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.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Pottstown offense will be a challenge for unbeaten Falcons

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 19, 2012, print edition of The Mercury.

By all calculations (and those dreaded expectations), Pottsgrove shouldn’t run into too much trouble tonight during its visit to Grigg Memorial Field.

The Falcons have yet to lose in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (6-0), or the entire season (7-0) for that matter; have both the league’s and area’s No. 1 ranked scoring offense and No. 1 ranked scoring defense; are sitting atop the District 1-Class AAA playoff points standings; and are ranked sixth in the state.

That alone is enough to make most teams shake, rattle and roll.

Especially Pottstown, their longtime neighboring rival — which has come oh so close to beating the Falcons in recent years but instead have failed to finish them off since 2002.

Just don’t be putting any wins or losses in either column before all the pushing, shoving and shouting is over and done with this evening, though.

“I don’t want to hear about (that winning streak),” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said. “Pottstown always causes us concerns. That team is well-coached, and they have great schemes.

“Their offensive line has improved, and their defense is getting better each week. We’re going to have to play well. If we’re not ready to play, believe me, we’ll get beat.”

While the Falcons have been running the table — only Methacton has scored on their first-team defense, and only Methacton has been able to take a lead on them — the Trojans have quietly rebounded from an up-and-down start with two straight wins. They’re now 3-2 in the PAC-10 and 4-3 overall (the first time the program has been over the .500 mark this late in the season in nine years), and sitting just outside the cut line for a berth in the District 1-Class AAA playoffs.

While the Falcons may have the best tandem in the area with running back Mark Dukes (764 yards) and quarterback Tory Hudgins (656 yards), the more-balanced Trojans counter with running back Monroe Hampton (755 yards) and quarterback Sage Reinhart (1,354 yards passing, area-high 160.1 pass efficiency rating).

But if there is indeed a glaring difference between the two teams, make no mistake about it, it is defense.

Pottsgrove has been playing it very well, while Pottstown has been quite generous, or at least up until that big stop in overtime produced a win against Pope John Paul II two weeks ago and a punt return for six points and an interception protected a late lead in the win over Upper Perkiomen last week.

“I’m not concerned with who we beat, just that we’ve won,” said Pottstown head coach Brett Myers. “We are improving every week defensively. That’s been the key to our wins the past two weeks.”

Much of the Trojans’ improved play has come from Mason Weber, Chase Waters and Andrew Gazzillo. It doesn’t help that the injured Josh Everette is doubtful, though.

The Trojans will have to step it up even more tonight — on both sides of the ball — if they’re to pull off another October Upset Special, which Pottstown teams have done more than anyone else in the history of the PAC-10.

Make that must step it up … because the Falcons are coming off a very impressive showing in their 59-7 win over Owen J. Roberts. It was the fourth time they’ve punched up more than 50 points and the fifth time they’ve held their opponent to a touchdown or less this season.

“I don’t know if it was our best game, but it may have been our most complete game on offense, defense and special teams,” Pennypacker said. “Our kids played well in all three areas except for the kickoff return (OJR took back for its lone touchdown).

“But it should be that way at this point in the season. It should be that way because we feel we should improve each week.”

While Dukes and Hudgins are obviously the headliners, most of their jaunts into open spaces can be attributed to their teammates up front. Center Zach Birch, guards Anthony Pond and Tommy Sephakis, and tackles Madison O’Connor and Patrick Finn — along with unsung fullback Nick Brennan — have dominated opponents.

Hampton and Reinhart, unquestionably as underrated as any two skill players in the PAC-10, and the rest of the Trojans’ offense will also have to deal with a defense that has been led by Pond at nose guard, Sene Polamalu at outside linebacker, and a smothering secondary featuring Michael Fowler, Jalen Mayes, Riley Michaels and Qwhadir Miller.

“We can’t concern ourselves with Pottsgrove as much as we must continue worrying about ourselves improving,” Myers said. “(Pottsgrove’s) the same team it’s been the past six years.

“(Pottsgrove) is really big up front with a good quarterback, a good tailback, and a good fullback. Their defense is very good, too. They’re no different than the past six years … they just have different names in the program.”

