Back for its seventh season, the popular Intelligencer/Courier Times ‘Let’s Talk Football’ features Kevin Cooney, Drew Markol and Jen Wielgus. Cooney, the Phillies beat writer, will handle the Bucks County Courier Times coverage area and also is part of a panel each Friday night on the WNPV/Intelligencer Scoreboard Show. Markol is the football beat writer for the Intelligencer area. Wielgus is a video sports reporter for the Intelligencer and Courier. All three are regular contributors on the weekly Game On show. To view this week’s show, click on the following link: http://www.theintell.com/videos/hsgameon/ To stay on top of the high school football news in the area, visit the Intelligencer (http://www.theintell.com/sports/high-school/) and Courier Times (http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com/sports/high-school/) web sites.
SuburbanOneSports.com: North Penn came up just short in its game against St. Joe’s Prep in the state semifinals. Your thoughts as the Knights’ remarkable season comes to an end.
Drew Markol: “It’s rare but it’s a nice treat when a game lives up to the hype this one had. This was a game we’d been talking about in August. We knew it was coming down to these two teams. I don’t think we knew in August that North Penn would be undefeated, but once we saw them play, we quickly knew they would be. We knew Prep would be undefeated and you’d have this huge matchup with a huge crowd. It was just a great game between two great teams.
“I will always say this 2016 North Penn team is as good as their 2003 state championship team. They just ran into a St. Joseph’s Prep team that had a player like D’Andre Swift that you don’t see very often. He’s just a phenomenal running back, who is heading to Georgia for a reason. Talking to people who have seen a lot of him – they wouldn’t be surprised if he goes down to the SEC and Georgia and really does well.
“The biggest thing in that game, things you don’t see from North Penn normally - I know they allowed a kick return for a touchdown. That’s a breakdown somewhere, and for that to happen especially after North Penn scored a big momentum touchdown and to give it right back, you don’t see that. Dick Beck is known famously for being able to take away the other team’s top weapon. CB West used to do that. They would make you try to beat them with their second option. A credit to Swift that he was able to overcome that – he’s just that good.
“Would North Penn have won the state title against a really good Pittsburgh Central Catholic team in Hershey? I’m not sure Prep is going to win a state title against that team. North Penn was in the final four with a wonderful team – you had senior quarterback Reece Udinski throw for over 4,000 yards. He’s just the second player in state history to do that, which is just phenomenal. He finished probably 220 yards behind the kid – Ben DiNucci out of Pine-Richland - who threw for more two years ago. He now plays for Pitt, and his team played in the state final, so they played a 16-game season. If North Penn had won and gone on to the state final, you’ve got to think Udinski would have broken the all-time single season record. Regardless, being the number two all-time and only the second player ever to pass for over 4,000 yards is just phenomenal. If North Penn hadn’t had so many blowouts and Beck would have been able to leave him in the game and throw the ball, those numbers would have been even more astonishing. It’s just a great season by him.
“Ricky Johns was a three-year starter for Beck, and in the playoffs, he really played like the best player when North Penn needed him. He’ll go to West Virginia and probably be a safety or outside linebacker. We’ll always think of him as a wide receiver because offense is unfortunately what you remember – I apologize to defensive players. Johns will go down as one of the best North Penn ever had.
“There’s talent coming back - there’s always talent coming back at North Penn - with Justis Henley who I heard might move to quarterback next year. Owen Thomas is just a phenomenal tight end and defensive end who just makes plays. He wasn’t full strength against Prep because of a hamstring problem, and that hurt. They have a guy like him coming back and in the secondary, Jon Haynes, the sophomore. The last sophomore who made a contribution like this to a North Penn team was Ricky Johns, and you could make a very good argument that Haynes made a bigger contribution his sophomore year than Johns did in his sophomore year.
“It was just a wonderful season. The team goes 14-1 and gets another district title, and you took St. Joe’s Prep, one of the top 10 teams in the country, and you make them sweat for 47 minutes. Good job by North Penn all the way around.
