|Ryan Yenchick, right, and Phoenixville take on Interboro tonight in a District 1-AAA opener.|
By Don Seeley
Despite that loss, head coach Bill Furlong still had some high expectations for his football team.
So the early setback to OJR that left Phoenixville stalled at the.500 mark (1-1, 2-2 overall) wasn’t as much a concern for Furlong as it was getting the Phantoms revved up and turned around for the long haul through October and into the first weekend of November.
And that is exactly how the Phantoms responded, thanks to any necessary tune-ups by a handful or so of seniors – namely Sean Hesser, Brian Hyland, Brian Madden, Ryan Pannella and Ryan Yenchick – who got their team in gear and earned a drive to Interboro tonight (7:30) for the opening round of the District 1-Class AAA playoffs.
The No. 6 seed Phantoms played very well down the stretch, losing only to unbeaten Pottsgrove and then once-beaten Perkiomen Valley, and will take a 6-4 overall record into their game with the No. 3 seed Bucs (8-2).
“Honestly, and I know it may sound boring, but many of our guys were leaders last year as well,” Furlong, referring to the Phantoms drive to the district final. “I don’t think you can overstate the challenge of simply living up to the high expectations we had on some of these guys. Hesser, Hyland, Madden, Pannell and Yenchick were expected to be good, and they are.
“But we feel we have a team of leaders, too. Guys like Cole Luzins, Chris Demey, Paul Hossler, Colin Mea, Ryan Gyuris and Kyle Karkoska have all made significant strides from last year. And Zack Gallow has been a real pleasant surprise.”
What it means is the Phantoms – unlike in 2005, 2007 and 2008, when they went one-and-out in the postseason – are considerably more prepared for the playoffs after winning the program’s first two playoff games and advancing to the final last year.
“I don’t know if it’s confidence, but there is no longer that fear of the unknown,” Furlong said. “They are looking at it as another tough week. They know if they work hard and prepare they have a good chance.”
The Phantoms will have to deal with an Interboro team that lost only to unbeaten Episcopal Academy (41-0) in Week Two and Del Val League rival Academy Park (49-26) last Friday night … an Interboro team that is no stranger to the postseason or to the PAC-10. Phoenixville did beat the Bucs (44-20) in last year’s opening round at Washington Field, but that was last 12 months ago.
“I think it’s a positive in the sense of knowing we can play with them and have,” Furlong said. “But we still have a ton of respect for their program and this year’s team.”
Well-earned respect, too, because the Bucs have a dangerous quarterback in Nick Rentos (1,352 yards and 13 touchdowns passing) and a Division I-A prospect – and arguably their best player – in tight end Rashon Fentress (29 catches, 583 yards, 6 TDs). Balanced by run game led by Warren Allen (621 yards, 12 TDs), the Bucs average 135 yards throwing the ball and 176 carrying it.
They also have a defense, anchored by tackle Matt Gould and linebacker Sonny Armstrong, which has limited seven opponents to two touchdowns or less.
The Phantoms will attempt to solve those defensive schemes with a line that features Gyuris, Paul Hossler, Hyland, Mea and White and Pannella at tight end. Demy has been solid in his first year as a starter, completing 67 of 121 attempts for 1,026 yards and nine touchdowns. Pannella (22 catches, 402 yards, 3 TDs) and Yenchick (18-266-3) have been his favorite receivers. But he, like Rentos, has been fortunate to have a run game – led by the versatile Yenchick (966 yards, 16 TDs), Justin McDougal and Hesser – to keep opposing defenses honest.
“Interboro is still tough, gritty,” Furlong said. “The offensive and defensive lines are very impressive, and they have some talented skill people, too.”
Enough to warrant the Phantoms’ full attention on defense.
That means down linemen Kahjnel Norwood, Hossler and Hyland need another strong game, as do outside linebackers-ends Gallow (team-high 3.5 sacks) and White, and inside linebackers Madden and Pannella.
Putting pressure on Rentos is a must, too, at least to take some of the pressure off the secondary of Hesser, Karkoska, Luzins and Yenchick (two interceptions).
“We need to play disciplined, within ourselves,” Furlong explained. “It will take our best game (to win), but I think we’ve improved each week and are ready to play our best game.”
Last year’s meeting was the first between Interboro and Phoenixville. … Pannella and Madden lead the Phantoms in tackles with 136 and 107, respectively. Karkoska (64) and Gallow (59) are next on that list. … Demy has not finished with minus yardage in any game this season, a rarity for the quarterback position. …
is questionable, having missed
Interboro’s last two games with an injury. … The Phantoms are fit as a fiddle.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate in that regard,” Furlong said. “I can’t say lucky
because I believe all of the work these kids put in during the off-season and during
the season have kept them healthy.” Warren