to be a high school football coach, nor does it give anyone the right to mock a high school football coach.

There aren’t too many men (or some ladies who have proudly joined the pathetic parade of moaners and groaners) willing to commit to all the hours coaches invest in their programs. The football season, some still think, only runs Mondays through Fridays or Saturdays from mid-August into November. Don’t forget those off days or nights spent scouting a future opponent, watching film, and devising offensive and defensive schemes for the next week. And those other eight months – mistakenly called the off-season – is time for conditioning, weightlifting, informal (but legal) practices and seven-on-seven passing drills, most if not all of which are supervised by the coaches.

Now divide all those hours into their salaries… Excuse me, but hardly anyone would wash one window on his or her fancy car in the driveway or sweep the kitchen floor for that hourly rate.

Also, don’t forget the coaches manage to juggle all those hours in and around their real jobs during the day (most teach from early-morning to mid-afternoon) and their families at night.

If all those hours don’t burn you out, dealing with 30-80 different personalities – that’s 30-80 players who think they’re better than everyone else – just may run you out.

Life rewards those who are dedicated, who work hard, who bring a level of talent to their endeavors. It isn’t, nor should it be, any different in high school football, which rewards the dedicated, hard-working and talented student-athletes with time on the playing field on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. But even that simple logic is unreasonable, or unacceptable to some athletes – maybe because mom, dad and everyone else told them how good they were from the moment they began talking and walking; applauded them for making every conceivable youth all-star team; showed off all their ribbons, medals and plaques; possibly even whispered in their ears that they’d someday be star professional athlete.

We should all have high expectations in life, for ourselves as well as for our children. But that’s expectations, not hallucinations.

Unfortunately, reality – who’s good and who’s not so good, or who is playing and who isn’t – can be awfully difficult to accept. And when there is interference, like the berating of a coach at the dinner table, on message boards and wherever else frustrations and anger can be aired or written, reality gets twisted and warped even more. And it takes little time to spread throughout a team and around a community, and eventually divides teammates, demoralizes their team, and deteriorates their program.

No coach, not even legends like Knute Rockne and Vince Lombardi, could fix that. Not overnight, not in a week, and not over the course of a season or two.

But some try.

Imagine how Owen J. Roberts head coach Tom Barr must feel knowing there is a school board member with an agenda the past year to get rid of a him (we won’t mention who because five members of that board have embarrassed their district enough already). Yep, bar Mr. Barr even though he took the Wildcats to the playoffs for the very first time last November and is headed in that direction again this fall.

Imagine how Spring-Ford head coach Gary Rhodenbaugh must feel when reading or hearing about the long list of anonymous scripts bashing him for not winning. Well, despite what one „so-called“ coach of 22 years wrote – „I’d love to go over there and coach. With the bevy of talent on that team in that district I guarantee we would compete for the PAC-10 title within two years“ – it isn’t going to happen that quickly. First of all, no coach calls out another coach publicly, no real coach that is. And with all due respect to each and every one of the Rams in uniform, there hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot of talent, or „bevy of talent,“ for some time at Spring-Ford. Had some of the better players remained, had they committed to help change the program’s woeful ways instead of bailing out, maybe Rhodenbaugh – like that „so-called“ coach of 22 years – could help the Rams compete for another PAC-10 championship.

Imagine how St. Pius X head coach George Parkinson must feel when he listens to all the absurdities. The Lions program lost as good a coach as there was in Dave Bodolus eight years ago because of the narrow mind and ineptitude of an administrator or two. Three head coaches and two interim coaches later, Parkinson inherited a program that lost the support of the majority of its alumni; saw numbers dwindle down the record levels; and dealt with a lot of talent running off to enroll in neighboring PAC-10 schools. But Parkinson didn’t run away, and despite the callous comments that continue to echo around Mich Stadium, he’s as committed to each of his players – and the program – as anyone before him.

