Knights Seize Early Control in Win Over Cougars

LANSDALE – Any trouble North Penn had finishing drives against Penn Wood in the first round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs a week ago was quickly forgotten against Downingtown East Friday night.

The third-seeded Knights played fast, efficient football on both sides of the ball in an electric first half and staved off a second-half comeback effort by No. 6 Downingtown East to advance to the District 1 semifinals with a 49-33 victory.
Craig Needhammer and Dom Taggart drove the North Penn offense, rushing for 203 and 169 yards, respectively, with a pair of scores on the ground each. Taggart also caught a TD pass from Corey Ernst, who also scored with his feet.
North Penn (11-1) led 35-3 at one point in the first half and will now travel to No. 2 Council Rock South with yet a trip to the district title game on the line.
“With us, we came out a couple times flat-footed this year,” Taggart said. “But we were all up for the game and came out strong and ended strong and that’s how you win games.”
The Cougars (9-3) hardly knew what hit them.
 The Knights chose to receive the ball to open the game and marched right down the field 70 yards on seven plays, capped by Ernst’s eight-yard dash to the end zone. Needhammer rushed for 50 yards on the drive, exposing East’s smaller defensive line early.
Following a Cougars’ field goal on their first drive, Needhammer hit a seam up the middle on a trap and ran untouched for 70 yards on the initial play of North Penn’s second drive for his first score on the night.
On the next East possession a fumbled handoff and a personal foul set North Penn up with the ball on the Cougars’ 39, and once again the Knights needed just one play – a 39-yard pass from Ernst to a wide-open Taggart – to reach paydirt.
By the start of the second quarter, North Penn was up 21-3 and a shell-shocked East team was forced to alter its power running game style of play.
“That’s what we do,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “Our offensive line came off the ball, and with Craig Needhammer and Dom (Taggart) - having them is a nice luxury.”
Needhammer scored again two drives later, this time from 25 yards out on a fourth-and-one off-tackle play in which not one East defender laid a hand on him. The senior ran for 171 of his 203 yards in the first half, continuously slashing through large holes in the Cougars’ defense.
Gerard Wendowski finished off the first-half scoring for the Knights, stepping in front of a Trey Lauletta pass and returning it 55 yards for the score.
East punched one in with 41 ticks left in the half to make it 35-10, but the damage was done by then.
“I thought we could run the ball,” Beck said. “We just went at them.”
In the second half Taggart got his turn after only running the ball three times for 16 yards in the first 24 minutes. In the final stanza, he broke runs of 45 and 52, and ended up scoring on a 17-yard jaunt and a one-yard plunge for North Penn’s final 14 points.
“Craig did his thing early,” Taggart said. “In the second half, we spread the ball around a little bit, and we each got our carries and were able to get it done.”
East tried to play catch up, doing so by throwing the ball for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. It was not enough as North Penn’s defense played tough for much of the night. The Knights were the second team all season to keep Cougars’ running back Drew Harris under 100 yards. The junior standout had only 68 yards.
The Knights’ will need much of the same on both sides of the ball against a Council Rock South team that can score (52 points Friday), but also give up points (41 in the same game).
North Penn 49, Downingtown East 33
Downingtown East     3 7 7 16 — 33
North Penn     21 14 7 7— 49
Scoring
N-Ernst 8 run (Mandes kick)
D-FG Mayes 24
N-Needhammer 10 run (Mandes kick)
N-Taggart 39 pass from Ernst (Mandes kick)
N-Needhammer 25 run (Mandes kick)
N-Wendowski 55 interception (Mandes kick)
D-D. Harris 1 run (Mayes kick)
D-D. Harris 14 run (Mayes kick)
N-Taggart 17 run (Mandes kick)
D-Whitaker 28 pass from Lauletta (D. Harris run )
N-Taggart 1 run (Mandes kick)
D-Mastrog 8 pass from Lauletta (Gianforte pass from Lauletta)
Team totals
    D     N
First downs     14     12
Yards rushing     147     374
Yards passing     182     58
Totla yards     329     432
Passing     14-28-1     4-7-0
Fumbles-lost     3-2     3-0
Punts-avg     3-40.5     2-27.5
Penalties-yds     4-40     8-60
Individual Statistics
RUSHING: Down: D. Harris 22-68, 2TD’s; Erdman 3-39; Lauletta 11-25; Mastrog 2-15. North: Needhammer 18-203, 2TD’s; Taggart 12-169, 2TD’s; Ernst 3-2.
PASSING: Down: Lauletta 14-28-182, 2TD’s. North: Ernst 4-7-58, 1TD.
RECEIVING: Down: Whitaker 5-70, 1TD; Kroft 3-41; Gianforte 2-40; Mastrog 2-15, 1TD; D.Harris 1-11; JU.Harris 1-5. North: Taggart 2-44, 1TD; Wendowski 1-11; Needhammer 1-3.
SACKS: Down: Martin. North: Jackson 2.
INTERCEPTIONS: Down: None. North: Wendowski.