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 26, 2012

Brubaker leading Spring-Ford to new heights

This column was originally published in the Nov. 20, 2012, edition of The Mercury.
Sometimes it isn’t about how big or how fast a player a coach sends out onto the football field as it is exactly who that imposing over-sized lineman or that lightning-quick running back may be.
As every coach readily admits, it’s awfully difficult, if not impossible, to measure, weigh or even clock those players’ character.
Character is the backbone of an athlete, and it distinguishes the strength and soul of a team as well as its confidence. And certainly not always, but way, way more often than many choose to believe, it is the foundation of any successful program.
Character … not only knowing how to do everything the correct way on and off the field as well as in and out of school, but committing to it.
It is exactly what Chad Brubaker was looking for when he interviewed for the head coaching position a Spring-Ford a little over two years ago.
“I was impressed with the quality of the people I met with,” Brubaker said shortly after being approved as the Rams’ new coach.” They were up front with me, and the fact they held character as a priority is what really got me excited about the position.”
Brubaker demanded that character — and pledged not to accept anything less — when he first opened camp that summer, too.
“We said we were going to strive to do things the right way,” Brubaker explained this past weekend. “The first year, I think the experience of traveling down to Sussex Tech (Del.) helped our kids understand our (coaching) staff was leading the program in that direction — the right direction.
“On our way down we stopped in Dover to do a walk-through at Wesley College and had a great sit-down mean at a local restaurant. We beat a good Sussex team, and then came back home and beat Owen J. Roberts the following week in front of a huge crowd. I think they understood at that point what we were trying to achieve.”
The Rams didn’t just understand it, they bought into it.
“We’re proud of our kids,” Brubaker continued. “Whether it’s a fundraiser we do or a restaurant we visit for a pre-game meal, I constantly get emails and personal comments about how polite, respectful and appreciative our kids are. That’s a credit to our players’ parents, a credit to the expectations (high school principal) Pat Nugent puts on them in school, and the expectations we’ve set as standards for them in our program. We’re as proud of all that as any of the wins we’ve had.”
And don’t think Brubaker and his staff weren’t thinking that after last Friday night’s 28-26 upset of previously unbeaten and state-ranked Ridley in their District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinal down in Delaware County.
The Spring-Ford coaches were certainly thrilled while watching the Rams take a shocking 28-0 lead at the break. Then, after outlasting the Green Raiders’ gallant second-half comeback, the coaches were obviously ecstatic after their team’s second-straight win — and first two postseason wins in the history of the Spring-Ford football.
But what Brubaker initially chose to talk about the following day occurred long before Friday evening’s opening kickoff … and it had to do with yet another team meal, this one in a restaurant just around the corner from Ridley High School.
“I hope I don’t get her in trouble,” Brubaker explained, “but a server at the restaurant said to me, ‘My children graduated from Ridley and I love Ridley, but I’m rooting for Spring-Ford tonight because of how respectful and how polite your players and managers were here. I’ve never seen anything like this.’ I think that says it all about our kids.”
Brubaker was an assistant for three seasons at Elizabethtown High School. He moved on to Wilson in West Lawn, where he spent eight seasons under Jim Cantafio and another three under current Bulldogs coach Doug Dahms before taking on his first head coaching job at Spring-Ford.
At the time, Wilson was (and actually still is) one of the premier programs in District 3-AAAA and throughout the state. Spring-Ford was in a slump.
“Well, I was really impressed with the ability level of the players on the roster when I first arrived (at Spring-Ford),” Brubaker said. “But we didn’t have the commitment to becoming stronger, which I was used to (at Wilson).
“I also personally struggled a bit with my expectations versus (the players’ expectations), and felt we lost two games that first season we could’ve won. Last year, I felt we had the capability of making a run in the playoffs, but we ran into a match-up problem (against Coatesville) in the first round. This year, as a staff, we looked at the field and felt we could compete with every team. But playoffs become a game of attrition, so we’ll see.”
What Brubaker initially saw was promise, oh so similar to what he saw throughout his stay at Wilson. He opted to build on it.
“Both programs have great kids, great assistant coaches, and administrative support,” he explained. “When I accepted the position, my biggest concern was bringing on assistant coaches with the same vision that I had. I was, and continue to be, extremely fortunate.
“Steve Schein, Chad Strickler, Jim Mich, Jr., Dale Bergman and Steve Anspach were committed members of the staff, and we brought on some great younger coaches like Bob Swier, Shawn Smith and Jared Hostetler that first year. We’ve added Alex Fegley, Eric Hill, Jamie Cutaneo and D.J. Fox, and they’re the guys who make a difference. They are committed to what we are trying to accomplish, many of them without recognition and some without any compensation.”
Together, they guided the Rams to a turnaround 9-3 season in 2010, and a Pioneer Athletic Conference title, first postseason appearance and 10-2 overall mark last season. Thus far this season the Rams have dropped just one game – to then unbeaten and eventual PAC-10 champion Pottsgrove — have picked up those first two postseason wins, and own an 11-1 record going into Wednesday night’s final PAC-10 game with Phoenixville and then the weekend district semifinal showdown at Pennridge.
Not bad, of course, but a body of work not yet finished.
“What we are still working on is the program expectations,” Brubaker explained. “Obviously, we’ve made strides there, but we still need to learn how to put an opponent away. I’m not trying to take anything away from Ridley’s comeback (last Friday night), because it was an unbelievable effort on their part. But we had a chance to get a running clock with our first possession of the second half (but failed to score), and then ended up contributing greatly to them getting back into the game.
“Our defense gave up 500 yards of offense, and I would still say we played a great game on that side of the ball. Offensively, that was a different story. We still need to be patient and make good decisions offensively. When we do, we are very difficult to defend. When we don’t, we become average.”
Average has never been part of the game plan at Spring-Ford. And it wasn’t when the Rams kicked off the current season back in mid-August.
“We felt like, when healthy, we could compete with anyone,” Brubaker said. “We went up to West Lawn and scrimmaged Wilson. We didn’t finish some of our drives with scores, but we moved the ball up and down the field and (Wilson) struggled to run the ball against us. Those two things made us feel confident about our chances going forward. Coach Dahms and assistant Jeff Brubaker complimented our team after the game, and that made me feel pretty good because I have so much respect for them and their football knowledge.”
Much like a lot of coaches — and a whole heck of others away from the football field — who are beginning to respect Brubaker and his staff’s knowledge and work ethic at Spring-Ford..
“We’re going down to Pennridge with an opportunity to get into the District 1-AAAA final,” Brubaker said. “I still don’t believe we’ve played close to our best game yet in all three phases, either. So we need a great week of practice.”
And perhaps a good restaurant for that pre-game meal to innocently recruit another fan or two.