* Pottstown has not been shut out in 42 straight PAC-10 games, the second longest active streak behind Pottsgrove’s record 91 in a row. … Pottstown defeated Pottsgrove in five of the two teams’ first six Pioneer Athletic Conference meetings (with a tie in the middle of that stretch). Up until the Trojans’ last win — the 47-0 romp in 2002, their last championship season – neither team had won more than three in a row in the series. … Pottsgrove has only gone over the 50-point mark against Pottstown twice (54-7 three years ago and 51-38 in 2001). Pottstown’s biggest win over Pottsgrove was a 53-0 shellacking in 1971. … A win tonight will, unofficially, clinch a spot in the playoffs for the Falcons, who still have two biggies remaining on the regular-season schedule — Perkiomen Valley at home next week, and a trip to Phoenixville the following week.

Even Calvario can’t downplay Perk School’s 4-1 start

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 16, 2012, print edition of The Mercury.

Tom Calvario is a pleasant soul. Though quiet at times, he still has that engaging personality.

But from late-August up through October, at least during the weeks leading into his Perkiomen School team’s Friday or Saturday afternoon football games, he sure does become a little bit of a whiner … or something in between pessimistic and cautiously optimistic.

A graduate of St. Pius X High School, where he learned about the game — perhaps even a coaching tidbit or two from the legendary Jim Mich — Calvario doesn’t necessarily utter a negative word about his Panthers. But week in and week out, he sure does pitch his weekly opponents’ size, strength and speed.

And for anyone willing to listen, Calvario will likely say has no idea how his own team can match up with – let alone beat – those bigger, stronger and faster opponents.

Yet six weeks into the season, Perkiomen School is 4-1.

“I’m still trying to find out and understand all this myself,” Calvario said about the surprising but no-doubt-about-it start.

The only time Calvario’s been spot-on about being competitive was leading into the season-opener down at Tower Hill, Del. The Panthers didn’t play that badly defensively, but four turnovers handcuffed the offense and they lost, 23-0.

They bounced back with a 36-8 romp over George School to gather some momentum — and confidence — but both stalled the following week when Calvario received a last-minute call that resulted in a cancellation and subsequent forfeit win.

“I don’t know if that’s going to help us or hurt us at this point,” Calvario said shortly after Moyer Academy officials opted not to play the game.

The weekend off sure didn’t hurt the Panthers, who have since posted a 20-0 shutout of Red Lion (Del.) and went touchdown-for-touchdown in a 48-32 win over Academy of the New Church.

Calvario, who has his share of players from around the world — some of whom had never even been on a football field prior to this season — isn’t at all pleased with the Panthers’ practice routines. That alone makes him weary of the game ahead.

“To go out and perform the way they do… to me it is simply amazing,” he said. “Is it the extra conditioning work? Is it me just staying calm and telling them how disappointed that I am with their attitude?

“I try to stay calm, cool and collective, because in the big picture of life this is only a game. There are more important things than football practice and winning. But we’re obviously doing something right, but what that is I can’t tell you at this time.”

What Calvario can tell you is how his offensive and defensive lines have improved.

“We still teach basic fundamentals every day,” he explained. “Our offensive line, coming off together in unison and opening up holes for our running backs.”

Veteran Olivier Joseph has been the leader up front, getting noticeable support from Arnaldo Contreras, Bobby Lee, Quinn Kasner and Isaiah Armstrong. Together they may have had their best outing this past Saturday. John Garrett ran for 203 yards and three touchdowns and quarterback Isaiah Smith had enough time to complete three of his five attempts for 88 yards and another score, accounting for most of the season-high 421 yards of offense. It was also a turnover-free afternoon.

Calvario certainly needs that offense to make up for an inconsistent defense. And inconsistent, for the most part, due to inexperience.

“We have first-year players who still do no understand the game,” Calvario noted. “The key to our defense, the key to setting the tone, is O.J. (Joseph), our middle linebacker. He makes sure everyone is in the right place.”

That means keeping an eye on nose guard Andy Chen, tackles Andy Yang and Contreras, and ends Paul Csordas and Ja’ren Hampton. That means helping backing up other first-year players like Kasner, who doubles at center and defensive tackle; Armstrong, who also doubles at defensive tackle, and Alex Arhontoulis, an outstide linebacker.

And it also means keeping Calvario guessing … or continuing to be somewhere in between pessimistic and cautiously optimistic.