Don’t think Barr, Rhodenbaugh and Parkinson are alone, either. Boyertown’s Mark Scisly, Bodolus (now up at Daniel Boone), Methacton’s Bob McNally, Perkiomen Valley’s Scott Reed, Phoenixville’s Bill Furlong, Pottsgrove’s Rick Pennypacker, Pottstown’s Brett Myers, and Upper Perkiomen’s Keith Leamer have all been verbally whacked from the stands, as many of us have heard over and over again. And they’ve all been bashed in print, as many of us have read time and time again.

Maybe, just maybe, if everyone would take a moment and imagine what it would be like to walk in their shoes for a day, week or even an entire season, they wouldn’t be so quick to criticize their every move.

If not, maybe they’ll be a day not too awfully far in the future when coaches – good coaches, that is – won’t be on the sidelines at all.

Then everyone loses, including the ones we never want to see lose – the student-athletes.


Leaders of the PAC

This column originally ran in the Oct. 16 edition of The Mercury.

LOWER POTTSGROVE — No one should be surprised Pottsgrove is situated on top of the Pioneer Athletic Conference standings and unbeaten through six games overall. And very few should be surprised Owen J. Roberts is right up there alongside Pottsgrove and unbeaten through six games as well.

The big question is if either the Falcons or the Wildcats have any surprises for one another when they meet tonight.

Don’t expect many.

Especially any of those scrupulous, out-of-the-blue, razzle-dazzle offensive schemes, or devious defensive designs, either.

“Every team has their gadgets, a trick play or two they go to once in a while,” said OJR head coach Tom Barr. “But in a game like this you go with what brought you here, what got you to 6-0 at this point.”

“You don’t win football games with (trick) plays,” added Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker. “It all comes down to fundamentals, who blocks and who tackles.”

Neither Barr nor Pennypacker have reached into the gadget bag this season to pull out a win. Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.

It’s all been rather plain and simple.

Owen J. Roberts runs the football, Pottsgrove runs the football. They’ve only gone up top a combined 50 times thus far, which reveals just how much both like to pound it, pound it, and pound it some more … inside or outside, wherever their very good offensive lines lead them – the Wildcats to the tune of 285 yards a game, the Falcons to the tune of 275 yards a game.

The Wildcats’ front of center Mike Nowak, guards Jesse Dugan and Sean Moloney, tackles Andrew Garson and Kyle Moore, and tight end Francis Polignano – along with fullback Rich Zazo – have executed rather well in opening lanes for Ryan Brumfield. Six games in and Brumfield already has 1,222 yards and 20 touchdowns – both area-highs and among the leaders in all of Pennsylvania.

“Ryan Brumfield is as good a running back as I have ever seen,” Pennypacker said. “He reminds me of some great backs we’ve all seen the way he sets up his blocks. He gets the ball out in space, looks and looks for that block and, boom, off he goes. He is so good.”

The Wildcats also proved last week – when quarterback Nate Walters flipped a pair of touchdown passes covering 60 and 40 yards to wing Sam Funk – that they can go up top if needed, if only to lessen the presence of too many Falcons in the box. And Funk is equally dangerous on the counters OJR has called on at opportune times for 25 or more seasons, too.

But for Brumfield and the rest of the Wildcats to get off the ball and run like they have this season, they’ll have to do it against a defense unlike any they’ve seen yet.

“They’re quick and they get to the ball,” Barr said of Pottsgrove’s 5-2 defense, which is permitting an average of just 107 yards on the ground and 192 overall. “We have Brumfield, but (Pottsgrove) makes it very difficult to get out on the perimeter. Their technique is so good. But their quickness off the ball and their quickness to the ball can scare you.”

The Falcons go with T.J. Demetrio on the nose, in between tackles Kayvon Greene and Tyler Wysochanski, while Justin Oliveri and Maika Polamalu are situated on the ends. Brad Thornton and Danny Michaels have been superb at linebacker, especially Michaels in filling in for injured returning all-state senior Preston Hamlette – whose is questionable for tonight’s affair. And behind all of that group is a secondary that usually features Angelo Berry, Terrell Chestnut and Scott Madl, with Fred Dukes and Isaiah Quick getting into the rotation.