History could be in the making for Falcons, Rams

This column was originally published in the Nov. 16, 2012 edition of The Mercury.

Pottsgrove and Spring-Ford will both tackle a little football history tonight.

The Falcons entertain Henderson, one of its former Ches-Mont League rivals — a team they haven’t lined up against in 25 years, and a team they didn’t often fare too well against in those days. They’ll be looking to change that undistinguished trend from long ago with a win … and will surely be motivated by the opportunity knowing it would mean a spot in the District 1-Class AAA final for the fourth straight year.

“Our kids have been in the playoffs many times, so we know they’re aware of how important every game is at this point in the season,” Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker said earlier this week.

Spring-Ford visits Ridley, one of Pennsylvania’s all-time premier programs — one that is making its seventh straight postseason appearance in the postseason; one that has been schemed by such legendary coaches as Phil Marion and Joe McNicholas; one that hasn’t had a losing season in 57 years (or since 1955) and just four overall in its 78 years of playing the game; and one that has proudly produced 16 unbeaten seasons to rank among the most successful in all of Pennsylvania with 644 overall wins.

“We just hope our players welcome the experience to go play against one of the most successful football programs in the state,” Brubaker said.

Anymore, getting into the postseason is the norm for the Falcons — who have now made six straight appearances in the district playoffs and nine overall since 2000. And winning in the postseason seems to have become the norm of late for the Falcons, who have won nine of their last 10 postseason games against District 1 opponents — the lone loss a 42-28 setback to Strath Haven in the final two years ago at Coatesville High School.

Archbishop Wood (with its stable of Division I recruits from who-knows-where who get a bye week leading into the first round of states), has denied Pottsgrove moving beyond that first round of the state playoffs twice in the last three years. And if the Falcons get by Henderson tonight and either Academy Park or Interboro next week, there’s no doubt — and you can bet the house on it — they’ll once again get a well-rested Archbishop Wood (and all its Division I recruits from who-knows-where).

But for now, Pennypacker’s only concern is Henderson … beating Henderson, that is.

“You want to play well, but all you care about now is winning and moving on,” he said.

Spring-Ford, of course, would like nothing more than to mirror the postseason success of its Pioneer Athletic Conference rival.

The Rams qualified for the playoffs for the first time a year ago, and were humbled in the first round by Coatesville. They’re back again, and with last week’s milestone win under their belt heading down to Ridley.

Just getting into the playoffs — or finishing among the district’s Top 16 in the Class AAAA bracket — doesn’t come easy, though. Brubaker has attempted to load up, and for the most part has, the program’s non-league schedule with AAAA opponents. Remember, regardless of how successful the Rams are in the PAC-10, they are one of five teams committed to playing five other AAA opponents in the league — which cost them and the other four valuable points in the district’s scoring format.

And no matter who you beat, three losses – as a very good Perkiomen Valley team painfully discovered earlier this month — isn’t likely to get anyone a spot in the Top 16. Two losses may not even be good enough some years. This season, there were only two undefeated Class AAAA teams in the district. Spring-Ford, with just that one loss to Pottsgrove, was still only the No. 7 seed.

Needless to say, the Rams would like to make history and Pottsgrove would like to continue making history when they kick off their respective games this evening.


A win tonight would be the Falcons’ 16th in the postseason and move them past LC (15) for the most postseason wins by a Pioneer Athletic Conference team. … Overall, PAC-10 teams are a combined 42-43 in postseason play, a won-loss record somewhat distorted by the success both Lansdale Catholic and St. Pius X had in the Class AA bracket. … Pennypacker is 194-80-4 at Pottsgrove, while Brubaker is 29-6 at Spring-Ford. … Dennis Decker (43-7) — only the eighth head coach at Ridley since 1934 — is in his fourth season. No previous coach had a losing career record. McNicholas was 226-28-4 from 1973-96, and Marion was 222-58-4 from 1943-72.


Pottsgrove needs 32 points to break its school and Mercury area single-season record, and 34 points to become the first area team to score 500 points in a season. Ironically, Spring-Ford needs 34 points to equal its single-second school record of 448 set a year ago. … This season, the Falcons and Rams became the 16th and 17th area teams to go over the 400-point mark in a season. … Academy Park (10-1), which defeated Interboro (9-2) by a 49-26 spread just two weeks ago (and for the first time since 1994), will attempt to make it a season sweep in tonight’s other District 1-AAA semifinal. … On the area’s individual leaderboard, Pottsgrove’s Mark Dukes (142 points, 1,310 yards rushing) and Tory Hudgins (135-1,217) are first and third in scoring and first and second in rushing. … Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne is second in passing efficiency (151.4) and first in touchdown passes (22).