Pottsgrove wary of streaking Owen J. Roberts

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 12, 2012, print edition of The Mercury.

When Owen J. Roberts opened the year with a young and very inexperienced lineup, a few injuries to the very few returning starters it had, and three lopsided losses, it sure seemed as though it was going to be a long, long season of football over in Bucktown.

Apparently someone forgot to mention that to the Wildcats.

Without a win much less any noticeable swagger in their step, they beat Phoenixville — an upset for sure, an absolute shocker to most. They followed that up with two more wins.

All of a sudden, OJR is 3-1 in the Pioneer Athletic Conference. All of a sudden, OJR is just one game back of unbeaten co-leaders Perkiomen Valley and Pottsgrove.

And no one is aware of that more — other than the Wildcats, of course — than Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker.

“OJR is scary every year,” said Pennypacker, whose unbeaten Falcons (5-0, 6-0 overall) host the Wildcats tonight. “They always battle us, and we don’t expect anything different this time, either.”

The Wildcats’ turnaround has been underlined by an offense that has nearly doubled its production in yards gained and points scored between the first three and last three games. Wyatt Scott has gone of the 200-yard mark twice to put some spunk into the run game, and quarterback Jarrad Pinelli has been lighting it up (and setting records with tosses to Matt Raymond) to put some pep into the pass game — a rarity in the storied history of the OJR program.

But if there has been one particular energizer in that offense it’s been up front … on the line with center Brad Trego, guards Kevin Kerwin and Billy Gambone, tackles Colton Hainsey and Steve Myers, and tight end Jay Thomas.

That group has not only paved the way for Scott, but has yet to yield a sack of Pinelli in a PAC-10 game.

“Our players are becoming more confident, more enthusiastic,” said OJR head coach Tom Barr. “Offensively, they’re becoming better blockers, and they’re executing better.

“We need that (tonight), too. We need to control the ball on offense, put together those 12- to 16-play drives.”

The Wildcats have had their share of long possessions and, with Pinelli, have the ability to strike quickly as well.

Last weekend, Methacton — which had won two in a row and was in a turnaround mode similar to the one OJR is in right now — drove the ball on Pottsgrove for one score and converted a long pass for another to take a 14-7 lead at the half. It was the first time Falcons had trailed this year and the first two touchdowns allowed by their first-team defense all year.

So don’t think the Falcons need another wake-up call.

“Our kids weren’t focused at all last week,” Pennypacker said. “It was hard to keep them up after the week (preparing for and beating unbeaten defending champion Spring-Ford) we had. We kind of knew it was going to happen.

“The only positive is that they fought back after being behind for the first time. Coach (Paul) Lepre and Methacton deserve a lot of credit for playing us tough. I don’t take anyone lightly, and I mean that. I didn’t take Methacton lightly, and I am not about to take OJR lightly, and I mean that.”

Flat or not a week ago, the Falcons still have the PAC-10’s best defense. Of their front seven, Nick Brennan has been a terror, and Patrick Finn and Ryan Michaels have been tracking down everyone. And the secondary, bar none up to this point of the season, has been better than anyone.

Getting past or around OJR’s offensive line, putting pressure on Pinelli, and keeping tabs on Raymond, Thomas and others in their routes will be a big part of Pottsgrove’s overall game plan.

“(Pinelli) is very good, and Raymond and Thomas are as good as receivers as we’ve seen this year,” Pennpacker said. “We have to be ready for them.

“The other big thing is that (OJR) is playing with a lot of confidence right now. They’ve won three in a row. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle, so our kids have to be ready to play, have to be ready to match Owen J.’s intensity. Believe me, if we’re not focused or fired up we will be beaten.”

* OJR is well aware of Pottsgrove’s big-play capabilities. As always, the Falcons have a one-two punch in their run game with Mark Dukes and quarterback Tory Hudgins, who have combined for over 1,100 yards — and both average over eight yards a pop — and 22 touchdowns. “We have to prevent the big plays and then make big plays,” Barr said. … Falcons’ Marquis Barefield is doubtful with a shoulder injury. For OJR, Thomas and lineman Bobby McGee, both of whom missed last week’s game, as well as safety Kyle Shronk are questionable tonight. … Thomas is the son of Jack Thomas, the Pottsgrove School District’s athletic trainer.

