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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hostile Takeover

This column originally appeared in the Nov. 18 edition of The Mercury.

LOWER POTTSGROVE — Most weekends, Rick Pennypacker will take a glimpse of scores from around Southeastern Pennsylvania. In all likelihood, he'll sneak a peek to see just how Strath Haven is doing, too.

No one would blame him if he did.

Before this season, Pennypacker led Pottsgrove to the District 1-Class AAA final in six of seven postseason appearances. In four of those six championship games, Pennypacker watched Strath Haven first disassemble and then defeat his Falcons. And forget the scores - 35-7 in 2000, 35-19 both in 2001 and 2003, and 42-28 a year ago - because they didn't even seem to be that close.

So back on October 1 - or the halfway mark of the regular season - when Pottsgrove and Strath Haven had identical (and very uncharacteristic) 3-2 records, Pennypacker wasn't exactly gazing into any

crystal ball and seeing another game with Strath Haven in the Falcons' future.

"If you would have told me in the beginning of the year that we would be playing Strath Haven in the district semifinals I would have laughed at you," Pennypacker said earlier this week. "Really, I would've laughed at you."

Well, no one is giggling right now.

Not with Strath Haven visiting Pottsgrove tonight in, you guessed it, the District 1-Class AAA semifinals.

The Panthers, who didn't even come close to winning yet another Central League title and were given little or no chance of adding to their record 11 district titles and two state championships after their dismal start, did a reverse … an impressive reverse, that is. They won four of their next five, qualified for the postseason, and avenged one of those two early losses in last Friday night's opener by defeating Marple-Newtown, 31-7.

Then again, so did the Falcons. They ran off five straight wins, all but one rather lopsided wins, too. Then they took care of Pope John Paul II last Friday night, 44-19.

"(Strath Haven) was a young football team, and they had to play Marple-Newtown and Garnet Valley early on," Pennypacker said. "But they've gotten better, a lot better, and that's what Strath Haven seems to do every year.

"But our kids have gotten better, too. And that's a credit to our kids and to our coaching staff. Everyone believed in what they were doing."

So much so that tonight's fifth meeting, is so intriguing … despite those past results.

"Our kids are not in awe of (Strath Haven)," Pennypacker said. "They believe they can beat (Strath Haven). They've prepared well all week, and they're excited to be playing that team. We feel it's a reward to be where we are right now."

The Falcons' reward is going up against a team very similar to the one Pennypacker and his staff have seen before.

Strath Haven (8-3) isn't at all fancy. Head coach Kevin Clancy's scheme is plain and simple - run, run and run some more, play defense, then run, run and run even more.

James Griffin, the Panthers' feature ballcarrier and only big contributor back from last year's rout of the Falcons down at Coatesville High School, has 1,055 yards and 13 touchdowns. Andrew Crawford (641 yards, 10 TDs), Keith DeCindis (519 yards, 9 TDs) and Tevon Howie (475 yards, 5 TDs) provide more than just a breather for Griffin in the run game, too. And quarterback Kevin Mohollen, believe it or not, has thrown even fewer times than Pottsgrove's Tory Hudgins. In last weeek's win over Marple-Newtown, Mohollen didn't even attempt one pass.

"I honestly don't know if (Strath Haven) is as good a team as they were last year," Pennypacker said. "But I do know they're good. It seems like every time we play them they're peaking. Right now they're as good as any team we've seen this year."

If there is a key to the Falcons' fortunes, it may lie up front with their offensive line -with center Zach Birch, guards Dylan Pritchard and Scott Schollenberger, tackles Eric Bonenberger and Madison O'Connor, and tight end Steve Ambs. The sizeable gang has actually helped Hudgins (1,033 yards, 20 TDs), Robbie Curtin (710 yards, 11 TDs) and Danny Michaels (316 yards, 3 TDs) - and Mark Dukes (1,043 yards and 9 TDs) before he went down with a broken ankle - run up more yardage than Strath Haven this season.

But no one has presented such an imposing challenge to the Falcons' front six as Strath Haven does with such defensive personnel as veteran Jake Morris (team-high 73 tackles), Josh Johnson, Kevin Sherry, Howie, Brian Vendetta (team-high three sacks), and P.J. Plummer. A year ago, the threesome of Morris, Plummer and Howie combined for 219 tackles to help anchor the Panthers to that District 1-AAA title.

"We have to play fundamentally sound football because Strath Haven does," Pennypacker said. "We have to match that. If we get out of our fundamentals, if we don't play fundamentally sound, it could get ugly."

That means not only on the offensive side of the ball, but on the defensive side as well. Containing Strath Haven's run game, creating mistakes and turnovers, will be paramount for the Falcons - who have gotten solid play throughout the season from D.J. Ludy, Curtin, Seth Figueroa, Curan Wilson, Nick Brennan, Marquis Barefield, Christian Simpkins and Michaels.

"All I can tell you is that Strath Haven's very good, as good as advertised," Pennypacker said. "And we don't get tired of (playing them). Our kids don't worry about (the earlier losses), either. That's past history to them. They know to be the best you have to beat the best.

"A lot of people will say you can't beat Strath Haven. But you have to get to the point where you have the opportunity to play Strath Haven, which means you have to win a lot of games just to get into the playoffs, to get a chance to play Strath Haven. To get another chance kind of says something for us. Believe me, our kids will be ready and they will play hard."



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