The La Salle Explorers defeated the North Penn Knights in the 2017 season opener 41-28. The game looked like a blowout early in the second half but changed course quickly and set up a dramatic 4th quarter.
One year ago, North Penn defeated LaSalle 33-24 in week 1 of what would be a 14-1 season for the Knights. It was a different story entirely this time as the Explorers held a 28-0 lead until midway through the third quarter.
It was all LaSalle in the first half as the Explorers ran all over North Penn. The Knights could not get anything going offensively. Meanwhile, LaSalle’s running game was clicking on all cylinders.
The run first option offense relied on the legs of junior quarterback Isaiah Jones and junior running back Manny Quiles. The two of them controlled the game throughout the first half, as North Penn had no answer for them.
At halftime LaSalle led 21-0 after Quiles had two rushing touchdowns and Jones had one.
After kicking off the second half, it appeared to be more of the same as Jones found junior wide receiver Brett Mallee for a 28-yard reception in North Penn territory before being tackled at the 1-yard line. On the next play, Quiles punched it in for his third rushing touchdown of the night to make it 28-0 with 8:48 left in the third quarter.
These would be the last points LaSalle would score until 6:46 left in the fourth. On North Penn’s possession following the touchdown, they went three and out and were forced to punt. On the ensuing punt, the ball bounced off the helmet of a LaSalle player and was recovered by North Penn junior wide receiver Nick Intrieri at the LaSalle 20-yard line.
This turnover was the spark that North Penn needed as it ignited their offense for 21 unanswered points.
Two plays later, junior running back Xzavier Gorski rushed for a 17-yard touchdown. After a missed PAT, the score was 28-6 with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
The North Penn defense came out inspired by the offense and special teams as they bottled up LaSalle’s running game for the rest of the 3rd quarter. After forcing LaSalle to go three and out, senior quarterback Brandon Kennedy found senior wide receiver Justin Henley for a 75-yard reception.
Kennedy was pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Junior running back Patrick O’Neil finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. The Knights would go for two and convert as Kennedy found senior tight end Owen Thomas in the back of the end zone.
At the end of the third quarter, North Penn had cut the lead in half as the score was 28-14.
The defense continued to stand tall and forced LaSalle to go three and out again. Less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, North Penn was threatening again. Kennedy found Henley in the back of the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. After Henley made a spectacular leaping catch, North Penn closed the point gap and trailed by only one touchdown. The score was 28-21 with 10:44 remaining.
At this point North Penn had all the momentum. No one could be blamed for thinking that they were going to come all the way back and win the game. However, a pair of fourth down decisions late in the game proved costly.
With 7:43 left in the fourth quarter, North Penn faced a fourth and third from their own 30-yard line. Coach Dick Beck elected to go for it, but the pass was batted down at the line and they were forced to turn it over on downs.
With LaSalle suddenly deep in North Penn territory, the Knights had given LaSalle an opportunity to take the momentum back.
Less than a minute later, Jones rolled out on a third and long to hit freshman wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. for a 27-yard touchdown. Harrison, the son of former Indianapolis Colts’ WR Marvin Harrison, showed shades of his father by making a brilliant diving catch.
The score was now 35-21 with 6:46 remaining.
On their next possession, North Penn again went for it on fourth down, this time from their own 25-yard line. Once again they failed to convert after Kennedy’s pass landed out of bounds when he overthrew his receiver.
On the very next play, Jones hit Mallee for a 24-yard gain before he was pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line. One play later, Jones found Mallee again for a 1-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was blocked, but at that point it didn’t matter as LaSalle led 41-21 with 5:29 remaining.
North Penn did add a touchdown to make it 41-28 with 1:12 left, but it was too little too late as LaSalle held on to avenge last season’s loss.
North Penn will look to bounce back next week as they travel to Downingtown East to begin a four game road trip. LaSalle will look to make it two road victories in a row next week against McDonogh.
(Photo Credit: Wave Lane)