Laughing matter: Columbia (4-6) may have a sub-.500 record going into its District 3-A semifinal with Delone Catholic (7-3), but it’s far from the comedy that unfolded in the District 5/8 Class AA Sub-Regional. District 5 will be represented by Chestnut Ridge (6-5), but as of Thursday morning there was no official word that District 8 would name a representative to the game because it only has one AA team among the 12 schools in the entire district. The lone team is Westinghouse, which hasn’t played since Oct. 18th and is 1-7 overall.

Real comedy: Schuylkill Haven was crowned the Eastern Conference Class A champion earlier this week thanks to a forfeit win over Muncy. Northwest Area actually defeated Muncy (42-21) last week, but used an ineligible player in the win and had to forfeit. Right after the loss, Muncy had its equipment shipped off for reconditioning after the loss, and thus could not play Schuylkill Haven.

Berks blast: Schuylkill Valley (8-3), under St. Pius X graduate Jeff Chillot, takes on unbeaten and No. 2 ranked Wyomissing (11-0) in a District 3-AA semifinal this weekend. Chillot and his Panthers will look to avenge a 37-33 loss to the Spartans back on Oct. 27.

Showdowns: There are none bigger this weekend than tonight’s District 7-AA semifinals. Jeannette (10-1), which won the state title in 2007, visits unbeaten and top-ranked Aliquippa (11-0), the state champion in 2003. The other game has unbeaten South Fayette (11-0), the state runner-up two years ago with record-shattering quarterback Brett Brumbaugh under center, travels to unbeaten Washington (11-0).

Streaking: Three-time defending Class A champion Clairton (11-0) needs a victory tonight against Neshannock (10-1) to tie Central Bucks West’s state record of 59 straight wins.

Even Brubaker pleased after Spring-Ford’s 1st postseason win

This column was originally published in the Nov. 12 edition of The Mercury.

ROYERSFORD — Chad Brubaker can be difficult to please at times. Then again, he’s no different than most (if not all) high school football coaches.

Chad Brubaker
He took over the Spring-Ford program two years ago and led the Rams to a turnaround 9-3 record, their most wins since 1999 — but was disappointed by not getting into the district playoffs. Last season, he led the Rams to a perfect 9-0 run through the Pioneer Athletic Conference for their first title and most wins since 1998 — but was disappointed by a very lopsided loss to Coatesville in the opening round of the district playoffs. This season, except for a Week Five setback to unbeaten PAC-10 champion Pottsgrove, he’s led the Rams to 10 more wins — and though obviously disappointed by not successfully defending the league title, he was elated last Friday evening after the Rams beat Garnet Valley for the milestone first postseason win in the opening round of the district playoffs.

But Brubaker still isn’t completely satisfied.

“We have been talking about dominating a team for four quarters, no matter the level of competition on the other side of the ball,” he said this past weekend as he began preparations for Friday night’s District 1-Class AAAA quarterfinal challenge at unbeaten Ridley.

“We have not played our best games against teams with inferior records to our own. Conversely, Garnet Valley was an excellent football team, and our level of play rose to the occasion.”

The Rams will have to up that level of play this week, of course.

“We don’t have to worry about a team being inferior any longer … everyone is good from here on out,” Brubaker added. “So we need to strive to get better each week.”

If there’s been one glaring difference in this team — especially when compared against last year’s team — it is that week-to-week improvement. This season, the Rams have played considerably better since the loss to Pottsgrove, and played at a very high level the past two weeks while generating 867 yards of offense and putting 85 points on the board in two impressive wins over Perkiomen Valley and Garnet Valley.

And while most would agree those noticeable strides could be attributed to the return of running back Jarred Jones, Brubaker thinks otherwise.

“Last year we only had two returning starters on defense, while this year we have six,” Brubaker explained. “When we get into tough situations we feel like our returning players feel more secure with their responsibilities. And that’s on both sides of the ball, too.”

That may have never been more evident than in the first minute of the second half last Friday night. The Rams had a 12-7 lead at the break, but saw it disappear quickly when Garnet Valley returning the second-half kickoff for a touchdown to go in front, 14-12.

Instead of breaking down, the Rams broke their guests with three unanswered scores.

“Coming out of the locker room (at halftime), we said there is going to be something that doesn’t go our way in the second half and that we need to stay focused and not panic,” Brubaker explained. “We didn’t think it would be the opening kickoff. But our kids followed through, in terms of their focus. We played four quarters, and that was nice to see.”

What pleased — yep, pleased — Brubaker and his staff the most was everyone contributing to the comeback.

Yousef Lundi, who got accustomed to being the workhorse back while Jones was sidelined with an injury — was solid at fullback. Quarterback Hank Coyne threw two of his three touchdowns, and even caught one on a creative call by Brubaker, in the third-quarter burst. Jack Haney came off the bench and, on his first touch of the entire season, pulled in a touchdown pass. And on defense, unsung Ben Schein was superb in the secondary; Alec Vagnozzi came off the bench to give Zameer McDowell and R.J. Sheldon a breather on kickoffs and forced a fumble; Jake Leahy recovered a fumble; and Connor Murphy also came off the bench to spell Travis Daywalt at safety.