Owen J. Roberts’ defense – a 4-3 set – has actually been even less generous than the Falcons. The Wildcats are surrendering an average of 111 yards on the ground and just 172 overall. Ends Steve Lawless and Kyle Moore and tackles Moloney and Nowak have been relentless up front and getting into opponents’ backfields. Zazo is the middle linebacker, situated in between Nate Blevins and Funk to give OJR “as solid a group of linebackers as there are,” according to Pennypacker. And the Wildcats’ secondary – Brendan Shoemaker and Sean Yeager on the corners and Polignano and Brumfield as the safeties – can match up with most any other.

Nonetheless, the Wildcats will have to deal with a Pottsgrove offense that has the ability to find the end zone at any time from anywhere on the field.

“Last year it seemed like all you had to deal with was Chestnut (at quarterback),” Barr said. “But now they have more than just Chestnut. They have Polamalu, who averages something like 10 yards a carry; Berry, who really runs hard; and Greene, who has been in the backfield of late and runs so well, too. All of those guys are fast. It’s their speed that concerns us.”

What concerns both Barr and Pennypacker are turnovers … or avoiding turnovers.

The Wildcats have had their share of problems holding onto the football this season. They have fumbled away 12 possessions – though just one the last two weeks. And that just happens to coincide with what the Falcons have done thus far – like recover a dozen of their opponents’ bobbles, which has helped define why they are at plus-12 in takeaways.

“Pottsgrove executes so well on offense,” Barr said. “But what makes them so good is that when they get a turnover they turn it into points. I don’t know how many times they’ve done that this year, but that’s what a good football team does.”

“Don’t try to kid anybody, though,” Pennypacker said. “Owen J. is a very good football team, a very sound football team … and probably the best football team we’ll see, at least until the playoffs.”

So it should be a good one.

“We just going to line up and go at one another,” Barr said. “We’ve been doing that for the last couple of years.”

“I think it’s going to be a battle,” Pennypacker said.


Pottsgrove leads the PAC-10 series, 12-9, while Owen J. Roberts leads the overall series, 31-19-3. … Falcons dealt OJR its lone league loss last season, 41-14, which Pennypacker said should help fuel the Wildcats’ competitive fires. “I think you have to look at the revenge factor too,” Pennpacker said. “(OJR) has something to prove.” … Polamalu is third in the area in rushing (579 yards, 8.9 per carry average). … Walters is 12 of 21 for 333 yards and three touchdowns, while Chestnut is 17 of 29 for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Each of the quarterbacks have been intercepted once. … Both teams have reliable kickers in Zack Lepore (OJR) and Zach Robinson (Pottsgrove). … The teams have had just one common opponent thus far – Spring-Ford. OJR outlasted the Rams, 13-7, four weeks ago, while Pottsgrove got by the Rams, 20-6, last Friday night.


2nd half has plenty of promise

This column originally ran in the Oct. 13 edition of The Mercury.

It’s halftime for high school football. Or shall we say the season is at the halfway mark, at least for most of the area teams that are scheduled to play through Thanksgiving (with perhaps a playoff game, two or even more before and after the holiday).

And after last weekend, when it seemed as though everyone was dialing long distance to reach the end zone and calling in one record after another, it’s kind of hard to imagine what may be in store for the fanatics in the second half of the season.

But the first six weeks sure provided everyone a handful or so of surprises.

What doesn’t qualify as one is Pottsgrove’s unbeaten run through the preseason and four Pioneer Athletic Conference games. With a minimum of three legitimate Division I-A players in their lineup (and if you don’t know who they are by now you should turn off the televisions and computers and get out to a game), the Falcons’ defense has put up a pair of shutouts and limited three other opponents to just one score since the opening-night, 34-21 rout of Pennridge (which scored twice in the fourth quarter with the Pottsgrove starters resting on the bench).