“And coach Dick Beck - not a lot of coaches on the high school level will change so dramatically to fit the talent they have, but he saw the talent he had and he took advantage of it. Two years ago, if you would have said, ‘North Penn is going to have a 4,000-yard passer soon.’ I would have said, ‘Sure they are, and I’m going to be able to dunk the basketball.’ It was just remarkable, but it’s one of the reasons I’m not a fan of the state playoffs. Really good teams – not just North Penn – end their season with losses, and you hope that’s not what they remember from the season.”
Kevin Cooney: “We talked about the idea that that North Penn had to play a clean game. Penalty-wise, they did, but against St. Joe’s Prep and D’Andre Swift, you can’t keep turning the football over. The quarterback, Reece Udinski, has been great, but he didn’t have his best night, Prep’s speed on the back limited some of their opportunities, but the fact that they were still in the game tells you a lot about what that team was made of. In a different time and in a different era, they are a state championship team. In this time and this era with the structure as it is now – my fear for the good of the sport is that we have basically started to eliminate public schools out of the big school equation. The advantage they have – it’s kind of unfettered what they are able to do at the big school level. Five of the six teams going to Hershey this weekend in 4A, 5A and 6A are open enrollment schools. Yes, North Penn is a huge school, but when you’re finding out that not even that’s good enough to deal with these open enrollments, then I think you have a major problem.
“Prep’s touchdown at the end was bush league. They could have taken a knee. I’ll take it one step further – there was no need even for (D’Andre Swift’s) 50-yard run that set it up at the one because North Penn is out of timeouts. Forget sportsmanship and all that – what you’re doing is allowing your running back to take another free shot, and that’s where – to be honest – it’s dumb. St. Joe’s Prep is wearing the black hats. They know everyone is gunning for them, and they’re the villains in some way. That’s fine.
“I don’t blame St. Joe’s Prep, I don’t blame Archbishop Wood, I don’t blame Imhotep or any of these other schools that everybody lumps into this open enrollment-private school matter. No, this goes to Mechanicsburg (and the PIAA). This goes to an organization that is trying to have its cake and eat it too and is – in a way – so scared they’re going to get sued that they don’t want to take on the issue that really is challenging their survival. I think Bob Lombardi, Melissa Mertz and Mark Byers and all of them – they’re good people, and I’m not painting it as that, but I think they don’t quite know how to handle it. They don’t realize the genie they’ve uncorked out of the bottle and now are trying to get it back - I think it is going to be damn near impossible.”
Jen Wielgus: “I remember my very first season with Game On in the fall of 2013. One of the stories I did early in the season was North Penn trying to get back to the playoffs because they had missed the playoffs the previous season. I’m talking to Dick Beck and some of the kids because it was very rare for them to go through a season like that.
“Last year I think people expected them to beat Upper Dublin in the district championship game, and that was really a letdown for North Penn. Upper Dublin was a team of destiny, and I don’t think North Penn played up to their potential, and they learned a lot from that experience.
“I’m really proud that North Penn was able to play as well as they did against St. Joseph’s Prep because it shows that the private schools who can get kids from everywhere are not so formidable that no one can get to them. Yes, they won, and there’s no moral victory, but I feel that those who know what happened in that game can say – you get a good group of kids together and a great coach, and you can go a long way. You can get them from your own district – you don’t have to get them from everywhere. That says a lot about Dick Beck because he’s the glue, and he’s the rock that kept that going and put that team in place. Talent can only go so far.
“North Penn was the clear, clear standout in a year where across the board it was a down year in the Suburban One League. They were the exception to that. It was not a down year in Lansdale. All year, everybody was looking at North Penn-Neshaminy for a district championship. Everybody was saying great things about Neshaminy, but North Penn stood the test. They made it and they represented the Suburban One League. They were by far the best team out of that league and the district.”
*Opinions expressed in ‘Let’s Talk Football’ are not necessarily those of SuburbanOneSports.com.