“Our offensive line was really getting into people, and played their best game to this point,” Brubaker said. “But the nice thing was we got contributions from a lot of different people throughout the game (against Garnet Valley). Our seniors were very focused, and much more communicative with the underclassmen, to each other, and to our coaching staff.”

Because of it, Spring-Ford got that elusive first postseason win.

Just don’t think the Rams — or Brubaker, of course — are content with that alone.

“We hope we’re not content,” he said. “When you get into the playoffs anything can happen, as evidenced by No. 1 seed Downingtown East getting ousted (last week).

“We feel like there’s a great opportunity in this (district playoff) field, and we have a lot of football left to play. We want to keep playing to our potential and see where it takes us.”

That would please Brubaker to no end.


Win or lose this week, the Rams still have to host Phoenixville to wrap up their Pioneer Athletic Conference schedule. The game is scheduled for Thanksgiving morning, but could be moved up if the Rams get past Ridley. … Brubaker and Spring-Ford’s current total of 29 wins over three seasons equals the program’s best previous mark, achieved by head coach Marty Moore’s teams of 1992-94 that were a combined 29-3 with a school-record .906 winning percentage. Before that, head coach Ted Nypaver’s three teams from 1985-87 were a combined 28-4 (second-best .875 winning percentage). … Schein is the son of Steve Schein, the Rams’ longtime co-defensive coordinator who was the head coach at Upper Merion before joining Spring-Ford’s staff.

Not all records are meant to be broken

This column was originally published in the Nov. 9 edition of The Mercury.

Grey Simpson

Years ago, Roger Maris and Hank Aaron (the steroid-free sultans of swat) erased the immortal Babe Ruth’s single-season and career home run records that were thought to be untouchable. Eric Dickerson ran up and past O.J. Simpson’s single-season rushing record that, for the 11 years it stood, was deemed beyond anyone’s reach. And just the other week, Drew Brees bettered the legendary Johnny Unitas’ consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass record that remained intact for 52 years.

But all records were not made to be broken.

Like Pele’s 1,281 career goals in soccer; like Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain’s 100-point burst in an NBA game at Hershey; like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak; or like Georgia Tech’s college football comedy, a 220-0 laugher, over Cumberland back in 1916.

And when it comes to high school football – at least in this area – it’s hard to imagine anyone will ever again go unbeaten and unscored upon in a season … not since playoffs have been added to the schedules.

Going back to 1887, when The Hill School kicked off the area’s first official or sanctioned season, only five teams have achieved the feat. The Hill was the first, going 6-0 and outscoring its opponents 157-0 in 1900. The last to do it was the former Spring City High School, going 6-0 and outscoring its opponents 79-0 in 1940.

Hill actually did it again in 1909, but was 6-0-1 that season, and got the hat trick with its third perfect season in 1922. However, other than Spring City, the only other public schools to win everything with zeroes behind them were Phoenixville (8-0, 133-0) and the former Pennsburg High School (5-0, 107-0) in 1932.

There have been 29 unbeaten and untied teams in the history of area football, with Hill School owning 18 of them. Another 27 teams have gone unbeaten along with a tie or two in a season.

The closest anyone has come since those pre-playoff days was Pottstown, just 10 years ago. The Trojans blanked Daniel Boone in their opener, shut out eight of their nine Pioneer Athletic Conference rivals and allowed just a field goal to Spring-Ford. But they were overpowered by Strath Haven, 35-7, in the first round of the District 1-AAA playoffs.

Since 2000, Pottsgrove had four undefeated regular seasons before finishing with one loss. The Falcons, who posted their fifth unblemished regular season run this fall (10-0), open the District 1-AAA playoffs tonight against visiting Strath Haven.

Bottom line, to go unbeaten, untied and unscored upon in one football season will never ever happen again.


Methacton needs a win over Norristown on Saturday for its second straight winning season, something the program hasn’t produced since 1997-98. … Perkiomen Valley, which already clinched its second straight winning season for the first time since stringing together three in a row from 1997 through 1999, needs a win over Saucon Valley tonight for its eighth victory, or most since 2007 (9-2). … Pottstown needs a win tonight against Great Valley and another on Thanksgiving against Owen J. Roberts to close at .500, which would be the Trojans first non-losing season since 2003 (5-5). … Spring-Ford needs two more wins for its first back-to-back, 10-win seasons since 1994-95 and to tie the school’s single-season record of 11 wins (1992, 1994).


Pottsgrove’s Tory Hudgins needs 62 yards rushing to become just the third area quarterback to run for 3,000 or more career yards. With any kind of postseason run, Hudgins could end up scooting by Daniel Boone’s Tommy Bodolus (3,001) and former Falcon teammate Terrell Chestnut (3,178) as the all-time leader in yards rushing by a quarterback. … Next year, Perkiomen Valley’s Rasaan Stewart could join that short list. A junior, Stewart has run for 1,614 yards going into tonight’s season finale at Saucon Valley. … Speaking of quarterbacks, Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne has thrown for 4,993 yards in his career – fourth-best in area history. With at least two games remaining, the senior is within reach of former Daniel Boone standouts Jon Monteiro (5,098) and Chris Boskosky (5,297) to finish No. 2 all-time. He would need a deep run into the postseason and a few big games, too, to catch all-time leader Zach Zulli of Perkiomen Valley and his 5,844 yards. Coyne is third in completions (346), fourth in attempts (626) and fifth in touchdowns (56). He’ll need 29 completions and 51 attempts to finish first all-time in those categories. … Perkiomen Valley junior Clay Domine last week became just the ninth player to go over 1,000 career receiving yards, and needs 37 more catches to become just the seventh to have 100 career receptions. … Pope John Paul II’s Jamel Stinson came close to both milestones, finishing his career last week with 80 catches for 951 yards.