What doesn’t qualify as one is Owen J. Roberts’ Ryan Brumfield running up big numbers. Just a junior, Brumfield has already gone over 200 yards in three games (and missed a fourth by two mere yards); has more than doubled the yardage of all but one other area running back; has

more than double the total points scored of all but one other area player; and has erased a slew of school records, including the career rushing yardage mark set 30 years ago by his head coach (Tom Barr).

What doesn’t qualify as one is Daniel Boone’s Jon Monteiro continuing to throw up big numbers. A senior who missed his entire sophomore season due to a knee injury, Monteiro is averaging 203 yards passing; tossed at least two touchdowns a game (four in one and five in another) and 17 overall, which keeps him on pace to match or break his own area record of 34 from a year ago; and continues to erase mark after mark after mark in the Blazers’ record book.

Now, what we didn’t expect through the first six weeks of the high school football season, or our Top Five Surprises of the first half…

Surprise No. 1: Perkiomen Valley being 3-1 in the PAC-10 and 4-2 overall. Head coach Scott Reed couldn’t believe his opening-day turnout of 82 players, and he could’ve used name tags for most of them considering graduation took almost his entire starting lineup from a year ago. But the Vikings, who turned it over nine times in a loss to Coatesville and gave Pottsgrove as much as it could handle before falling, are now in the District 1-AAAA playoff mix. If the season ended today, Reed would be The Mercury’s Coach of the Year.

Surprise No. 2: St. Pius X is 4-2 overall. Yes, those four wins are over opponents who currently own a combined 5-19 record. But rebuilding a program sacked by a since-departed administrator’s narrow mind and inability to communicate eight years ago and kept down by a seemingly endless stream of changes on the sidelines (four head coaches and two interim head coaches those eight years) is far more difficult than most can possibly imagine. The smallest step forward is a giant leap under such circumstances, and George Parkinson as well as the Lions have made their share thus far this season. They have ended a PAC-10 losing streak that dated back to 2006; won as many PAC-10 games this season as they owned in the previous five combined; and just last Friday night scored more points in a league game than they had in seven long years.

Surprise No. 3: Turnovers … way too many of them. Keeping Hill School and Perkiomen School out of the equation (they deserve to be omitted because they have only a combined four so far), the 10 Pioneer Athletic Conference teams and Daniel Boone have fumbled the ball over 200 times already and lost 88. Throw in (pardon the pun) another 48 interceptions and that adds up to 136 turnovers in 46 games. Week Two alone was a fumblathon – Owen J. Roberts set a school record with 12 fumbles (six lost) against W.C. East, and Perkiomen Valley set a school record with nine turnovers (six fumbles and three interceptions).

Surprise No. 4 and 4A: Perkiomen School’s Julian Gentile. The little fella – and the 5-foot-5, 140-pound listing in the program may be a stretch – moved into the quarterback slot for the first time this season. After three games, he owns an area-best 184.1 passing rating. He’s completed 54.5 percent of his attempts with eight touchdowns against just two picks. … Perkiomen Valley quarterback Pat Catagnus, another rookie who caught three times as many passes as he threw last year behind Zach Zulli, has bounced back from a shaky start (four of his six interceptions in the first two games) and has completed 56 percent of his attempts for 580 yards – a big part of the Vikings’ surge this fall.

Surprise No. 5: The number of good, make that very good, linebackers. Good luck to the PAC-10 coaches when they vote on their all-league teams. Let’s see, and this is an abbreviated list, too, there is Boyertown’s Kyle Fultz and Jared Giles; Methacton’s Michael He; Owen J. Roberts’ Rich Zazo; Perkiomen Valley’s Joe Scenna and Bob Strickland; Phoenixville’s Vince Ciaverelli (when healthy); Pottsgrove’s Preston Hamlette; Pottstown’s Tommy Santos; Spring-Ford’s James Hoff; St. Pius’ George Lockbaum; and Upper Perkiomen’s Cody Fleming. That isn’t everyone now (so no pouting), plus throw in Daniel Boone’s Dave Morta and Josh Ortiz, and Hill School’s Kyle Regensburg.


