On an extended Thanksgiving Day weekend packed with heated rivalries and great games, the one I missed may have been the best of them all. The Pennridge Rams hosted the neighboring Quakertown Panthers in the traditional "Turkey Day Bowl" Thursday morning, and by all accounts it was a game for the ages. Fittingly, Pennridge kicker Dan Caya booted a 31-yard field goal as time expired to give his team a dramatic 31-28 victory over a very good Quakertown team.
Unfortunately for me, I was not amongst the large number of spectators in attendance. Days earlier, Brooks Peters, a friend who knew that I would be in the area for the holiday, extended an invitation to join their group at the game. The details aren't important except to say that I was someplace other than Poppy Yoder field on Thursday morning.
Quakertown came into the game already having had a very successful season. By virtue of an 8-3 record, the Panthers had earned the 12th seed in the PIAA District One Class AAAA playoffs. Pennridge entered the contest having had an up and down season with a 5-6 mark, but also with an abundance of young talent that matured throughout the season.
When it comes to traditional rivalries such as this one, previous records are often not a great predictor of what to expect. With adrenaline flowing and extra time to prepare, it was certainly reasonable to expect a highly competitive game, but few would have envisioned one of the most dramatic games in the 80 year history of the series.
The game featured 7 lead changes, seesawing back and forth until Caya's kick went through the uprights at the final buzzer. As you might expect in such a great game, too many players to mention made important contributions, but a handful on each side really stood out.
Rams junior Caya both started and finished the scoring, kicking a total of 3 field goals and two extra points on the day. He also barely missed another field goal when his 47-yard attempt sailed just right at the end of the first half. And, he had to endure three timeouts to ice him, along with a false start, before banging his fateful game winner through the goal posts.
Panthers QB Ryan Tincknell threw 2 touchdown passes. He hit teammate Joe Able for a 25-yard strike in the first quarter to grab a 7-3 lead. And, with his team trailing by seven, he connected with tight end Mike Olimpo from 37 yards out with just 1:54 remaining in the game. After kicker Rachel Dolly tacked on the extra point, the score was suddenly knotted at 28-28. Another large contributor on the day for the Panthers was running back Tony Latronica, who rushed for 107 yards on 17 carries. He also scored a second quarter touchdown that had given Quakertown a 14-10 lead. And, besides catching a couple passes for 29 yards, senior Kurtis Roberts returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown to give his team a 21-20 lead in the 3rd quarter.
For the Rams, junior QB Kyle Peters provided the steadying influence and made some big contributions along the way. Kyle, following in the accomplished foot steps of his father Brooks as Pennridge Rams QB, connected on 5 of 8 passes for 101 yards. He also ran for a score in the second quarter and sparked the Rams fourth quarter touchdown by hitting Dylan Moore on a 64-yard pass to the 6-yard line.
Junior running back Jesse Knepp ran it in from there for his second touchdown of the game. Knepp also scored from a yard out in the second quarter and amassed 177 yards rushing for the game. When Knepp wasn't getting the ball, Kyle Peters was handing off to his younger brother Carter Peters. The sophomore racked up 96 yards on 16 carries, including some big runs on the winning drive.
To recap, here is the dizzying second half. After Caya gave Pennridge a 20-14 with a 3rd quarter field goal, Roberts returned a punt to put Quakertown back in the lead at 21-20. Knepp put the Rams on top with a 6-yard run after the Peters to Moore 64-yard connection. Peters then completed a 2-yard pass to get the two point conversion to make it 28-21. The Panthers fought back, completing a drive with a 37-yard Tincknell to Olimpo scoring strike to tie the game. With almost 2 minutes left on the clock, the Rams countered with a series of runs to get in position for the Caya game winner. Wow!
It was a great day to be a Ram or one of their fans. It was a great day to be a Peters. Although the Panthers and their fans went home disappointed, all that played in or watched the game will take with them the memory of being part of one of the greatest games ever played by the schools. Unfortunately, I wasn't there to see it.