While mentioning all the football families divided by fathers coaching at one school and their sons playing at another, there is one particular family that lines up together at Pope John Paul II - the Bildsteins.

Jim is an assistant coach, his wife Christine is a tireless volunteer and unwavering fan of all sports, and their two sons – senior Josh Bildstein and junior John Bildstein – are part of the Golden Panthers’ program.

Last Saturday, Josh’s efforts on the offensive line helped PJP run the ball a school-record 56 times for a school-record 403 yards in the season-ending win over Upper Perkiomen. John, who carried once for four yards in the game, caught 21 passes for 254 yards and two touchdowns this season. Both also contributed defensively on the line and in the secondary, respectively.

Running down the regular season

This column was originally published in the Nov. 6 print edition of The Mercury.

We can’t quite call it a season yet, not with three playoff games and four non-league games Friday night, then one more non-league match-up as well as the grand and most revered rivalry of them all — Lawrenceville and Hill School — on Saturday afternoon (and don’t forget those two Thanksgiving morning games, either).
And who really knows if the postseason will take us into December…
But one thing we can call (or recall), at least for one day, are some of area’s highlights (and a lowlight or two), reflect on some impressive facts and figures, and lay out some intriguing (if not troublesome) scenarios for Pioneer Athletic Conference coaches and Mercury sports writers before they all sit down to select their all-league and all-area teams.
Teaming Up I: The PAC-10 was essentially a three-team race this year, and Pottsgrove separated itself from the other two by shutting down Spring-Ford (26-0) in Week Four and beating down Perkiomen Valley (42-28) in Week Eight en route to another 9-0 run. It was a league-record sixth undefeated season for the Falcons – seven if you count the 8-0-1 mark back in 1990. In the 27-year history of the Pioneer Athletic Conference, only 14 teams have finished unbeaten and untied, and Pottsgrove accounts for nearly half of total.
Teaming Up II: More Pottsgrove (sorry)… This is a record fifth straight year the Falcons have had two players each run for more than 1,000 yards. No one in this area can come even remotely close to equaling that. Even more astonishing in that run were the two years when quarterback Terrell Chestnut nearly made it a threesome by running for 956 and 969 yards in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
Teaming Up III: Forget the three already mentioned teams for a moment… Methacton needs a win Saturday at Norristown for a second straight winning season, something the Warriors haven’t done since 1997-98 and something they’ve only achieved five previous times since their first season in 1962; Pottstown, despite dropping its last three games, has an opportunity to end a string of eight straight losing seasons and finish at .500 for the first time since 2003 if they defeat Great Valley (Friday) and Owen J. Roberts (on Thanksgiving).
Offense and Defense: Pottsgrove shattered the PAC-10 single-season record for touchdowns, total points scored and average points per game, and both Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford have gone over the 300-point mark.
Quarterback Dilemma: Who will be the first-team PAC-10 quarterback is as good a question as anyone could ask right now. Pottsgrove’s Tory Hudgins would be as good a choice as any due to the obvious – running for over 1,000 yards and leading his team to the league title and into the District 1-AAA playoffs for a second straight year. But hold onto your ballot for a second… Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne and Pottstown’s Sage Reinhart are breaking all sorts of single-season and career school records, and Perkiomen Valley’s Rasaan Stewart produced his school’s first football trifecta (running for 1,000 yards, passing for another 1,000, and scoring over 100 points).
Player of the Year: There are more than a handful of players who have made quite an impact on both sides of the ball this year. But add Stewart’s offensive numbers to his defensive contributions in the Vikings’ secondary and… Let’s just say (there are games remaining remember), the PV junior may have a slight edge on everyone else if ballots were required to be cast today. And even though they’ll likely be overlooked, Phoenixville has as good a one-two offensive and defensive punch as anyone around with the Ryan Express – or Ryan Pannella and Ryan Yenchick.
Passing Thoughts: Pope John Paul quarterback James Bleming went down with a season-ending injury in Week Four, but not before he had thrown for 908 yards and eight touchdowns. Makes you wonder how big those numbers would’ve been had he remained healthy. Nonetheless, backup Matt Mesaros more than held his own and threw for 1,133 the rest of the way.
Secondary Thoughts: Boyertown sophomores Dalton Hughes and Justin Siejk weren’t even mentioned as possible starters in the beginning of the season. Last Saturday night, Hughes tied a PAC-10 record with three interceptions, and Siejk leads the Bears in tackles. … Methacton (Cooper Given, Kyle Lowery, Akeem Walcott and Nico Williams) and Pottsgrove (Michael Fowler, Nick Brennan, Jalen Mayes and Qwhadir Miller) each have four players with two or more interceptions.
All Offense or No Defense: Pottstown obliterated the PAC-10’s single-game record for total offense and producing 653 in Week’s Three visit at Boyertown. … Pottsgrove shattered the PAC-10 single-season record for touchdowns, total points scored and average points per game, and both Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford have gone over the 300-point mark (reached previously by just 19 teams since 1986). With the two Thanksgiving games still to be played, there have already been more points scored this season than in any previous PAC-10 season.
Proud Pope: Pope John Paul II ran for a school-record 403 yards in Saturday’s finale – more than half, or 64 percent to be exact – of the total yards (632) the Golden Panthers ran for in their previous nine games.
Ouch: Injuries are part of the game, but it would take a meeting of the minds to recall if any teams in recent years – other than Phoenixville two seasons back – were hurt as much as Daniel Boone, Hill School, Owen J. Roberts and Pope John Paul were this fall. Of that unfortunate foursome, no one probably took as hard a hit as Hill School did. The Rams lost legitimate Player of the Year candidate Adam Regensburg for the season in its opener.
True Grit (or Guts): Two weeks ago, Owen J. Roberts wideout Matt Raymond – who was nearing the PAC-10 record for touchdown catches in a season – went down with an ankle injury during the first half of the Wildcats’ game at Methacton. He asked, actually begged a few times, for the trainer to tape it up because he wanted to get back into the game. After a half-hour of wrapping and unwrapping, of running short sprints and attempting to make cuts, it was decided Raymond couldn’t go. A couple of days later, Raymond underwent surgery and had pins inserted into his ankle.
Bucking Heads in Bucktown: Owen J. Roberts’ assistant coach Hank Coyne won’t have to game plan against his son, Spring-Ford senior quarterback Hank Coyne Jr., anymore. Pottsgrove trainer Jack Thomas won’t have to be on the other side of the field watching his son, OJR senior tight end Jay Thomas anymore either, but he’ll have two more years of having to watch his twin sons, sophomores Nick and Tony Thomas, play for OJR. And Pottsgrove’s defensive coordinator Bill Bradford, like Thomas, won’t have to scheme anymore against his oldest son, OJR senior wideout Will Bradford, but he’ll be scanning the schemes to deal with another son, OJR freshman quarterback Mitch Bradford, for a few more years.

