After the Phoenixville football team began the season with two straight losses, including a 49-14 pasting at the hands of Exeter, a third straight winning campaign for the Phantoms seemed about as likely as Chip Kelly going to a ball-control offense.
Veteran Phoenixville coach Bill Furlong knew better, however.
He knew the Phantoms' first two opponents — Great Valley and the Eagles (who were each unbeaten until losing in Week 5) — were quality squads.
And he knew a new-look roster needed a little time to develop.
Three consecutive wins later, the Phantoms (3-0, 3-2) are undefeated in Pioneer Athletic Conference play as they head into tonight's contest at Perkiomen Valley (3-1, 4-1).
"It's a credit to them,' Furlong said. "They didn't get down with the 0-2 start; they just tried to move forward. They're just getting a little better each day.
"We knew coming in we didn't have any superstars, but we knew if we played together and got better, we'd have an opportunity to win games, and that's what they've done.'
Phoenixville got in the win column with a come-from-behind 19-15 win at Owen J. Roberts, then got some more late heroics in rallying for an 18-13 win over Pottstown. Last week, the Phantoms forced six turnovers en route to a 27-6 victory over Pope John Paul II.
More importantly to Furlong, they've done it in typical Phoenixville fashion — getting blue-collar play and a collective effort on both sides of the ball.
"With us a lot of times, nobody knows anybody's name when the season starts, but by the end of the year they know who these guys are,' Furlong said.
The rest of the league is quickly beginning to come familiar with the Phantoms.
On offense, they feature a rushing attack by committee that includes Justin McDougal (295 yards, three TDs), Rahim Beasley (262, 3 TDs), Matt Palubinsky, Donnie Jackson and quarterback Kyle Karkoska.
Karkoska (296 passing yards, four TDs, one INT) has improved as the season's progressed, while wideout Mackensie Thomas has emerged as a big-play threat who can stretch the field.
The guys up front have been solid, with veterans Paul Hossler and Colin Mea meshing with Mike Vargo, Cory Bird and Dave Rosati to form a cohesive unit, even with Jason Waltman out for the time being due to injury.
That said, the squad's bread and butter is on defense.
The secondary, composed of corners Damien Davido (three interceptions) and Jackson and safeties Karkoska and Ian Brown, is allowing an average of just 79.6 passing yards per game. The linebacking corps of McDougal, Matt Ranisziewski and Zack Gallow has also been solid, according to Furlong. There's also an unselfish attitude prevalent, one epitomized by Palubinksy, a sophomore who has played a number of different positions.
"A lot of these kids are program kids,' Furlong said. "It's not that we didn't think they were good or that we didn't have faith in them (before the season), we just didn't know what to expect. But they've all done whatever we've asked of them.'
Still, Furlong — who returns to the field this week after serving a two-game suspension due to a procedural matter — knows it will be a tall order for the Phantoms to continue their winning ways against the Vikings.
"We'll have our hands full, but we've got to go into the game with the same kind of attitude,' Furlong said. "If they make big plays, we can't put our heads down. We have to fight hard to keep ourselves in position and see what happens.'
After suffering its lone loss, 14-7 to Spring-Ford in Week 3, Perkiomen Valley has bounced back with routs of Owen J. Roberts (49-0) and Pottstown (41-7).
The Vikings defense, which according to coach Scott Reed has gotten big contributions of late from linebackers Danny Light, Pat Delaney and Anthony Rotonda, is allowing an area-low average of 5.6 points per game.
"I'm really proud of their effort,' Reed said. "Even in the Spring-Ford game, they played really well. They've been helping us get field position all year.'
The potent PV offense, meanwhile, has been as advertised through the season's halfway point.
Quarterback Rasaan Stewart has thrown for a league-high 654 yards and 10 touchdowns (with three interceptions) and has run for a team-high 490 yards; back Mark Bonomo has been consistent with 338 rushing yards; and Dakota Clanagan (17 catches, 223 yards, five TDs) and Clay Domine (nine receptions, 140 yards) lead the receiving charge.
What's pleased Reed the most, though, is how the production has been spread out.
"We've been very balanced,' Reed said, "The big difference is that last year it was just a lot of Domine (receiving) and Bonomo (rushing), but this year, while each individual guy's numbers might not be as high, the team scoring is higher. We're getting more guys involved — Ryan O'Donnell has been good in the backfield — and Rasaan is kind of the catalyst that brings it all together.'
The offensive line of Dan Roh, Seth Jonassen, Sean Coyle, Austin Gansz and Dan Keller has also played a key role in PV averaging 34.8 points per game.
Reed and Co. hope to keep that going against the Phantoms, who are likewise trying to continue their successful streak.
"They definitely pose a lot of issues,' Reed said. "They find ways to hang around and they put themselves in position to win at the end of the game.'
AROUND THE AREA
Pottsgrove will hold its "Pink Out' game tonight as the Falcons play host to Owen J. Roberts. Pottsgrove will wear pink jerseys for the contest, designed to raise awareness of cancer and raise money for the cancer center at Phoenixville hospital. ... Pottsgrove is ranked No. 1 in the District 1-AAA power ratings, with Phoenixville fifth. In Class AAAA, Spring-Ford is tied for 11th and Perkiomen Valley is tied for 15th. The full list can be accessed at www.district-one.net. ... Despite downing Class AAAA Spring-Ford 14-7 last week, Pottsgrove moved from ninth to 10th in the latest Pennsylvania Football News state Class AAA rankings. The Falcons are also ranked No. 10 by pennlive.com.
DISTRICT 1 DOINGS
Abington (5-0) plays host to Pennsbury (4-1) in a big Suburban One League National Conference tilt tonight. ... In other key games around the district, Penncrest (5-0) and Garnet Valley (5-0) square off in a Central League showdown, Neshaminy (5-0) visits Council Rock North (4-1) in SOL National Conference play and Bayard Rustin (5-0) travels to Oxford (5-0) in Ches-Mont American Division action.
Former Pottstown coach Brett Myers has Middletown off to a 4-1 start. The Blue Raiders were 1-9 last year. ... Hempfield's Ron Zeiber, who coached at Boyertown from 2002-2007 and at Exeter the nine years prior to that, is one win shy of 100 for his career. ... In a battle for Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 supremacy tonight, Manheim Central (5-0) faces Cocalico (5-0).
Trey Tinsley of El Toro (Calif.) threw for 512 yards and six touchdowns in last week's 42-35 victory over Villa Park, along the way setting a national single-game record for completions (50) and state single-game record for attempts (75). ... Matthew Williams of Lancaster Christian Academy threw for 617 yards — believed to be a Tennessee state record — and seven TDs in a 68-42 win over Northwest . ... Chase VanSchoyck of North Central (Ind.) ran for 581 yards and seven touchdowns in a 71-50 win over Eastern Green.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.