Phantoms achieved goals in win over Rams
By Don Seeley
ROYERSFORD — For nearly an entire week, Bill Furlong kept hearing how his Phoenixville football team would be greeted by Spring-Ford’s non-varsity starters when they kicked off their final game of the Pioneer Athletic Conference season Wednesday night.
Sure enough, the Phantoms were.
And did they ever take advantage of the opportunity — which presented itself when Spring-Ford head coach Chad Brubaker made the decision to rest his regulars for Saturday afternoon’s District 1-Class AAAA semifinal showdown at Pennridge.
Some will remember it as a mismatch, which it certainly was.
The Phantoms dominated both lines of scimmage, well behind and past them too, depending on direction they were heading or defending. They scored on four of their initial five possessions of the first half; got the running clock when an interception was returned for touchdown just 1:45 into the second half; and scored two more times to close it out at 49-0.
Furlong was happy, and not only for finishing up at 6-3 in the PAC-10 and 7-5 overall, but for finishing up with one of the best performances of the long season ... albeit it against non-varsity starters or not.
“I thought we executed well,” he said. “The kids played hard and played together. Our goal coming in was to play our best game, and we accomplished that goal. And playing (against non-varsity starters) doesn’t take away anything from this.”
Nor should it.
As they have been for a good part of three seasons, seniors Ryan Yenchick and Ryan Pannella — along with unsung fellow seniors Tom White, Chris Demy and Sean Hesser — were superb. Yenchick was his usual workmanlike self, running for more than 90 yards and three touchdowns and catching one pass on offense and popping up around the ball more than enough times on defense. Pannella dictated his blocking space at tight end and caught a pass on offense and dominated whatever area he chose to be in, punctuated by a pair of sacks, on defense. White was his usual blue-collar, bullish self up front on both offense and defense (with one sack). Demy, who in his first year at quarterback matured beyond many’s expectations, ran for one score and kept Spring-Ford honest in the box by completing fives passes. And Hesser ran for one touchdown and returned that interception for another.
Still, as well as the Phantoms played and as often as they scored — and as happy as Furlong and his staff were — so were, believe it or not, Brubaker and his cast of non-varsity starters, many of whom never got any time at all in a Friday night or Saturday afternoon game this season.
“Coach (Brubaker) told us we played a good game,” said two-way sophomore end Bryce Rhodenbaugh, who’ll share Thanksgiving dinner today with his father, Phoenixville assistant coach Gary Rhodenbaugh. “Our defense wasn’t that bad. I think we lived up to (Brubaker’s) expectations.”
“I actually thought our kids played well,” said Brubaker, whose Rams will take an 11-2 overall record into Saturday’s matinee at Pennridge. “They hit, and was a great opportunity for us as a staff to see them and evaluate their play.”
What Brubaker saw was his team surrender a lot of yards and, of course, a lot of points. But, as he pointed out, there weren’t many noticeable big plays.
The Phantoms took the opening kickoff and drove 66 yards in 13 plays, then their next possession 56 yards in 11 plays for the 14-0 lead after one quarter. And interception and respectable punt return set up two short-field, scoring drives to double that spread after two quarters. Then the Rams’ defense thwarted another drive that go to their own 21 right before the break.
“Everyone was excited to play,” Rhodenbaugh said. “I know I was nervous in the beginning, and others were, too. But we were excited to be playing in a Thanksgiving game. I think we gave (Phoenixville) a good game.”
“Our kids played tough,” Brubaker said. “I’m happy with a lot of them because they were physical, and they didn’t back down. They played a very good seven-win team, and it’s a shame because the scoreboard doesn’t reflect that.”
Phoenixville’s dominance up front didn’t allow the Rams to get any run game going, and three quarterbacks — Brandon Leacraft, Zac DeMedio and Matt Daywalt — were hurried six times and sacked four times, which went a long way in explaining their combined 9-for-21 with three picks.
So, in the end, Furlong and the Phantoms got the win they sought ... and earned in every aspect.
And Brubaker and the Rams had no regrets over the decision made to go with non-varsity starters.
“We have an opportunity that’s never occurred before in the history of our program,” Brubaker said, referring of course to Saturday’s district semifinal. “We have to make the most of it.
“To play for a possible district title is an opportunity that you don’t often get. It’s like a bowl game, what everyone’s goal is. And no one stops in the middle of the playoffs, or in working toward achieving that goal. It’s unfortunate (going with non-varsity starters) but it’s the way we decided to play it out. You can’t please everyone.”
Phoenixville finished behind Perkiomen Valley and Spring-Ford — both 7-2 — and champion Pottsgrove (9-0) in the final PAC-10 standings. ... Tickets for Saturday’s District 1-Class AAAA semifinal at Pennridge will be on sale from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the high school gymnasium lobby entrance at Spring-Ford High School. ...