Pottsgrove’s Hudgins separates himself from the crowd

This column was originally published in the Oct. 30, 2012, edition of The Mercury.

There have been quite a few conversations this fall about Pioneer Athletic Conference quarterbacks, or who exactly is the best of the bunch. There’s been quite a few names tossed around and, generally speaking, all have been part of the discussions, too.
And it sure seems as though everyone has had a valid argument for getting their favorite onto the coaches’ ballot, which will be filled out and voted on early next month.
Hey, if you think Obama-Romney is a toss-up (or so we’re told), try separating what has become the Elite Eight of the PAC-10 (and that is in no way a political slam on the remaining two).
But if anyone has put together as impressive a football campaign as any other — up to this point of the season, that is — it’s been Pottsgrove’s Tory Hudgins.
Yes, he has as good if not better offensive line in front of him as anyone else has. Yes, he has as good a fullback and tailback behind him as anyone else has. And yes, he is arguably as one-dimensional running with the ball as any of the other quarterbacks.
And your point is…
“He is exceptional,” Perkiomen Valley head coach Scott Reed said after watching Hudgins take control throughout the second half of last Friday’s 42-28 win in the showdown between the PAC-10 co-leaders.
Hudgins’ strength, his actual value for his Pottsgrove teammates and constituents throughout the Falcon football community, is his ability to read defenses, see the field in front of him, make the right decisions, his resiliency, his intensity and, most important, his competitiveness.
Of all those attributes, Reed and the Vikings got an up-close look at that competitiveness.
Trailing 28-21 late in the third quarter, Hudgins guided the Falcons on a 98-yard scoring drive — taking care of the final 74 himself with a dash to the end zone — which got his team back to even at 28-21. Then in the fourth quarter, with 5:46 remaining, Hudgins positioned himself under center and guided the Falcons on a 92-yard scoring drive — accounting for the final 51 with a run that may be remembered for a long, long time because of his determination not to go down, breaking tackle after tackle on his way to the game-winning score with just under two minutes left.
“We didn’t wrap him up,” Reed said. “Then again, he’s been doing that, making those kind of plays, all season.”
Hudgins finished with 214 yards — pushing his PAC-10 career mark to an even 2,000 and his overall career total to 2,684. He’s only lost one league game in his two years as a starter, and was under center throughout Pottsgrove’s drive to the District 1-AAA title last season.
It will be hard to overlook Hudgins on the PAC-10 ballot. Then again, because of the deep field of quality quarterbacks – like Methacton’s Brandon Bossard, Owen J. Roberts’ Jarrad Pinelli, Perkiomen Valley’s Rasaan Stewart, Phoenixville’s Chris Demey, Pottstown’s Sage Reinhart and Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne, all of whom have put up big numbers running, passing or a combination of both — head coach Rick Pennypacker may end up penciling his name under the athlete category.
Hudgins may just be the winner, regardless of where his name appears.
Pottsgrove needs one more win for its area-record sixth straight season of 10 or more wins. Going into Friday’s game at Phoenixville, the Falcons have compiled an overall record of 66-12 since the start of the 2007 season — with two PAC-10 and two District 1-AAA titles during that stretch.
The Hill School, which avoided its first winless season in 16 years by defeating heavily favored Mercersburg Academy last Saturday, renews its rivalry with Lawrenceville this Saturday afternoon in Pottstown. It will be the 110th meeting in the series that began in 1887 and has been played, without interruption, every year since 1919. The Rams have lost the last two, but won seven of the previous 12. Still, they trail the Larries in the series, 61-38-10. … This weekend, Perkiomen School closes out what has to be a very satisfying year for head coach Tom Calvario, whose Panthers travel to St. Andrew’s down in Delaware. Perk needs a win to finish its second-best season since the football program was brought back in 1999. A 6-1 overall mark — with the exception of a 7-1 run three years ago — would be Perkiomen’s best since going 8-1 in 1971.