Commitment pays off for Daniel Boone’s new crew

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 9, 2012 print edition of The Mercury.

Bill Parks felt it would likely take some time to get everyone on the same page, perhaps even get into the win column, when he was named Daniel Boone’s head football coach back last April.

Introducing an entirely new system to a team that had been gutted by graduation was one thing. Kicking off a new season against three opponents who were projected to be among their respective league’s contenders was another. And if that wasn’t anywhere near enough of a challenge, trying to mend a long, long list of injuries to two-way starters along the way sure was.

So when Parks and the Blazers secured that elusive first win last Friday night at Twin Valley, rest assured there was reason (or reasons) indeed to celebrate.

“It was a long time coming, obviously,” Parks said. “We’re just happy for the kids. We felt good for them, for all their hard work, for them succeeding.”

Parks inherited a program that had enjoyed a school-record nine straight winning seasons under former head coach Dave Bodolus. During that stretch, three of the teams won Berks Conference Section One titles, and all nine played their way into the postseason — two Eastern Conference and seven District 3 playoff appearances.

But the bulk of the last year’s team was gone.

The newcomers, the inexperience, was oh so evident when Parks and the Blazers kicked off this season at Cocalico, which is currently atop the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Two standings and 5-1 overall; hosted Spring-Ford, just a game back in the Pioneer Athletic Conference chase and 5-1 overall; and then at traditional District 3-AAA power Manheim Central, which is just a game behind Cocalico and 4-2 overall.

It didn’t get the least bit easier opening its Berks Football League schedule against Governor Mifflin and Conrad Weiser, either. Governor Mifflin is 4-2, with its only two losses to a pair of state-ranked rivals, and Conrad Weiser is 5-1, with its only loss to state-ranked Wyomissing. And going into this weekend’s games, the Mustangs and Scouts happen to share the BFL Section One lead.

The Blazers had played five games, endured five losses … and couldn’t help but notice that 182-32 overall deficit on the scoreboard.

But they were closing in on that proverbial corner after a solid second half of the setback to Conrad Weiser, then finally turned that corner against Twin Valley.

“Our kids have accepted every challenge,” Parks explained. “They won’t back down. They know of the reputation preceding them, that all those kids were tough, and they played tough.

“They’ve worked harder every time they lost, though. They have such a desire to be successful. Everything we expected of them they’ve given us. We’ve seen so much improvement (from week to week) this season.”

The commitment helped Parks and his staff work around the walking wounded.

At one point or another since camp opened in mid-August, the Blazers have seen a slew of two-way starters go down. Among them have been Dan Downs (tight end, defensive end), Darius Hinton (guard, defensive tackle), Pop Lacey (running back, cornerback), Pat Stone (tight end, defensive end), and Nicky Storti (guard, linebacker). Last Friday night, J.D. Okuniewski (quarterback-defensive back) and Ryan Bologa (fullback-linebacker) left in the first half with injuries and didn’t return.

“The injuries have definitely been the most frustrating thing,” Parks said. “Even our trainer said he’d never seen anything like it. It’s just been one after another.

“It’s forced us to move kids into different positions, forced us to put them in positions they have no experience in. But they work hard at it. There’s no quit in them.”

Parks has been especially pleased with the leadership he’s getting on the field.

Up front on both lines, center-nose guard Rhett Glaser has led by example, and Cody Barrows — a first-year starter going both ways at tackle — has emerged as a big contributor. Okuniewski, before getting hurt, was guiding the offense with help from backs Devyn Haring and Kyle Myers. And the defensive charge has been led by Bologa and Xavier Smith, who along with Lacey (before the injury) are among the leading tacklers.

“We had a tough start,” Parks said. “Learning a new system and new terminology, kids in new positions, all the injuries, and the teams we played… it hasn’t been easy.

“But the kids have done a good job with everything. They’ve given us what we’ve asked for. And (Friday night) we saw overall improvement. They’re starting to understand things, and that’s a credit to them.”

Pottsgrove can play defense, too

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 2, 2012 print edition of The Mercury.

Anyone who has followed Pottsgrove football the last 24 years, or since Rick Pennypacker took over the program, is well aware of the Falcons’ pound-it-out, on-the-ground offense. In other words, they run, run, and run some more.

