By Don Seeley
|Mark Dukes and Pottsgrove take on perennial power Strath Haven in a District 1-AAA tourney opener tonight.|
So when it was mentioned all the way down in
that Strath Haven
backed its way into the District 1-Class AAA playoffs, you-know-who heard it …
but didn’t want to hear about it. Delaware
“Are you kidding me?” Pennypacker said prior to a midweek practice for tonight’s (7:00) opener with the visiting Panthers. “They are the same old Strath Haven. We have a lot of respect for them and (head coach) Kevin Clancy. We know them and they know us.”
The respect comes from being long aware of the fact Strath Haven owns 11 district titles – beating 94 straight district opponents en route to eight of those titles (1996 through 2003). The Panthers also own a pair of state titles (1999-2000).
The familiarity comes from watching Strath Haven beat up four very good Pottsgrove teams in 2000 (35-7), in 2001 (35-19), in 2003 (35-19 again), and in 2010 (42-28) – a disheartening streak that didn’t end until the Falcons pulled out a 29-28 overtime thriller over the Panthers in last year’s semifinals.
So, while No. 8seed Strath Haven’s shocking one-point loss to lowly Harriton last week and a very uncharacteristic 5-5 record isn’t all that impressive, neither Pennypacker nor his unbeaten No. 1 Falcons are buying into the heavily-favored role that’s been heaped on them for this evening.
“I don’t want to hear about any of that,” he said. “Strath Haven is fundamentally sound in all they do, and we feel we have a tremendous challenge in the first round.
“When I think of all the years we’ve been in the playoffs, this may be the toughest first-round opponent we’ve faced. (Strath Haven) has played some very good teams, like Ridley and Haverford, who are in the AAAA playoffs, and Springfield-Delco, who is in the playoffs with us in AAA. I also know they’ll be out for revenge after (losing to us) last year.”
The Panthers, whose last three losses were by a total of nine points, pretty much mirror the Falcons on offense. Tevon Howie, who piled up some yardage in their district final win over the Falcons two years ago, has run for 1,249 yards and 18 touchdowns out of the Wing-T. Anthony Myers (574) and quarterback Kevin Mohollen (398) – who has only thrown for 411 yards – take care of the remaining shots into or around a very good offensive line.
That will require another solid outing from Pottsgrove’s defense, namely Zach Birch, Patrick Finn, Anthony Pond (four sacks) and Max Wickward up front, linebackers Jeff Adams, Nick Brennan and Sene Polamalu (five sacks) behind them, and Michael Fowler (five interceptions), Jalen Mayes and Qwhadir Miller. Together, it’s a defense that has limited opponents to just 126 rushing and 52 passing yards a game, not to mention created 17 turnovers.
“Howie is a tremendous player for them, and Mohollen is a good passer, but has hurt people running the ball, too,” Pennypacker said. “But we’ve gotten some big games from Wickward and Polamalu, and everyone else is playing better right now.”
Pottsgrove’s offense, averaging 326 yards on the ground and 43.4 points a game, is unquestionably the concern of Clancy and his Strath Haven staff.
The Falcons are both big and proficient up front with Zach Birch, Finn, Madison O’Connor, Pond, Tommy Sephakis and
Adams. They are both fast and proficient
behind that line with tailback Mark Dukes, fullback Nick Brennan and
quarterback Tory Hudgins.
“I think our offensive line has carried us all year,” said Pennypacker, who has also gotten an offensive boost from placekicker John Klinger, whose converted 35 point-afters and a boomed a 37-yard field goal last week at Phoenixville. “We know (Strath Haven) has a game plan for (our run game), and probably will load up the box. But our coaches have full confidence in throwing the ball, and they know we’ll have to throw it more now in the playoffs.”
Throwing hasn’t been too much of a requirement thus far. Dukes has run up 1,166 yards and 21 touchdowns; Hudgins has skirted his way to 1,077 and 19 scores; and Brennan has quietly added 526 yards and four touchdowns. Hudgins is 25 of 48 for 528 yards – nearly identical to Mohollen’s 25 of 55 for 411 yards – and Fowler has accounted for 333 of those yards on 11 receptions.
“We tell our kids it isn’t how you start but how you finish,” Pennypacker said. “We still work the same fundamentals every week that we worked on the first week of the season. I think that has helped us improve week to week. And that’s our goal, because if you get better every week you’ll be ready to compete in the playoffs.”
Even against a .500 opponent.
“Our kids know the history of Strath Haven, and many of them lined up against Strath Haven last year and know now we can beat them. That game was huge for our kids’ confidence.
“But we have to control the clock and play great defense. Strath Haven’s offense has been very explosive this year, so we have to keep them off the field. We also have to be able to throw the ball when the opportunity comes. We have worked very hard on this aspect of our game, and feel we can have success when we throw. We must be very solid on our keys and assignments.”
Strath Haven leads the series, 4-1. … Pottsgrove needs 66 points to become the first Mercury-area team to score 500 in a season. … The swift Marquis Barefield, who was injured during the win over Methacton back on Week Six, may be cleared to play tonight. … The Falcons have shut out two opponents and held four others to one touchdown each.