Honorable Mention Surprises: The number of quarterbacks sacked with injuries. Boyertown’s Dylan Pasik, Hill School’s Jack Detmer, Methacton’s James McHugh and Phoenixville’s Tom Romano have all been sidelined for at least one game thus far. As a matter of fact, when Pasik called the signals for the Bears last Friday night and both McHugh and Romano lined up against one another last Saturday afternoon, it was the first time this season the three had been behind center on the same weekend for their respective Pioneer Athletic Conference games. Detmer has been out since breaking two bones in his left wrist during the Rams’ second possession against Chestnut Hill Academy two weeks ago, and he could be lost for the season. … Pottstown is averaging 242 yards rushing and is one point out of fifth place in points scored per game. But 15 turnovers (minus-eight in takeaways) have hurt, as has a defense that is allowing 368 yards a game. … Attendances, for the most part, have been pathetic. Some don’t even seem to add up to the number least expected (multiply the total number of football players, cheerleaders and band members by two) – because everyone has to have that many family and/or friends interested in watching.


Brumfield’s six touchdowns last Friday night tied the PAC-10 record originally set by Pottsgrove’s Tim O’Neil and later equaled by the Falcons’ Brent Steinmetz and Owen J. Roberts’ David Frame. Brumfield also went over the 200-yard mark for the seventh time in a PAC-10 game (not sixth as previously reported), which ties him with Steinmetz – just one back of the league mark of eight set by St. Pius X graduate Zack Pierce.

OJR and Upper Perkiomen also produced three other PAC-10 single-game records: most combined yards in a half (651); most combined points in a half (63); and most touchdowns of 50 or more yards in a game (7). Also, Upper Perkiomen punter Matt Kirkpatrick set two individual records – longest punt (67 yards) and highest average punting (minimum of five kicks) by finishing with a 44.6 average on seven boots.

St. Pius X got whistled for 15 penalties last Friday night, breaking the league mark of 14 set by Spring-Ford in its 2000 game with Upper Perkiomen.


No, we didn’t forget – Owen J. Roberts visits Pottsgrove this Friday night. Yes, both are 4-0 in the league, 6-0 overall. Yes, the survivor will sure be a step ahead of the rest in the championship chase. No, a win will not guarantee the Wildcats or the Falcons anything … not quite yet.

Daniel Boone returns home to entertain Governor Mifflin on Friday night in another pivotal Inter-County League Section One game. Head coach Dave Bodolus’ big challenge will be getting the Blazers to regroup mentally from last week’s humbling 47-26 loss to Conrad Weiser, and realigning a defense that yielded 507 yards to the Scouts – almost the total they surrendered in their first five games (593) combined.

The Hill School continues its Mid-Atlantic Prep League schedule and hopes to keep pace with defending champion Blair Academy with a long bus ride to Mercersburg Academy. The Blue Storm were bumped by Blair last week, 38-10. And Perkiomen School comes off its rout of non-sanctioned Oley Valley and a bye the week to entertain New Hope-Solebury, which may be 0-5 but has lost three of those five games by a combined eight points.


Weekend will decide contenders

This column originally ran in the Oct. 8 edition of The Mercury.

The second half of the high school football season kicks off tonight. That’s right, the second half, at least for those teams with one eye on those confounded playoff points standings. What happens over the next five weeks will determine who’s in, who’s out, who plays who where, and so on and so on.

But remember what Ol’ McDonald (or some other fowl egghead) said about what came first.

Keep that in mind, too, because this is the weekend when statements will be made, when teams will dictate — on the field, that is — who is still in the running for a league championship, who is running low on gridiron gas, and who may have tanked it entirely.

Oh, there are some biggies ahead, mind you, but looking ahead only plays into the psyche of those who put the gear on and their coaches, as well as their fans who do all the hooting and hollering.

