In the early part of Rick Pennypacker's 25-year tenure as Pottsgrove football coach, qualifying for postseason play was a big deal for the Falcons.
"Some people are just happy to be there, and that's the way it used to be here when we first started making the playoffs,' Pennypacker said.
In recent seasons, however, the Falcons have had more of a big-picture approach.
"This is our ' second season,' and they know that,' Pennypacker said. "We want to go there and do well. Now, it's a one-game season every week.'
That season begins Friday for the Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Falcons as well as fellow league squads Spring-Ford, Perkiomen Valley and Phoenixville.
Top seed Pottsgrove (10-0) plays host to eighth seed Phoenixville (4-6) in a District 1-AAA quarterfinal, while in District 1-AAAA first-round games No. 12 seed Spring-Ford (8-2) visits No. 5 Downingtown West (8-2) and No. 15 seed Perkiomen Valley (8-2) travels to No. 2 seed Bayard Rustin (10-0).
The Falcons, who were ousted by Henderson in the district semifinals last year, won District 1-AAA titles in 2009 and 2011 — and are hoping the odd-year motif can continue.
"Our kids have been there before,' Pennypacker said. "They know how it works and understand it. To be honest, this week has been one of the best weeks of practice we've had.'
Pottsgrove features a rock-solid defense led by the linebacking duo of Jeff Adams and Tyrone Parker and corners Mike Fowler and Marquis Barefield.
On the other side of the ball, Barefield has rushed for a team-high 1,380 yards (second in the area) to go along with an area-best 22 total touchdowns. Fowler has been a playmaker at wideout, with eight of his 12 receptions going for touchdowns, with fullback Sene Polamalu providing a powerful between-the-tackles rushing presence. Quarterback Riley Michaels has thrown sparingly (16-for-32 on the season), but made them count with 10 touchdown passes.
"We are trying to win and move on,' Pennypacker said. "But at the same time we want to improve in practice and get better every day.'
The Phantoms have shown improvement of late, despite a season-long slew of injuries that has made things difficult for coach Bill Furlong's crew.
Junior Donnie Jackson stepped in at quarterback for Kyle Karkoska, who was injured against Boyertown four games ago. And there is a promising sophomore contingent led by emerging linebacking force Matt Raniszewski, versatile two-way threat Matt Palubinsky and lineman Mike Vargo.
"We have a lot of kids playing now that weren't when the season started,' Furlong said. "They're young and working hard, and hopefully it's going to pay off. We have a bright future, and we have to take advantage of every opportunity we get. It's a great opportunity to make the playoffs and play Pottsgrove. We're trying to focus on those positives and play better.'
That said, it will likely be an uphill struggle against the Falcons, who defeated the Phantoms 52-14 three weeks ago.
"Obviously, they're a good team, but what we have to worry about is us,' Furlong said. "We need to play better, cut down on mistakes and do a better job of executing. If we block everyone we're supposed to block and stay on them until the whistle, that will give us a chance.'
In the 1-AAAA field, Spring-Ford is hoping its memorable experience of advancing to the district final last year will give the Rams a chance to take down Downingtown West.
The Rams feature one of the most dynamic backs in all of District 1 (and the state as well) in senior Jarred Jones, who has rushed for 1,380 yards and 20 touchdowns despite missing two games. Jones has eye-popping averages of 172.5 rushing yards per game and 10.8 yards per carry, and didn't play in both of his team's losses (a 37-21 Week 1 setback to Whitehall and 14-7 Week 5 loss to Pottsgrove). The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Jones is 203 rushing yards shy of 4,000 for his career.
Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker has had somewhat of a revolving door at quarterback, and indicated senior Matt Daywalt (who spent most of the year on the defensive line) will get the starting nod against the Whippets.
"At this point of the year, you have to be able to go down the field,' Brubaker said. "Matt gives us the best chance to do that.'
Spring-Ford's defense, led by down lineman Robby Varner and Mason Romano and linebacker Andy Lovre-Smith, has given up just 17 total points over the past five weeks, and has a plus-16 turnover margin over the past six games.
"Our mantra has always been that we go on the field expecting to win,' Brubaker said. "Our coaching staff isn't married to anything in particular; we're going to do what we feel it takes to win the game. We've been telling our kids that District 1 is wide open, and they're excited for the opportunity. If you protect the football and play good defense, you're always going to have a shot.'