Spring-Ford’s Hank Coyne, with a minimum of two games remaining in his senior year, moved ahead of former Pottstown standout Terrence Shawell and into second place for career passing yardage in the PAC-10. … Pottstown’s Sage Reinhart went over the 3,000-yard career passing mark last weekend.
Hats off (and a personal “Thank You”) to all area schools — from the players and coaches to their cheerleaders and bands — who participated in and supported Cancer Awareness Month.

Unbeatens to clash

This column originally ran in the Oct. 26, 2012 edition of The Mercury.

Pottsgrove’s Tory Hudgins

LOWER POTTSGROVE — The lights will seem a little brighter, the crowd will assuredly be larger and louder than any other this season, and the margin of error, or errors, will be more narrow its ever been.
But as Scott Reed has preached all week to his Perkiomen Valley football team, tonight’s showdown at Pottsgrove is just another game.
“It’s obviously a big game, and it’s going to be a great atmosphere, too,” Reed said. “But when we kick off it’ll still be a 100-yard patch of grass and 11 guys wearing a different color jersey than our 11 guys.”
Nonetheless, it’s a very, very rare clash of colors.
And as big a spattering of colors as Perkiomen Valley has ever been part of.
Perkiomen Valley is 7-0 (7-1 overall) and just a win over the Falcons away from clinching no worse than a tie for its third Pioneer Athletic Conference title, and just one win away from clinching a berth in the District 1-Class AAAA playoffs. Pottsgrove is 7-0 (8-0), just a win over the Vikings away from no worse than a share of a record eighth PAC-10 title, just one win away from clinching a sixth straight postseason appearance and, more important, the No. 1 seed in the district’s Class AAA playoffs.
Yep, this certainly is a big, big game.
But neither Reed nor Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker think they hold any advantage based solely on big-game experience, either.
“We don’t think about that at all,” Reed said. “I’m not sure what kid steps on a field on a Friday or Saturday and thinks about what happened a week ago, a month ago or a year ago. Players, and coaches, live in the moment.”
“We don’t feel we have an advantage in that respect,” Pennypacker added. “The kids from both sides will play their best game because they know what’s at stake. No doubt this is a big game, but the winner only gets a leg up in the race (for the title) because we both have big games again next week, too. We treat every game as a big game, and this one is certainly no different.”
Both the Falcons and Vikings have dominated thus far. They’ve produced very similar offensive and defensive numbers against six common opponents, even outscored them by not-so-disparaging margins (258-77 by Perkiomen Valley, 312-67 by Pottsgrove).
And if there is one thing they do share more than anything else it is the respect for one another.
“Where do you start and where do you end with Pottsgrove?,” Reed said. “They’re extremely well-coached, they’re big, they’re physical, they’re fast … and they don’t make many mistakes. It’s our job as coaches to find weaknesses, but we just don’t see any.”
“Perkiomen Valley reminds me of that (unbeaten) Pottstown team back in 2002,” Pennypacker said. “They have so much talent and speed. We have so much respect for coach Reed and his staff, too. Our kids know the challenge we’re facing. They know if they don’t play their best game against (Perkiomen Valley) it could get very ugly.”
If anything, and perhaps unfairly, the game could be decided on just how well Perkiomen Valley quarterback Rasaan Stewart and Pottsgrove quarterback Tory Hudgins perform against defenses both Reed and Pennypacker have schemed to stop them.
Stewart has emerged as one of the PAC-10’s top players — a legitimate Player of the Year candidate. He runs well (969 yards, 16 TDs), as does Mark Bonomo (707 yards, 6 TDs), and has responded superbly when called upon to throw (1,042 yards, 6 TDs) — especially to Clay Domine, Davon Mitchell, Dakota Clanagan and Bonomo — in guiding an offense averaging 414 yards a game. Hudgins, of course, can also run well (809 yards, 15 TDs). But he hasn’t had to throw that much because Mark Dukes (920 yards, 18 TDs), Nick Brennan (339 yards, 4 TDs) and others also run so well they’ve accounted for all but 46 of the 379 yards of offense they’re averaging every weekend.
“Stewart’s versatility, his ability to run as well as throw, may present the biggest challenge we’ve faced all year,” Pennypacker said. “That young man has kept me up at night thinking about him. He is one of the best athletes to come along in this league, and his supporting cast makes (Perkiomen Valley) very dangerous. We have to make many adjustments in order to contain all their weapons.”
Making adjustments is something Reed expects to do against Hudgins and the Falcons.
“Hudgins executes the option extremely well, and they mix in enough (different) schemes to keep you off-balance,” Reed said. “That team has so many weapons. We have to play assignment football. Tackling will be of utmost importance, because their backs run so hard, and they’re extremely elusive and explosive.”
Overlooked in the offensives, of course, is the work up front by both teams’ offensive lines.
Perkiomen Valley has gotten room to run and time to throw because of center Seth Jonassen, guards Bobbie Gallus and Robbie Thacker, tackles Jeff Morrow and Austin Ganz, and tight end Jamie Biddle. Pottsgrove has been able to run as well as it has because of center Zach Birch, guards Anthony Pond and Tom Sephakis, tackles Pat Finn and Madison O’Connor, and tight end Jeff Adams.
“We have to be as close to perfect as we can,” Reed said. “Penalties, turnovers, negative plays … they always cost you, and they’ll be very costly against a team as good as Pottsgrove.”
“We have to play good, sound fundamental football,” Pennypacker added. “Perkiomen Valley is one of the best teams I’ve seen in the past 10 years.”
* * *
 Perkiomen Valley quarterback Rasaan Stewart
evades a tackle by Methacton’s Dillen White.
The combined rushing totals of Dukes and Hudgins average out to 9.4 yards a carry. Stewart and Bonomo average 8.1 yards a pop. … Defensively, Pottsgrove’s Sene Polamalu (5), Birch (3) and Pond (3) and Perkiomen Valley’s Danny Light (4.5), Tony Pachella (4.5) and Mike Reiner (3) are among the area leaders in sacks. The Falcons’ Mike Fowler (4), Brennan (2) and Jalen Mayes (2) and the Vikings’ Kean McKnight (2) and Martise Ray (2) are among the leaders in interceptions. … Perkiomen Valley — which shared PAC-10 championships in 2007 and 1998 – needs a win tonight and next week (at home against Spring-Ford) for its first outright title. … Pottsgrove needs a win tonight to clinch no worse than a record ninth overall league title and another win next week (at Phoenixville) for its record seventh outright title. … Birch and Adams are both questionable for tonight’s game because of injuries.