But few have noticed, or at least properly acknowledged, Pottsgrove’s pound-everyone-else-to-the-ground defense.

Since the Pioneer Athletic Conference kicked off its inaugural run back in 1986, Pottsgrove has permitted the fewest points per game (just over two touchdowns). In eight of the previous 26 seasons, or nearly one-third of them, Pottsgrove has led the league in fewest points allowed.

If there was ever a better example of just how well the Falcons can play defense it was this past Friday night, when they didn’t just shut down but shut out defending champion Spring-Ford, 26-0.

That, regardless of who wants to believe it — especially with just over half of the PAC-10 grind still ahead — may go a long, long way in determining who wins this year’s title … if only because the last four times Pottsgrove opened with four straight league wins it went on to win all nine and ran off with league championships each season.

“I’d say our kids shocked us a little,” Pennypacker said Sunday night after viewing the game film gave him an even better look at the defensive effort.

The Rams entered the affair averaging a few inches shy of 390 yards and an eye-popping 42 points a game. They may not have had the dangerous Jarred Jones to carry the ball, but they had the very capable Yousef Lundi filling in for the injured standout. They also had the very proficient Hank Coyne to throw the ball, and a handful of reliable receivers to catch it.

But the Falcons held their guests to well under the norms, limiting Lundi to just over three yards a pop; using pressure up front and blanket coverage in the secondary to force Coyne into a harrowing 10-for-31 night that included his first two interceptions of the season; and, most important, kept every single Spring-Ford soul out of the end zone.

“We actually wanted to make (Spring-Ford) throw the football,” Pennypacker said. “We felt we matched up with them man-to-man. Hey, we have a lot of respect for Coyne, and we knew it was a risky game plan, but things worked out.”

It worked out very well because of the play up front from nose guard Anthony Pond; tackles Zach Birch and Max Wickward, and ends Patrick Finn and Sene Polamalu; because of the play from linebackers Jeff Adams (team-high 12 tackles) and Nick Brennan (eight tackles, interception); because of the play in the secondary from corners Marquis Barefield and Michael Fowler and safeties Jalen Mayes (interception) and Riley Michaels.

The combined efforts kept Spring-Ford off the board for the first time since Week Six of the 2010 Pioneer Athletic Conference season. Since that setback, the Rams ran off 14 straight wins — including last year’s 49-35 romp over Pottsgrove — and outscored their opponents by an average of just under 21 points a game during that stretch.

“(Spring-Ford) just ran right through us last year,” Pennypacker recalled. “We didn’t want that to happen again this year. We put eight and nine guys in the box, basically telling them to go ahead and throw on us.

“I think we may have caught them off-guard a little bit with that. We forced Coyne to (throw the ball) a little quicker, and our secondary kids were playing so well he didn’t have anyone to throw to on a lot of those plays.”

Pennypacker, along with defensive coordinator Bill Bradford, were very concerned with Spring-Ford’s size.

“They’re not just big up front, but their receivers are big, too,” Pennypacker explained. “(Zameer) McDowell, (R.J.) Sheldon and (Gary) Hopkins are great receivers, and they’re big. Our kids in the secondary aren’t anywhere near that big. But Barefield, Fowler, Mayes and Michaels were all over the field.”

As were most of the Falcons. “We handled (Spring-Ford’s) run a lot better this year,” Pennypacker added. “We were a little surprised we were able to force them to throw the ball as much as we did because of it. We felt we had a good scheme.

“But we also knew we had to play a perfect game and hope (Spring-Ford) didn’t play a perfect game. I’ll say this, our kids played flawless football for three quarters. To shut them out … (Spring-Ford) is a very, very good football team. That’s a credit to coach Bradford and his staff, and to our kids.”

* The Falcons haven’t exactly lost their way finding the end zone, either. They’re averaging an area-best 45.4 points a game behind a big offensive line and the running of tailback Mark Dukes and quarterback Tory Hudgins. But if there is another team — other than the Falcons and Rams, of course — to be wary of it would be Perkiomen Valley. The Vikings, who put up a school-record 57 points against Pottstown two weeks ago to break the mark of 55 they scored in a rout of St. Pius X five years ago, have punched up 35 points or more in all four of their PAC-10 games this season. That’s already the program’s second-best mark behind the seven games of 35-plus points back in 2007.