BLOSSBURG, PA: After four straight losses to the Black Knights of Towanda, this looked like it could be the year that the Panthers of North Penn got the monkey off their backs. The Panthers are stacked with veteran players – returning almost their entire starting line-up from last season. They had everything in place to finally knock-off their Northern Tier League rival. However, in a game marked by mud and mistakes, the Panthers faltered and Towanda continues their reign in the NTL.
Mid-way through the first quarter the Panther defense cam up with a big stop deep in their own territory at the five yard-line. Unfortunately, the offense could not capitalize as they fumbled the ball away on the very next play. The first turn-over of the contest resulted in a five yard touchdown run by Mason Roof and an early 7 – 0 lead for the Knights.
North Penn’s first score came after a 62 yard pitch-and-catch to Marquis Delgado reached the one yard-line. Jason Dehaven then punched it in from there. A failed PAT left the score 7 – 6. Both offenses struggled to move the ball with any consistency – trading possessions after short drives. Part way into the second period, Skye Stiner found the corner and clipped off runs of 25 & 32 yards. Well into the Towanda red-zone, the Panthers inched forward, but were forced to attempt a field goal on fourth-and-goal at the six. Max Colegrove’s 23 yard chip-shot was good and captured the lead at 9 – 7 for North Penn. The score remaind there through half-time.
With momentum in the Panthers’ favor, they kicked-off to Towanda to start the second half. Neither team could generate much offense and traded series twice to start the third quarter. Finally, the Knights found some traction and advanced to the Panther red-zone on a 25 yard catch by Stiner to the 19. Two consecutive penalties marched them back 15 yards, but Zach Ripic regained most of that on a 13 yard carry. An incomplete pass left them with a fourth-and-12 and a decision to make. Coach Dawsey opted for a 39-yard field goal try on the foot of Ripic. The kick was good and gave Towanda a slim lead at 10 – 9 with only 56 seconds left in the third.
On the very next offensive play, “fumble-itis” kicked in again, and the Panthers coughed-up the ball to the Knights at the NP 21. Roof capitalized on this turn-over with a 16-yard score to put Towanda up by eight. From there the Knights defense came up huge. After forcing two 3&out series and burning up precious time off the clock, they went into prevent mode on North Penn’s last shot at tying the game. The Panthers made their way just across mid-field where Dehaven was looking to go long to Delgado down the side-line. With Dehaven’s arm cocked to throw, a blitzing Jordan Dawsey found the ball ripe for the picking. Not only did he get the pick, but he ran it 52 yards for the score to seal the victory 23 – 9.
NORTH PENN(3-1) looks to regroup next week as they travel to Sayre(2-1) to take on the Redskins. The following week will be their next big test at Athens(4-0) in NTL – large school action, as look to compete for a play-off spot in the very competitive district IV “AA” field. In all, they committed five costly turn-overs against the Knights, and generally struggled with consistency on offense. On a brighter note, the defense held a normally potent Towanda offense to only one long drive, and, even then, came up with the stop.
TOWANDA(3-0) hosts a struggling Cowanesque Valley(0-3) next week. The Knights’ next big test will be the following week when they travel to Mifflinburg(4-0) to take on the undefeated Wildcats who just came off a big win, blanking Danville(3-1) 24 – 0. The Heartland Conference cross-over action will be a good litmus test for the Knights’ post-season potential. Tonight, they have their defense to thank for the win in an otherwise close game.