By BILL KENNY
For Journal Register News Service
FAIRLESS HILLS – The Pennsbury High School football team almost saw a mirror image of itself in the first round of the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs Friday night.
Problem was, for long stretches of the game, visiting West Chester Rustin looked more like a typical Pennsbury team than the real Falcons did, as the Golden Knights pounded the run in their own version of the winged-T.
Conversely, Pennsbury got virtually nothing going on the ground, only to have sophomore quarterback Breon Clark toss two long touchdown passes and lead the way to a 21-13 Falcons victory.
Sixth-seeded Pennsbury (9-2) advanced to the quarterfinals to play third-seeded Pennridge in Perkasie. Pennridge defeated Abington, 35-14, on Friday. Rustin, the No. 11 seed, finished its season at 8-3.
Like Rustin, Pennsbury is also best-known for the run-oriented winged-T attack. But the Falcons managed just 11 rushing yards as a team in the first half. Clark accounted for all of that positive yardage.
Meanwhile, Clark tossed a 39-yard touchdown pass to halfback Shawn Pepper late in the first quarter, followed by a 52-yarder to split end Anthony Bullaro early in the second quarter as the Falcons took a 14-0 lead into halftime.
Pennsbury’s rushing struggles continued into the third quarter when Rustin narrowed the gap to 14-6 on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dave Fithian to Adam Burke.
Nursing that eight-point lead, Pennsbury finally controlled the ball and the clock in the fourth quarter, stringing together four first downs to eat up almost seven minutes of game clock, then taking a 21-6 lead on Pepper’s 85-yard touchdown run with 1:29 left in regulation.
Pepper’s long run accounted for most of Pennsbury’s 154 rushing yards in the game.
“We were waiting for three quarters to get it going. We’re trying to work it out,” Pennsbury Head Coach Galen Snyder said.
“We could tell they knew what we were doing and we knew what they were doing by the alignments,” Pennsbury defensive back Tony Donovan said. “It came down to manning up. In the second half, we manned up better than they did.”
Rustin seemed more likely to score in the first three quarters. The Golden Knights rushed for 91 yards in the first half and 118 in the game, but they committed two crucial turnovers.
Pennsbury’s Chad Hensor fell on a muffed punt return at the Golden Knights’ 39 to set up the Falcons’ first touchdown. Then Pennsbury’s Tony Donovan fell on a fumble by Rustin’s Burke near midfield to set up Pennsbury’s second score.
“Other than mistakes in the first half, I thought we played them even,” Rustin Head Coach Mike St. Clair said. “I thought our defense was outstanding. The defense played great; the kids played great. We just came up a little short at the end.”
Despite Pennsbury’s ball control in the fourth quarter, Rustin earned a chance to force overtime when it blocked a punt deep in Falcons territory with 3:56 to go in regulation.
Pennsbury’s defense erased the mistake, as Luke Johnson and Victor Delgado sacked Fithian on a fourth-down play.
Pepper’s long touchdown run followed.
Rustin made it a one-possession game with 1:01 to go when Fithian passed 25 yards to Dan Walls for a touchdown, but Pennsbury’s Tommy Hose recovered the ensuing onsides kick.
“The defense played well, but got kind of dicey at the end,” Snyder said.