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.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Inexperience not slowing Pottsgrove

This column originally ran in the Oct. 28 edition of The Mercury

Rick Pennypacker doesn’t buy into rebuilding, restructuring, remodeling, recreating, whatever you care to call it, even when graduation hits his Pottsgrove football program so hard you’d think there was nothing to do but endure a complete renovation.

Back in June, after bidding a painful farewell to eight seniors who occupied a combined 14 positions in the offensive and defensive starting lineups – eight seniors who led (or watched from nearby) the Falcons capture a couple of Pioneer Athletic Conference championships, qualify for the postseason for four straight years, and win the school’s first District 1-AAA title – Pennypacker still wasn’t in that patch-it-up and mend-for-awhile mode.

Not even after the Falcons opened the season with a 27-20 loss to Norristown.

“We always have high expectations here,” Pennypacker explained earlier this week. “We set our goals every year as we have in the past, regardless of our talent. I think every coach does that, so we’re not the exception in that regard.

“We lost more than just the Big Three (Terrell Chestnut, Kayvon Greene and Maika Polamalu) last year. We lost guys like T.J. Demetrio, Dan Foust, Chris Nester, Zach Robinson and Tyler Wysochanski, too. That was a good group. But we still felt we had a core of kids who would be able to compete.”

Well, they sure have been competing … again.

Going into tonight’s game at Perkiomen Valley, the Falcons (6-1, 6-2 overall) are just one game back in the loss column to Pioneer Athletic Conference leader Spring-Ford – which sacked them with their lone league setback four weeks ago – and just one win away from officially clinching a fifth straight postseason appearance and home game for the first round of the District 1-AAA playoffs.

There’s no question the Falcons have improved significantly since the season kicked off, and they’ve done so thanks to the blue-collar work ethic up and down both lines and the added touch of a skilled workforce behind them. Winning has been restored since the setback to Spring-Ford. And if they’re forced to settle for runner-up honors (for the third time in the last five seasons), it may be one of the best finished works Pennypacker and his staff have ever crafted.

“We played well enough to win against Norristown,” Pennypacker said. “We had some breakdowns due to inexperienced players on the field. The Spring-Ford game was all my fault because our defensive game plan asked some of our kids to do things they weren’t ready to do. Spring-Ford is a great team and well-coached, and they played with more emotion than we did. But (the loss) was my fault because I should’ve simplified the game plan more than I did.”

Nothing has been simple – for Pottsgrove’s opposition – since, though.

“We tweaked a few things, but it was more about practicing fundamentals, and practicing them hard. We had to come right back (after Spring-Ford) and play a very good Methacton team. We could have lost that one, too, but our kids hung tough. Since then, I’ve leaned a little more on our veterans, guys like Steve Ambs, D.J. Ludy, Robbie Curtin and Danny Michaels.

“Plus we feel in order to win consistently in our league you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run. (Eric) Bonenberger, Ambs, Scott Schollenberger and Madison O’Connor have played well up front for us in that regard. We’ve leaned hard on them, mainly because we lost five of our seven people up front on defense. But they’ve responded. Our young kids have matured, too.”

The youth movement has been led by, among others, quarterback Tory Hudgins, who saw time last season when Chestnut went down with an injury but was always surrounded by all those veterans. This year, Hudgins has run the Falcons’ option offense – and an occasional power-I offense – quite well. He’s taken 108 snaps himself, stretched them out to 771 yards, and scored 15 times. He complements Mark Dukes (993 yards rushing) well. And in the limited passing game, Hudgins has completed more than 50 percent of his passes, and exactly one-third of his 21 completions have gone for touchdowns.

“Our biggest surprise has been the emergence of some of our young kids,” Pennypacker said. “We’re playing four or five sophomore at times, and they’ve been a blessing depth-wise at some positions. And I’m not surprised but very pleased with both Hudgins and Dukes, who are both juniors.

“Hudgins is exactly who you want as your quarterback. He’s very smart, plays within himself, and rarely gets rattled. He never gets too high or too low, and plays as he practices every week. That’s all you can ask.”

Pennypacker will be asking for more of the same tonight when Pottsgrove meets the Vikings, a team that may be wobbling a bit with so many injuries but a team that has been anything but a pushover for the Falcons in seasons past.

“I don’t want to hear about how they’re banged up because (head coach Scott Reed) does a great job down there and he’ll have his team on an emotional high for us,” Pennypacker said. “They always give us fits … always.”

The last thing the Falcons need are those fits, especially when considering how hard they worked to fit together a lot of their own pieces to position themselves where they are now.

“When we looked at our schedule in the beginning of the year we were afraid we could be out of everything after the fifth week of the season,” Pennypacker explained. “But our seniors have been great. They’ve known all along what it takes to win, and even though most people counted us out of everything, our seniors didn’t.

“We struggled early, and we’re still not where we want to be or where we need to be to compete in the playoffs. But we’ve made progress. We’ve improved. Now we want to win out, get the (first-round home game) in the playoffs, and make that Thanksgiving Day game between Phoenixville and Spring-Ford mean something.”

* * *

The Falcons have won three in a row and 11 of the last 12 meetings against Perkiomen Valley, with only three of those wins in blowout fashion. … The Vikings got a strong effort last week from their offensive line, featuring center Sean Leary; rotating guards Sean Kilkenny, Robbie Thacker and Austin Gansz; tackles Jeff Morrow and Devin Chou; and tight end Jaime Biddle. … Head coach Scott Reed: “Last week’s win was truly a team win. We had a number of individuals step up on offense, defense and special teams. But Pottsgrove is a very tough opponent, a team that’s big, fast and well-coached.”



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