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

'Mind-boggling' journey continues for Pottsgrove

Originally published in the Nov. 28 edition of The Mercury.

After last year’s loss to Strath Haven in the District 1-Class AAA final, no one asked Rick Pennypacker if he thought he could get his Pottsgrove football team back to the very same game this year. Good thing, too, because they would’ve likely gotten one of those hem-and-haw responses. Something like, “No way.”

Back in August, a few days after the summer practices kicked off, Rick Pennypacker actually was asked if he thought he could get his Pottsgrove football team to the District 1-Class AAA final. His response was, “No way.”

So last Saturday night, moments after Pottsgrove defeated Phoenixville for the District 1-Class AAA title, Pennypacker – never one to be lost for words – actually stammered a bit.

“This is mind-boggling,” he said.

It may have been the most honest response the Falcons coach has uttered since taking over the program 23 years ago.

No one, with the possible exception of the Falcons themselves, could have (or even should have) thought about returning to the district final for a third straight year. No one, because as often as it was talked about or written about, there was no avoiding the fact four-year starters Terrell Chestnut and Maika Polamalu, who both went on to Division I-A schools, as well as veterans like T.J. Demetrio, Dan Foust, Kayvon Greene, Chris Nester and Tyler Wysochanski all graduated, as did reliable kicker Zach Robinson. Together, they occupied 13 starting positions on both sides of the ball.

The Falcons lost a little more than half of their football team, thousands and thousands of yards of offense (and nearly as many points), and a your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine number of big hits and tackles because of graduation.

But the gang that did return – among them Steve Ambs, Eric Bonenberger, Madison O’Connor, Dylan Pritchard and Scott Schollenberger up front on offense, and Robby Curtin, D.J. Ludy, Danny Michaels and Curran Wilson on defense – regrouped. Then they rallied around quarterback Tory Hudgins, who didn’t necessarily evoke too many oohs-and-aahs from the Falcon faithful a year ago while taking snaps for the injured Chestnut.

And after losing their season opener to Norristown and getting overrun by Spring-Ford four weeks later, no one outside the Falcons camp should’ve been thinking district anything.

But the Falcons reloaded and shot by everyone, seven straight opponents in all, to get to the district final for the third straight year. They made it eight straight – with 1,000-yard running back Mark Dukes on the sidelines with a broken ankle – by taking down Phoenixville last weekend.

“You always have to have that mentality you can win,” Hudgins said following Saturday night’s postgame celebration. “The loss to Norristown was a setback, but we got better every week.”

So much better they’ve already surpassed last season’s offensive numbers and are within 28 points of matching the school record for points in a season. Now they’re one game – or one win – away from playing in the eastern final. Now they’re two games – or two wins – away from playing in the state final.

And while everyone from here to Timbuktu will say Pottsgrove has no chance whatsoever this week against Archbishop Wood – the No. 1 ranked Class AAA team in Pennsylvania – odds are the Falcons won’t be listening. They’ll show up, line up, and give it up … that is give it their best shot, which they’ve done – and done well – all season.

Seemingly lost in all the Thanksgiving Day and district championship excitement was Spring-Ford closing out a perfect PAC-10 run and Phoenixville playing two – that’s two – very, very respectable games in a period of four days.

For the Rams, it was their program’s first title in 13 years and first outright championship in 16 years. And while the offense put up big numbers all season – thanks in part to quarterback Hank Coyne and the emergence of sophomore running back Jarred Jones – it was hard to overlook what they did on the other side of the ball – where an entirely rebuilt defense (just one returning starter) came up with enough big hits and big stops to set the table for their explosive offense.

Unfortunately, the Phantoms had to deal with both Spring-Ford and Pottsgrove in those four days. They had the Rams pacing the sidelines and their fans on the edge of their seats until a penalty in the waning moments denied them one last possession, one last chance for the upset. And despite being less than 100 percent to go again three days later, they never quit – not after falling behind following Pottsgrove’s very first play from scrimmage, or on the final play when Ryan Yenchick ran for 19 yards.

Kind of says a lot about the players and the coaching staffs at Spring-Ford, Phoenixville and Pottsgrove – three teams, one of which wasn’t really considered a PAC-10 contender let alone a PAC-10 champion, and two others that weren’t even thought of as district contenders let alone finalists.

MESSAGE FROM AFAR: The web has enabled nearly everyone from everywhere to read everything they want these days. And while I’ve received emails from friend and foe from as far away as Europe, Asia and Australia, the most interesting arrived Thursday morning … all the way from Afghanistan.

Jim Morrison – a 2003 graduate of St. Pius X – found time to write while serving his country there and made it clear how disappointed he was to read about the possible end of Thanksgiving Day football. Morrison was a member of the Lions’ team in 2001 that lost the Pioneer Athletic Conference title to Pottsgrove on Thanksgiving Eve before coming back two nights later to crush WB-Meyers in the PIAA-Class A quarterfinals up in Wilkes-Barre.

“I remember talk of moving the game or postponing the game (with Pottsgrove) because of the playoffs,” Morrison wrote. “I also remember the resistance to do that by our team because of the importance of the Thanksgiving game. It seems sad that (people) can get rid of such a tradition.”

LION-HEARTED: Speaking of keeping the Thanksgiving Day tradition alive…

St. Pius X graduate Gerry Rogers – who just last month was inducted into the Tri-County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame – and other former Lions (and coaches) chose sides and played some old-fashioned sandlot football in their second annual Turkey Bowl early Thursday morning at Manderach Park in Limerick Township.

The participants, along with family and friends, provided the breakfast and coffee prior to the 8 a.m. kickoff. In the end, the Parkinson brothers reportedly led their team to a 22-20 victory.

“We’re preserving the tradition,” said Rogers, who along with oldest son Josh, a redshirt freshman at Villanova, played in the game and accompanied Mrs. Rogers – that would be Cindy – to Pottstown later in the morning to watch their youngest son Tyler and his Owen J. Roberts teammates take on the Trojans. “Anyone interested in joining us next year is welcome.”

Remember that … it may be the only game in town (or towns in this area).

OOPS: Apologies are in order for overlooking Pottstown’s Olatunde Oladipo in Sunday’s column. A senior, Oladipo converted seven point-afters on Thanksgiving to become the third area kicker this season to tie the PAC-10 single-game record for placements. Pottsgrove’s Nick Bleakley and Spring-Ford’s Ryan O’Hara (twice) equaled the mark earlier this season.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home