Upper Perk defensemen Cody Caciolo, left, and Nicholas Kozrad, along with other players, rush to tackle Quakertown's Mike Sawyer as he carries the ball in Friday night's home opener for the Indians.
Talk about a momentum shift.
One minute, Upper Perkiomen ripped off a game-opening score late in the first quarter to cap a 66-yard drive. Just seven seconds later, Quakertown blocks the ensuing extra point and returns the onsides kick 55 yards to the end zone to take the lead and set the tone for the rest of the first half.
Quakertown kept up the pressure from there in last Friday night’s home and season opener, tacking up three unanswered scores. But Upper Perk took control in the final two quarters, pitching a shutout in the second half while adding two scores.
That early deficit, though, proved too much to overcome as the Panthers prevailed, 27-20.
“That’s huge,” said Quakertown head coach George Banas. “Anytime you can respond after a blocked PAT (point after touchdown) by not only not allowing an onsides kick but benefitting from it like we did, that’s huge. That’s a big game-changer.”
Upper Perk did get a chance to tie it up as the Indians had two drives start in Panther territory in the final 10 minutes of regulation. On the first, junior quarterback Dylan Wesley (12-25 for 121 yards) hit a diving Devin Bradley for a 24-yard strike to the Panthers’ 23-yard line.
The drive stalled from there on four downs, but Upper Perk’s defense held, and Zach Chatman partially blocked the punt to give the Indians a fresh set of downs on Quakertown’s 43-yard line.
Upper Perk had a harder time moving the ball this time around, and an incomplete pass on fourth-and-11 turned the ball over to Quakertown with 32 ticks left.
“It was all a mental thing, we have enough young kids that still let their emotions get to them,” said Upper Perk head coach Keith Leamer. “They’re too high when things are going good, and too down on themselves when things go wrong. We did great by scoring first, but then we had a few mental miscues and right away that took our momentum away from us and we couldn’t recover after that.”
Lost in the loss was an unsung effort from tailback John Olson. The senior rushed 19 times for 164 yards and two TDs, scoring on runs of 1 and 29 yards. He set up his first score after a 37-yard run that put the ball on the 6. Two more handoffs, and he was in the end zone.
He later capped the scoring on a 29-yard run off right tackle as he scampered untouched through Quakertown’s defense. The score came thanks to a fourth-down grab from Devyn Kerr on fourth-and-four on the Tribe’s own 46-yard line.
Chatman proved Upper Perk’s workhorse on the defensive side of the ball. The senior end had a busy night, racking up a pair of sacks to go along with nine total tackles as he also blocked a punt and an extra point. He was paced by seven tackles from Dalton Fleming (sack), and five apiece from Cody Caciolo and Nick Kozrad.
Ronnie Gillespie led all receivers with seven grabs for 58 yards but was kept out of the end zone.
Quakertown, which got its first score on Nick Nagele’s onsides return, followed on its next three offensive drives with touchdowns. Senior quarterback Zac Gravelle had two on the ground: his first a seven-yard burst, and the second was a 44-yard keeper down the visitors’ sideline. Gravelle, who led Quakertown with 90 yards rushing, went to the air for his squad’s last touchdown as he hooked up with Matt Roberts for a 20-yard strike. Gravelle finished 8 of 16 for 103 yards passing.
Upper Perk will look to rebound tomorrow night in a non-league showdown at Upper Moreland. The Bears also fell in their season opener in a 42-6 setback to Strath Haven after an 8-4 season in 2010.
“We had too many plays where we made mental mistakes,” Leamer said. “We had a hard time communicating and we can’t simulate that game sound in practice, it’s something we’re going to need to address with experience.”