Boyertown finally bears down

This column originally appeared in the Oct. 23 edition of The Mercury.

Boyertown quarterback Griffin Pasik engineered a pair of late drives Saturday against Methacton to nearly rally the Bears over the Warriors. (Mercury file photo/Tom Kelly III)

FAIRVIEW VILLAGE — There haven’t been a whole heck of a lot of hip-hip-hurrahs or all that much to shout about for Boyertown’s football team the past month and a half. Six straight losses can certainly mute the most devoted and loudest following.
The Bears themselves, ailing from an assortment of injuries, slowed offensively by breakdown after breakdown, and humbled defensively by one big play after another, have obviously been rather quiet, too.
So when Methacton went in front 24-7 with less than four minutes left in Saturday afternoon’s game, the Bears could’ve easily packed it in … ran out what few remaining snaps they’d get and call it a day.
Instead, they put together two near-flawless drives — arguably their best two in what has evolved as a very frustrating season — that had Methacton head coach Paul Lepre pacing up and down the sideline and the Homecoming crowd on the edge of its collective seats and lawn chairs.
Boyertown would run out of time, of course, and come up short 24-20.
But when you’re 1-7 and looking for anything to help keep your players, staff and most devoted fans on the same page, head coach Mark Scisly can only hope Saturday’s rally will re-energize everyone for the final two weeks of the Pioneer Athletic Conference season and a possible non-league game after that.
Comebacks in the Pioneer Athletic Conference are rare. Climbing out of a 17-point hole in the fourth quarter just hasn’t happened that often, if at all. Climbing out what had to seem like a 17-point crater with less than four minutes remaining has never happened in the 27 years of football in the Pioneer Athletic Conference (if the memory banks serve us well) … and still hasn’t.
But there was something to be said about how the Bears refused to quit when they very easily could’ve after Methacton put together its best 36 minutes of football of the entire season and created that 17-point deficit. Lepre applauded the effort, not so much because of any letdown or breakdown from the Warriors’ side of the ball, but because of his Bears’ commitment to play it out… play out those final three minutes and 43 seconds.
“We actually weren’t doing anything different,” Scisly said of the 12-play, 80-yard and 6-play, 50-yard drives — capped by Dylan Pasik touchdown passes to Matt Moccia and Nick Brough — that got his team within that final four-point differential with only three seconds left. “We just stayed with the basics. We just executed.”
“We’ve tried to make adjustments (during the season) and we’d move the ball. But then, all of a sudden, we’d have a breakdown. This was the best we’ve done since Week Three (a 51-47 loss to Pottstown), so I’m happy with the way we did move the ball.”
Scisly could also find some plus marks on the other side, or with his defense that surrendered its fewest points since Week Two. David Pettine returned from an injury and played well up front, and behind him — sophomore Mike Murphy at linebacker and sophomores Justin Siejk and Dalton Hughes in the secondary — had their best games against the versatile and dangerous Brandon Bossard, Methacton’s senior quarterback.
“We definitely made strides to get better,” Scisly said.
* * *
Not giving up is something Pope John Paul II head coach Mike Santillo had to notice about senior Jake Kopchuk.
Kopchuk’s third season as a two-way starting tackle seemed to end soon after it began when he suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice on Sept. 20. His commitment to getting back on the field included rehabilitation every day, lifting weights, running, even going as far as acupuncture. Finally, after a month on the sidelines, doctors cleared him to play last Thursday.
Two days later, he responded with a sack and, unofficially, six other tackles in the loss to Phoenixville.
If Santillo ever needed some motivation for his injury-ravaged team over the final two weeks of the season, he can point to Kopchuk.
* * *
Spring-Ford senior Hank Coyne broke the Rams’ career passing mark last week, but is moving up among the area’s all-time leaderboard in several categories as well. Coyne is currently fourth in career passing yards (4,844) and needs 156 more to become just the fourth area quarterback to go over the 5,000-yard plateau. With a minimum of three games remaining, Coyne could finish as high a second. He is exactly 1,000 yards behind Perkiomen Valley graduate Zach Zulli’s record of 5,844. ... Pottstown quarterback Sage Reinhart, who’ll match throws with Coyne this Friday, needs 137 yards for 3,000 in his career. ... Pottsgrove quarterback Tory Hudgins needs 530 yards to become just the second area quarterback to run for more than 3,000 career yards.