Downingtown West has won seven straight games since a 1-2 start, including a 24-7 victory over defending 1-AAAA champ Coatesville last week that secured the Ches-Mont League's National Division title. A defensive effort led by the front four of Pat Coyne, Mike Withka, Brandon Peterson and Eric Stanko held the Raiders' high-octane attack to just 180 total yards.
"You watch them on film and you can tell they just play with passion,' Brubaker said. "They're not a huge or physically imposing team, but you never see guys taking a play off. They're a very sound team, and it's going to be a real challenge.'
That will also be the case for Perkiomen Valley, which is making its first district playoff appearance since 2007 (and just the second in coach Scott Reed's 10 years at the helm).
Since defeating Methacton 14-6 in its opener, Rustin hasn't had a game closer than 13 points. The Golden Knights feature workhorse back Terry Loper — the leading rusher in the Ches-Mont League with 1,658 yards and 22 touchdowns — on offense and linebacker Sean Steinmetz on defense.
"They're not fancy,' Reed said. "They line up, and it's like, ' Here we are, can you stop it?' That's always our challenge, because we're not overly big on the defensive side of the football. It's going to come down to our ability to run to the ball and tackle, and to use our speed to be able to contest their big offensive linemen.'
By the same token, Rustin will have to deal with a multi-faceted PV offense quarterbacked by star Rasaan Stewart, who has completed 99 of 168 passes for a PAC-10 high of 1,451 yards and 19 touchdowns while also rushing for 836 yards and 11 TDs. For his career, Stewart has 3,821 passing yards and 40 TDs and 2,582 rushing yards.
Senior Mark Bonomo has rushed for a team-high 842 yards and nine TDs, with the receiving tandem of Clay Domine (29 catches, 485 yards, seven TDs) and Dakota Clanagan (29-405 yards, nine TDs) providing a dose of double trouble for opposing secondaries.
"We're going to need to make plays, get first downs and attack the entire field,' Reed said. "We were knocking on the door last year and just missed it (the district tourney), so we're very excited.'
As are the other three PAC-10 squads as they prepare for district tourney action.
AROUND THE AREA
Spring-Ford assistant coach Steve Schein was inducted into the Bristol Township School District Athletic Hall of Fame last weekend. ... The mind-boggling 88 plays run by Boyertown last week against Pottsgrove gave the Bears 647 in PAC-10 play, shattering Perkiomen Valley's record of 562 set last year. The Bears' 3,713 total yards fell shy of PV's record 3,840 of last season. Speaking of Boyertown, senior running back Cody Richmond's 46 carries against the Falcons established a Berks County single-game record. ... Methacton (6-4) can notch its first seven-victory campaign since 2000 with a win over 0-10 Norristown Saturday.
DISTRICT 1 DOINGS
Defending 1-AAAA champ Coatesville has been hit hard on the injury front of late, with Penn State-bound star running back Daquan Worley (torn ACL) and quarterback Jordan Young has week-to-week with a sprained finger. That doesn't bode well for the Red Raiders' first-round meeting with red-hot North Penn, which has won seven straight since an 0-3 start. ... Neshaminy running back D'Andre Pollard has run for 1,948 yards and 24 touchdowns heading into the Redskins' district opener against Unionville. ... West Chester East quarterback Jon Jon Roberts has thrown for 2,468 yards and 20 TDs.
Since Berks Catholic was formed in 2011 (combining Reading Holy Name and Central Catholic), the Saints are 25-6 overall. Junior running back Pop Lacey, who transferred from Daniel Boone last offseason, has a team-high 654 rushing yards for Berks Catholic (10-0), which faces Newport (6-4) in a District 3-AA quarterfinal Friday. ... Aliquippa's Dravon Henry enters Friday's WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal against Quaker Valley with 5,220 career rushing yards and a gaudy 17.5 yards per carry average for this season. ... Northern Bedford freshman wide receiver Jacob Dasher has 60 receiptions for 876 yards and nine touchdowns.
Quarterback J.T. Waters of Palmetto Christian Academy (South Carolina) ran for 462 yards and seven touchdowns on 29 carries in last week's 64-34 victory over Heyward Academy. ... Tucker Israel of Lake Nona (Fla.) threw for 526 yards in a 56-7 win over Harmony to give him 9,760 passing yards for his career. ... Elijah Marks of Desert Edge (Arizona) had 12 receptions for 324 yards and three TDs in a 55-16 win over Agua Fria to set a state single-season receiving yards mark at 1,802.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.