TOWAMENCIN — Last season ended with the North Penn football team reaching the District 1-AAAA final for the fifth time in six years.
But it might have been hard to think the Knights would have been in that game considering the way they started 2013.
Facing Philadelphia Catholic League heavyweights La Salle, Archbishop Wood and St. Joseph's Prep, North Penn was outscored 118-16 and sat 0-3 after three weeks for the first time since 1989.
“We started off, we played the District 12 runner-up (La Salle), we play the Quad A state champion (Prep) and the Triple A state champion (Wood). I think we were better for it, but we were beat up, too,” North Penn coach Dick Beck said. “And, you know, a bounce here or there against (Central Bucks) East, could not have even made the playoffs.”
North Penn and CB East played a scoreless half in Week 4 before NP pulled away for a 27-0 win. The Knights strung together nine more wins after that before Neshaminy handed them a 42-7 loss in the district final.
“I think we had to dumb it down a little bit, we tried to do a little too much early. We got some injuries, especially after the Wood game, we had some injuries,” Beck said. “So, I'm hoping that we have a little bit more depth this year than we did last year against La Salle.
“Last year, we had a couple kids go down with some dehydration situations that were playing both ways that really put us behind the eight ball. And we're hoping we got enough depth that we don't have that issue when we play La Salle this year.”
While North Penn showed it can bounce back from a rough opening, Beck is looking for this team to avoid the situation against another non-league slate of PCL teams.
“That's what we're hoping, that we start stronger than last year, and build on it,” Beck said. “I think we're going to be really challenged especially in the league. Our goal from Day 1 is to win the league championship. If we can figure out a way to do that, the playoffs are usually gravy.”
The Knights' chance at a fast start begins Aug. 29 when they host La Salle Aug. 29 at Crawford Stadium. NP stays at home the next two weeks, first taking on West Catholic — which went 9-3 last season — then getting another shot at Archbishop Wood.
“We will find out early, we will definitely find out early. And we'll make changes accordingly,” Beck said. “But La Salle looks very good on film and obviously Wood being nationally ranked. And I don't know much about West Catholic, but they've got a great reputation.”
Tuesday, the Knights were out for another morning practice with a promising group that heads into a newly-realigned Suburban One League National Conference. North Penn returns four starters on the offensive line, 1,000-yard rusher Nyfease West and solid core on defense, including safety Mike Burns and defensive backs Michael Liddy and Marquise Watson.
“We're all working hard out here. A lot of guys with a lot of energy, everybody's busting their butts,” senior offensive lineman Frank Tranzilli said. “We're practicing hard, so I think we're getting there. We definitely have some stuff to work on, but we're definitely working.”
La Salle has defeated North Penn in the teams' Week 1 matchups the past four seasons — beating NP 34-7 last year — along with win five of the past six over the Knights. North Penn's last win over the Explorers was in the 2011 PIAA 4A semifinals.
“I don't know, whenever we play La Salle, the people hit harder, people are making plays,” senior Liddy said. “So, it's just a different game, tired of losing.”
West Catholic, meanwhile, has won the PCL Class AA Division the past six years and has won a PIAA title in 2010. Archbishop Wood — which topped North Penn 49-3 in Week 2 last year — won its second state AAA championship in three seasons in 2013.
“The first three games last year, we were unprepared. We were going in cocky,” Liddy said. “But this year we're working hard and we're confident that we're ready to go.”
Follow Mike Cabrey on Twitter @mpcabrey.