But tonight, the outcome of three particular games — Upper Perkiomen at Owen J. Roberts, Boyertown at Perkiomen Valley, and Daniel Boone at Conrad Weiser — will, in all likelihood, go a long, long way in determining Pioneer Athletic Conference and Inter-County Section One titles.

Upper Perkiomen (2-1, 4-1 overall) can ill-afford another loss, and Owen J. Roberts (3-0, 5-0) can’t afford a loss of any kind – not with a trip to unbeaten Pottsgrove next Friday in a game that has had an asterisk behind it since practices began back in August. Boyertown and Perkiomen Valley are both 2-1, both have already (unsuccessfully) dealt with Pottsgrove, and both still have Upper Perkiomen and Owen J. Roberts, among others, on their respective cards.

Up in Berks County, Daniel Boone has the I-C’s most productive offense and least-generous defense. The Blazers have thumped and trumped everyone thus far. But Conrad Weiser (with apologies to Twin Valley) is the best team and biggest challenge Daniel Boone has tackled yet. And don’t forget it won’t get any easier the rest of the month with Governor Mifflin, Pottsville and absolute pain-in-the-pads Muhlenberg on the card.

“(Tonight’s) game is your biggest game,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said earlier. “It’s that way every week. If you look ahead, if your kids look ahead, bad things happen. You don’t worry about next week until next week.”

That’s the approach Keith Leamer has adopted at Upper Perkiomen, where midseason setbacks and late-season lulls in the past have cost the Indians dearly in their runs for a PAC-10 championship.

“Our goal this season is to just get better every day,” Leamer said. “If we can do that this week we have a chance against Owen J. Roberts.”

Getting out of Bucktown with a win tonight may depend on just how well the Indians’ offense fares against OJR’s defense. Yes, the Wildcats have a running back named Ryan Brumfield and his area-leading 939 yards, 14 touchdowns and 86 points overall, and he could very well pad those numbers tonight. But overlooked in Brumfield’s rewriting of the record books is head coach Tom Barr’s OJR defense … a pretty darn good defense, that is.

Ends Steve Lawless and Kyle Moore, tackles Sean Moloney and Mike Nowak, and linebackers Sam Funk, Rich Zazo and Nate Blevins have limited opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground thus far. Those fellas, along with corners Brendan Shoemaker and Sean Yeager and safeties Francis Polignano and Brumfield, are surrendering an average of just 141 yards overall.

“(OJR) is playing at a very high level, so we have our work cut out for us,” Leamer said.

The workload will fall heavily on an improved Upper Perkiomen front line and a fast-maturing Casey Perlstein at quarterback. Center Jake Nyce, guards Steve Grover and Alex Zukowski, tackles Dwayne Gillespie and Mike Paul, and tight end Nick Hale, have worked together well since the disappointing loss to Perkiomen Valley three weeks ago, and that’s made it easier for fullback Chase Fleming – who may be as good as anyone on the other side of the ball at linebacker – and tailback Mark Cole. The line has also helped give Perlstein enough time to throw for 410 of his 490 yards the last three weeks, too.

“Both (teams), at some point this season, have been getting it done in all three phases of the game,” Leamer said.

That other phase – turnovers – has also hindered both teams. OJR overcame a school-record 12 fumbles (six of which were lost) in Week Two and is coming off its first turnover-free game of the season. Thanks to seven interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries, though, the Wildcats are plus-six in takeaways. Upper Perkiomen has had trouble holding onto the football as well, losing two fumbles in three of its games and throwing three interceptions in another. But, like the Wildcats, the Indians have come up with 15 turnovers of their own and are a plus-five in takeaways.

“This is a game that could very well come down to turnovers,” Leamer said.

Big games, more often than not, are decided by the bobbles and errant throws.

* * *

Speaking of turnovers, Boyertown hasn’t given the football away in its last two outings. Perkiomen Valley, on the other hand, has been very charitable – 13 fumbles and six interceptions for an area-high 19 overall.

“We had the one bad game (nine turnovers at Coatesville),” head coach Scott Reed said. “But there’s no question the turnovers have hurt us. We can’t afford to keep making those type of mistakes.”

