Chris James is 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds. He looks like a scat back. He runs like a power back.
James carried the football 33 times for 143 yards and a touchdown to power Neshaminy to a 35-19 victory over visiting North Penn Friday night in a Suburban One League National Division football game.
James led the way as Neshaminy opened a COVID-19-delayed season with an imposing performance against one of the top programs in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Neshaminy coach Steve Wilmot said. “This was a total team effort. Our guys just had a lot of will. They knew what they had to do, and they practiced really hard, and they knew what they had to do, and they did it."
The opening-night victory before a crowd of around 250 socially-distanced spectators in Harry E Franks Stadium stamped Neshaminy as a team to watch in both the SOL division race and in District 1 Class 6A as well.
“This was a huge start for us,” James said. “Now we have all of our confidence. We knew we were a good team, but now we know once we get the ball rolling we’re going to be really good.”
Kickoff for both teams came five weeks later than expected and following a summer of uncertainty as the coronavirus outbreak put fall sports in jeopardy.
“It’s been a real roller coaster ride, for the coaches, for the seniors,” Wilmot said. “I’m just so happy those guys got the chance to get out here.”
Operating behind a sturdy offensive line and with strong work from fullback John Hutchinson and blocking back Tedo Sakhokia, James ran mostly between the tackles as Neshaminy controlled the clock and the line of scrimmage.
“Without those guys, I wouldn’t have had half as many yards,” James said of his blockers. “They did a great job. It was like pee-wee football again, just ground and pound.”
Wilmot said James' leadership sets the tone for his team.
“That’s a Neshaminy I tailback,” Wilmot said. "He doesn’t care that he only weighs 165 pounds. He’s going to run any play we ask him to. We run behind that offensive line. That’s what we want to do.
“He’s a cool cat. He’s the coolest kid we have on our team. He’s the most positive kid we have on our team. He works super-duper hard. He’s the perfect teammate for these guys.”
Neshaminy also got strong work from quarterback Aiden Schlupp, who ran for one score and passed for another, and all-purpose player Gavin O’Connor, who excelled on special teams.
The Neshaminy defense finished the game with a flourish with a pair of sacks.
“That was a great way to finish,” Wilmot said.
Neshaminy used a pair of field goals by Tom Leonhauser, a 1-yard quarterback sneak by Schlupp for a score and a 1-yard touchdown run by James to take a 21-19 lead at the break.
North Penn’s offense was led by junior running back Khalani Eaton and sophomore quarterback Ryan Zeltt.
Eaton carried 14 times for 134 yards and a touchdown. Zeltt was 13-for-28 passing for 145 yards and two touchdowns, a 25-yarder to Maliq Staten and a 17-yarder to Levin Carroll.
Neshaminy’s extra-point defense was the difference in the first half. O’Connor blocked a placement attempt to preserve a 14-13 lead, and Michael Donato knocked down a two-point conversion try after North Penn cut the lead to 21-19 with just 53 seconds left before halftime.
Neshaminy seized command in the fourth quarter with a pair of scores as James’ running fueled a pair of drives that ended with a Hutchinson 9-yard burst into the end zone and Schlupp’s 7-yard touchdown toss to Andrew Kindness.
“We’ve been looking forward to getting here for three months," James said. "But to get out here, and we played great, and got a 'W' makes the feeling even better.”
North Penn 7 12 0 0 -- 19
Neshaminy 6 15 0 14 -- 35
Nesh: Tom Leonhauser 26 FG
NP: Maliq Staten 25 pass from Ryan Zeltt (Daniel Moon kick)
Nesh: Leonhauser 31 FG
Nesh: Aiden Schlupp 1 run (John Hutchinson pass from Schlupp)
NP: Khalani Eaton 36 run (kick fail)
Nesh: Chris James 1 run (Leonhauser kick)
NP: Levin Carroll 17 pass from Zeltt (pass fail)
Nesh: John Hutchinson 9 run (Leonhauser kick)
Nesh: Andrew Kindness 7 pass from Schlupp (Leonhauser kick)