Special teams, defense carry Perk Valley in muddy win over Pennridge.
GRATERFORD » The combination of weather conditions and a big, physical Pennridge defense quieted the usually prolific Perkiomen Valley passing attack on Saturday.
So when the Vikings needed to find a way to win a low-scoring game, they turned to their defense and special teams to pick up the slack.
Malik Smith and Randy Washington each returned kickoffs for touchdowns, and Austin Rowley had a pair of interceptions as Perkiomen Valley battled past Pennridge on a sloppy Saturday morning, 18-12.
The returns helped mitigate the damage on a day where Pennridge dominated possession and outgained PV, 306-89 in total offense. The Vikings’ defense was the definition of “bend but don’t break”, as Pennridge repeatedly drove deep into PV territory only to be turned away for the first three quarters.
“[Pennridge] was moving the ball, we bent a bit,” said PV coach Rob Heist. “But our defense deserves credit for making plays when they had to. When it mattered, they rose to the occasion.”
It’s not as if Perkiomen Valley was in need of any extra motivation after starting the 2018 campaign with an 0-2 record against a challenging slate featuring the two Downingtown schools. The Vikings were eager to avoid digging themselves an 0-3 hole from which they’d have spent the rest of the season digging out.
But seeing the Pennridge Rams across the field only added fuel to the fire. The Rams handed PV its only two losses of the 2017 season—the second a 25-0 defeat in the 6A District quarterfinals.
“I’m not worried about last year, I’m focused on this team,” said Heist. “I’m proud of the way the kids handled the postponement, came out today to battle against a big, physical team.”
The game, originally scheduled for Friday night, was suspended until 11 a.m. Saturday due to the rain and lightning.
“Is it difficult? Sure,” said Pennridge coach Cody Muller. “You get ready to go on a Friday night, and then you have to turn around and do it the next day, it’s a challenge. But by no means is that any excuse — it’s the same way for [Perkiomen Valley].
“For us, we need to correct our mistakes and cut down on penalties.”
Aside from the kickoff returns, the story of the game was contained in PV winning the turnover battle 4-0, and Pennridge’s 14 penalties for 118 yards.
Pennridge opened the contest with a long, grinding drive into PV’s red zone, but a Brett Kuiken sack ended the threat. After a three-and-out, a muffed punt gave PV a fresh start at their own 42. From there, the legs of QB Cole Peterlin plus some ill-timed Pennridge penalties took the Vikings within striking distance.
After a QB sack set up a 3rd-and-23 situation, Peterlin scampered down the right side and went over from 25 yards out to open the scoring. After a failed conversion, PV held a 6-0 lead.
Austin Rowley’s first interception thwarted Pennridge’s ensuing opportunity at the PV 18-yard line. With the aerial game compromised by the difficulty of running pass routes on the slow track, PV turned to a multi-faceted running game featuring not only Peterlin but Randy Washington and Jon Moccia, who compiled 25 total yards on a drive that took PV into the red zone.
Pennridge ultimately held on 4th and short at the 10-yard line, taking over deep in their own territory and going to workhorse running back Joe Muntz (25 rushes, 111 yards, TD) and speedy Taj Utsey (14 carries, 60 yards, TD).
“That was one thing I thought we did well,” said Muller. “After our loss to Neshaminy (last week) we tried to do some different things. I thought Joe ran well, Taj and Zak (Kantor) as well.”
With time running short, however, Hayden Bailly broke through to stop Pennridge’s QB Zak Kantor, and a fourth-down Hail Mary went unanswered as the teams headed to the locker room.
It was immediately after halftime that Randy Washington changed the game. He took a bouncing kickoff back through the middle for 77 yards, going untouched and largely unpursued for the final 50–60 yards, doubling Perk Valley’s lead.
“Our kick return unit was amazing,” said Washington. “Everybody had their assignments, which gave me a huge hole—I saw it and I burst through it.”
Kantor would ignite another Pennridge drive, but had it stamped out when Washington picked him off inside the 10-yard line on an ill-advised throw, returning the ball out to the Vikings’ 25-yard line.
“The pressure from our defensive line created that one,” said Washington.
An exchange of punts yielded another sustained, 12-play Pennridge drive that moved the ball inside the Vikings’ 10. On fourth down, however, Rowley led a boatload of Vikings to the ball, stopping Utsey just short and allowing PV to take over once more.
Pennridge dominated time of possession after halftime, and that paid off as another long drive ended in Taj Utsey’s one-yard TD run to put Pennridge on the board. A failed two-point conversion kept the Perk Valley lead at six, 12-6.
On the ensuing kickoff, however, PV senior Malik Smith capitalized on another middle return and broke away from the pack, cutting down the right sideline for a 74-yard TD, the Vikings’ second score of the day on a return.
“It was the same return call as (Washington’s) touchdown,” Smith said. “We got a couple of our guys on different blocks, mixed it up a little bit.”
Rowley’s second interception ended a late Pennridge rally, and while Muntz was able to power across the goal line from nine yards out with 32 seconds left to cut the PV lead to 18-12, the Vikings were able to run out the clock after an ill-fated onside kick attempt.
“It was a mess out here,” Smith summarized. “Guys were sliding all over the place on both teams.
“But it was fun. How can you play in the mud and not have fun?”
The Vikings (1-2) try to start a winning streak next week when Interboro visits, while 1-2 Pennridge squares off with North Penn, a top10 team in the statewide 6A rankings.
Perk Valley’s Austin Rowley, Malik Smith (9) and Zach Lomonaco, right, break up a pass for Pennridge’s Ryan Garner at the end of the first half Saturday.
Perkiomen Valley’s Randy Washington is off to the races for a kick return touchdown against Pennridge Saturday.