Daniel Boone, of course, has made very few mistakes of any kind. When you have a quarterback like Jon Monteiro and a slew of gifted receivers who provide as balanced an offense as you could draw up (979 yards passing and 975 yards rushing), it certainly does leave opposing defenses a bit perplexed as to what’s coming next. But head coach Dave Bodolus and his defense will get its toughest test to date tonight going up against a similarly balanced offense that features Zach Guiles (678 yards passing) at quarterback and Codie Butler and D.J. Robinson (just under 900 combined yards rushing) behind him.


The Hill School opens its Mid-Atlantic Prep League schedule this afternoon (3:30 p.m.) against visiting Peddie School. The Rams (2-1 overall), who hope to get back on the winning track after dropping last week’s home-opener with Chestnut Hill Academy, were the runners-up to unbeaten Blair a year ago.

Head coach Marty Vollmuth will see a familiar face on the opposing sidelines, too. Peddie, winless a year ago, is coached by former Hill head coach Frank deLaurentis, in his second term as the Falcons’ head coach. DeLaurentis previously guided the program from 1996 through 2005.


Area quarterbacks have seen their share of trainers and doctors, even made enough visits to the hospitals, this season.

Boyertown’s Dylan Pasik is questionable tonight after going down with an injury last Friday night; Hill’s Jack Detmer, a post-grad, is out indefinitely after breaking two bones in his left wrist during the Blues’ second possession last Saturday; Methacton’s James McHugh is questionable after suffering a stinger last week; and Phoenixville’s Tom Romano is probable, or hoping to return to the lineup Saturday afternoon after injuring his arm during a practice prior to the Phantoms’ league-opener four weeks ago.

Detmer threw for more than a 1,000 yards last year at his high school in Scarsdale, N.Y., and both McHugh and Romano threw for well over a grand as starters last season.

* * *

No one has been as banged up as badly as Phoenixville this season. Head coach Bill Furlong – who refuses to use the injury tag as a reason behind the Phantoms’ 0-5 start – hasn’t lost just his quarterback in recent weeks.

Romano was joined on the sidelines early on by tight end-linebacker Vince Ciaverelli. Since then, John McInally, one of the league’s best kickers the past two seasons, has been out with a pulled hamstring. Last week, nose guard Dennis Kelly went down with an injury that has him questionable for Saturday, and defensive end Greg Porter – who also doubled at tight end with Ciaverelli out – suffered a concussion that will keep him out at least another week.

And if that isn’t enough, Furlong lost starting guard-linebacker Matt Viscuso for the season last week after he suffered a compound fracture that required surgery to place a steel rod in his leg.


Brumfield needs 61 yards tonight to reach 1,000 for the season, while Monteiro needs only 21 yards passing to hit 1,000. … Nine area backs are averaging over eight yards a carry thus far, topped off by Pottsgrove’s Maika Polamalu (9.9). Spring-Ford’s Chase Stewart, thanks in part to his school-record 94-yard dash last week, is next at 8.3.

* * *

Big numbers don’t always translate into wins… check these out:

Grace Brethren (Calif.) quarterback Max Leffler throws for 510 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-32 loss to Frazier Mountain; Boyd (Tex.) quarterback Jonovan Griffin throws for 480 yards in an 84-40 loss to Plano West; and Downey (Calif.) quarterback Jason Lee throws for 450 yards and six touchdowns in a 72-43 loss to Patterson.


The big game in District 1 this week has the state’s No. 8 ranked Downingtown West at Henderson. Both teams are 5-0 and among the district’s playoff points leaders in the AAAA and AAA brackets, respectively. … Out in Oklahoma, officials at Jenks High School – which has won nine of the last 13 state titles in the big-school classification and is nationally ranked year after year – have suspended 14-year head coach Allan Trimble and one of his assistants indefinitely. A 44-page report revealed Trimble was responsible for questionable conduct with seven players, conduct that ranged from recruiting violations to monetary gifts.