Prep beats Knights in semifinals

District Champ Knights finish memorable season 14-1

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PHILADELPHIA- This one lived up to all the hype. And with 5 minutes left to play, nobody was leaving their seats. The North Penn Knights (14-1) faced the Saint Joseph’s Prep Hawks (13-0) in the PIAA 6A semifinals on Saturday. In a game that could have gone either way, the Hawks were able to better utilize their offensive weapons to clinch the victory 35-25.

The first quarter was all defense from both sides of the field. North Penn knew going into the game that Prep’s senior running back D’andre Swift, Georgia football recruit, was going to be their biggest defensive challenge of the season. Their next biggest challenge was junior Marquez McCray, the Lansdale quarterback, who had Swift and his own speed at his disposal.

The Knights were able to contain Swift and McCray for most of the first quarter, until Swift found an open lane and ran 29 yards into the end zone, putting the Hawks ahead 7-0 (3:00).

“[Swift] is one of the best players I have ever seen with the ball in his hands; he is really special,” said NP Head Coach Dick Beck.

As they usually do, under senior quarterback Reece Udinski, the Knights answered back early in the second quarter. Runs from junior Anthony Andrews and senior Nick Dillon preceded a spot on pass from Udinski to senior Ricky Johns that took him 14 yards into the end zone (10:46).

The momentum from the touchdown was short lived, however, because Prep returned junior Kelly Macnamara’s kickoff for an 81 yard touchdown seconds later to regain their lead 14-7 (Terrence Greene, 10:30).

The score remained 14-7 going into halftime.

During halftime, the Knights gained a much needed energy and confidence boost.

Offensively, North Penn played the way they have been playing all year. Udinski escaped the pocket and lobbed the classic deep pass to Ricky Johns who made the play for a gain of 27 yards. Then, immediately after, Udinski used his aerial prowess to find junior Justis Henley in the end zone to tie up the game 14-14 (30 yards, 5:00).

“We did come out a little flat in the beginning, but in the second half we came out playing well. I thought we played our hearts out, and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” said Udinski.

I thought we played our hearts out, and I couldn’t be more proud of our guys”

— Senior quarterback, Reece Udinski

The North Penn defense came up big against Prep in the third quarter, with big plays by junior Owen Thomas and seniors Dan Drop, Nick Vasger, and Jake Hubler. Thomas and his defensive crew contained Prep’s explosive offense by putting heavy pressure on McCray and keeping a close eye on Swift, who was difficult to bring down.

The North Penn defense also showed up big when they forced the Hawks to punt, and junior Owen Verespy blocked the kick, putting the Knights on Prep’s 40 yard line (1:30).

With sixty seconds on the clock counting down the third quarter, the Knights were edging towards the end zone, but as the time ran out, their chances of scoring touchdown dwindled as well. North Penn decided to bring out Macnamara, who earned a 28 yard field goal, putting the Knights ahead 17-14 instead (0:22).

It was obvious from the momentum of the whole game, that the fourth quarter would most certainly not remain 17-14.

Within the first minute of the fourth quarter, the Hawks regained their lead 21-17 after a perfect handoff between McCray and Swift, taking Swift into the end zone (27 yards, 11:08).

McCray utilized his rushing powerhouse again to extend the Hawks’ lead 28-17 (Swift, 11 yards, 7:48).

Udinski did not let the touchdowns get to him, and within a few minutes, senior Nick Dillon rushed into the end zone, and a two point conversion pass to Johns cut Prep’s lead 28-25 (6:25).

“Everyone always talks about our passing game, but tonight our running game was steady. I’m proud of our offensive line, and Nick who runs the ball well,” said Udinski.

After an impressive defensive attack, North Penn regained possession of the ball, and they had four minutes, 40 yards, and a fresh set of downs to either score a touchdown, or attempt a field goal to tie up the game. However, a North Penn fumble was recovered by the Hawks, and any chances the Knights had of scoring again became slim to none (3:05).

“We battled all night long. I was so proud of the guys. We had a shot to win it at the end, but we just came up a little short,” said Beck.

Prep then took possession for the last three minutes, and they capitalized on them as well. McCray saw that Swift still had 58 yards left in him, which took him to the 1 yard line, and soon after, put him in the end zone to end the game (Swift, 1 yard, 0:35).

It was an interesting night for quarterback McCray, who grew up in Landsdale, playing football with many of the North Penn Knights.

“It was great winning, and it was fun playing against my childhood friends,” said McCray.

Tonight, Reece Udinski threw over 4,000 yards in the 2016 season, making him the third quarterback in Pennsylvania history to do so.

They left it all on the field. This team will be special in my heart forever”

— Head Coach Dick Beck

“Reece has had such a great year, and he will be the first one to tell you he doesn’t have a great year without his great receivers and the offensive line blocking. He has been a joy to coach,” said Beck.

Despite the score, Beck truly believed that his team played a game they should be proud of.

“They left it all on the field. This team will be special in my heart forever,” said Beck.

It was clear from the Knight’s sidelines after the game that the North Penn team really is a family. They’ve won together, and they’ve lost together, but they’ve always had each other.

“My favorite part about this season was playing with my brothers,” said senior Jake Hubler, who has been playing with many of his teammates since back in his Cannoneer’s football days.

“The guys I’m playing with are my best friends; it’s something special,” said Udinski.

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