by Jody Kessler
Unfortunately someone had to lose on Saturday. Fortunately for the Explorers it was North Penn. LaSalle won a East final game for the ages, sending them to the state championship next week to be played at Hershey Park.
In a rematch of the first game of the year that LaSalle won, North Penn’s only loss, the teams traded scores all day. Finally, after a Matt Magarity touchdown pass to Sean Coleman had put them up 38-35, the Explorer’s stopped the Knights. Joe Naji tipped a pass and Ryan Geiger intercepted it with about one minute left t o go. North Penn was out of timeouts and could not stop the clock as Magarity took a knee.
Magarity shone on the day, completing 10 out of 19 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Coleman had a big day receiving. Jamal Abdur-Rahman had his usual huge game, with 142 yards on 21 carries, and three touchdowns. Kevin Forster had a couple big catches too. The game was just incredible. The lead went back and forth all day, no one turning away from the pressure.
The Knights scored first, after LaSalle went three and out on their first drive. Dominic Taggart got the first of his three touchdowns. LaSalle would answer. Magarity had two huge passing plays to Coleman on the drive setting up an Abdur-Rahman touchdown.
The tie would not last very long. North Penn quarterback Corey Ernst executed a play action pass to Ralph Reeves for a touchdown on the first play, good for a 55 yard score. LaSalle came right back, with a long drive that ended in a Magarity touchdown to Tim Wade to tie the score at 14. LaSalle then took the lead for the first time. After recovering a fumble on the kickoff Kevin Winslow kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 17-14 lead. On the Knights next drive they pulled off the first of many fourth down conversions on the day. This one came on a fourth and goal from the one. A gutsy call, Taggart pounded it in for a score and a Knight lead. The 21-17 lead would hold for halftime.
LaSalle would have to come back in the second half, something they have been able to do all year, and especially recently. They were down last week against Easton as well. Abdur-Rahman gave them great field position after the Explorers stopped North Penn on the first drive. Abdur-Rahman returned the punt to the 26-yard line. A pass-interference gave them first and goal and then Abdur-Rahman punched it in for a nine yard score and a 24-21 lead.
What would North Penn do? Come right back of course! After another fourth down conversion Taggart would score again with 5:19 left in the third quarter. LaSalle answered, Abdur-Rahman with a big run setting up another score for the Villanova bound senior. The Explorers defense then came up with the second of their three turnovers when Coleman intercepted a pass. They could not take momentum though, having to punt. Penn answered with a long drive leading to a score that featured a fake punt. Taggart scored again for a 35-31 lead with 4:43 left to go.
The season came down to this. Forster returned the kick to the 38-yard line. With the loud Penn crowd screaming Abdur-Rahman ran all the way to the 40 of Penn. Wade then ran for five. Then Abdur-Rahman had another first down. Magarity then tried the endzone, and it was just off Forster’s hands. Abdur-Rahman then ran for another five yards. From the 25 Magarity found Coleman, whose defender fell down and Coleman walked into the endzone. They led 38-35 with 2:21 to go. On the ensuing kickoff it looked the Penn receiver fumbled and recovered the ball. Penn would drive to try to once again answer. They had a fourth down and converted, but on the next play Naji made the play of the game, tipping an Ernst screen pass. Geiger picked it off and LaSalle was headed back to the state championship after winning it all last year.
“It’s what it’s all about and it’s as nerve racking as it gets,” said coach Drew Gordon. “Two great football teams. You couldn’t have written a better script, two best teams in this part of the state. I thought our special teams did a great job. Our defense, the last drive they stopped them. What a classic game. Our kids responded, we stayed right with them punch for punch and I guess we got the last one in.”
Geiger said when he caught the ball it, “felt pretty great because I knew the game was over right there. I had fun doing it and the team is ready for Hershey next week.”
“You knew it was going to be a good game,” said Coleman, a sophomore. “It was so much fun out there. They’re such a good team so it’s good to come out with a win. Every game other people are going to step up. Magarity was perfect today, every pass was right there so it made my job easy. It’s great, I’m just grateful. We’re going to get a good week of practice and go out there and play our hardest.”
Naji, a senior captain said of his tip, “I’m so happy I was able to get my fingers on it and it fell into Ryan’s lap. Thank God he caught it. It was intense. Their offense was firing at all cylinders, we were struggling a little bit to stop them, it was a shootout.”
About next week he said, “I’m fired up. I’m ready, I’m excited about it.”
Magarity, a junior, said, “I’m thinking about next week, going to Hershey to play for a state championship, it’s been our goal since day one. We’ve always s been able to run the ball but when they started loading up the box like they did we had to throw. The coaches had confidence in me. Coleman made a lot of great plays to help me get in my flow. I have every confidence the coaches know what we need to do, getting to throw it’s always fun for the quarterback.”