Taking on North Penn in football is somewhat akin to David battling Goliath. On September 27 Council Rock South came within a stone’s throw of upsetting the unbeaten giant before falling 27-24 in overtime.
The Golden Hawks brain trust knew that key to stopping the Knights was thwarting their running game. Matt Checchia, senior safety, summed up South’s battle plan. “We felt we needed to stop the run which is what North Penn wanted to do. They wanted to try and bruise us with their running game. We wanted to get them into a long third down situation where they had to throw. Our D-backs know that when the ball is in the air we have to come down with it.”
The strategy worked to perfection as the Knights, in an attempt to get on the scoreboard, threw three interceptions in the first half. Sam Vaniver picked of two enemy aerials. Matt Checchia turned in what was the most spectacular play of the night when he corralled an errant missile on his own one yard line and then maneuvered his way 99 yards to paydirt.
Matt described the play, saying, “A guy was coming across the middle. It went off his hands. My brother, who is my position coach, always preaches in the tip drill we have to come down with the ball. That’s exactly what happened.”
The big pick with only 51 seconds left in the half resulted in the game’s first score. “I had three fantastic blocks by my teammates downfield; TJ Pritz on the quarterback, Nick Gallo and Derek White had huge blocks. From that point on I was just hoping I wouldn’t run out of gas and no one would catch me. I made it to the endzone. It was 99 yards though I probably ran 140.”
The play proved a big game changer. According to Matt, “It felt like a huge momentum swing for us. The crowd was into it. That got things rolling. We were on a high going into halftime.”
The “high” was accentuated when Vaniver picked off his second interception of the half setting up a 23-yard field goal by Adam Keylin with no time remaining on the scoreboard.
Leading 10-0 going into halftime the Golden Hawks saw little reason to alter their strategy. Matt felt, “Defensively we didn’t really have to switch anything up. We had done a good job getting them into long third down passing situations. Offensively we said let’s take care of the ball. Let’s pound and ground.”
Unfortunately for Council Rock fans, North Penn managed to work itself back into the game. A 26 yard run by Julian White and a 20 yard romp by Nate Brown with a fumble recovery put the Knights on top 14-10 in the fourth quarter..
Calling on its defense once again, the Golden Hawks put on a brave goal line stand to hold North Penn to a field goal with 5:18 left in the game. Matt knew that “We wanted to give our offense one more chance. The offense just needed one drive. It didn’t matter what happened before that. They just needed one drive to put points on the board and score a touchdown and send us into overtime.”
The offense met the challenge, marching 69 yards to score. Quarterback Noah Caldani found Nick Gallo with an 8 yard pass with 20 seconds left on the clock. The drive featured runs by Chase Patterson who in Matt’s estimation was a “beast all night”. Patterson would end up toting the pigskin 26 times for 127 yards.
Patterson’s most convincing run came after North Penn had struck first in overtime on a ten yard run by Solomon Robinson. When South got their chance on offense, Patterson bolted 10 yards up the middle to even the score at 24 all and set up a second overtime.
South, hurt by an offensive pass interference call, failed to score in their series. The defense then rose up once again to halt North Penn’s first three running attempts which placed the game on the strong right foot of North Penn’s Ayoub Cherradi. The Knight’s place kicker was true on his 22 yard field goal.
Though disappointed over the 27-24 loss, the Golden Hawks were far from defeated. Matt saw the game as a confidence builder. “As a team any overtime loss stings a little more because we were that close to beating a really good North Penn team. As a senior class we said that shows we can beat any team.”
Such a positive attitude should help the Golden Hawks in their remaining four league games. “Next week it’s on to Bensalem. We’ll take it one game at a time. Obviously, they are all important. Pennsbury is a home game so I’m sure we will be fired up for that. Then we have to go to Neshaminy and it’s never easy playing on Heartbreak Ridge. Then (Council Rock) North is a rivalry and anything can happen.”
Based on their classic tussle with North Penn, the rest of the season could be a thrilling ride for the Golden Hawks.