Five weeks ago, after sustaining a hit to his left leg in a regular-season finale against Pennridge, North Penn's James Fielder thought his season - and high school career - might be over.
"It was a deep thigh hematoma," said the senior, a running back and rotating defensive end. "The bruise was 101/2 inches long and 21/2 inches wide. I was in a leg immobilizer for two weeks."
Fielder missed the squad's first two PIAA District 1 Class AAAA playoff games and returned to action Nov. 25 in a 27-3 win over Pennsbury.
"It was a day-to-day thing," he said. "I did a lot of stretching and applied ice and heat to speed up the recovery process. I feel lucky to be back out there and playing."
North Penn was thankful to have Fielder, a fierce competitor, in the lineup Saturday in a state semifinal rematch with La Salle.
Getting more carries than usual, the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder gained 104 yards on 20 attempts to help the Knights fight past the Explorers, 21-14, before an overflow crowd at Northeast.
The extra work came as a result of a shoulder injury to junior tailback Kyle Mayfield in a 34-14 semifinal romp over Council Rock South. Mayfield had just three touches against La Salle.
"Coach [Dick] Beck told him during the week that it was going to be 'The Fielder Show,' and I think that's pretty much what happened," North Penn senior quarterback Corey Ernst said.
Fielder's bullish running paved the way for all three of Ralph Reeves' touchdowns. "He's unbelievable," Ernst said. "He has the most heart on the team, I think."
In snapping an 0-for-3 skid against the Explorers, the Knights (13-2) moved closer to their first state title since 2003. On Saturday at 6 p.m. at HersheyPark Stadium, they will take on District 3's Central Dauphin (14-1) for top honors.
"It's an incredible feeling," said Fielder, who notched three tackles. "It's a feeling that can't be compared to anything else. We worked so hard for this."
Fielder, senior two-way end Shayne Watson and junior linebacker Bobby McDonald are sporting a Mohawk hairstyle. Watson did the honors.
"Everyone loves the Mohawk," Fielder, of Montgomeryville, said with a laugh. "It shows a different side of me, I guess you could say."
North Penn-La Salle. In the fourth quarter, the Explorers' defense turned the Knights away on three fourth-down tries in La Salle territory. On the first attempt, end Matt Maginnis and linebacker Mike Piscopo corralled Ernst at the 2. On the next two, Maginnis stopped Fielder for no gain at the 25 and dumped him for a 1-yard loss at the 42. . . . North Penn outside linebacker Matt Smith and Watson registered six and five solo tackles, respectively. Reeves, a middle linebacker, and tackle Derek Brandt each were involved in six stops. . . . La Salle's leading receivers were Colin Buckley (six catches for 63 yards, 12-yard TD) and Sean Coleman (five for 64). Coleman played despite a right-foot injury suffered a week earlier. . . . For the Explorers, linebacker Sean Burke posted 14 tackles, including nine solos. Next in line were cornerback Chris Rocco (10 tackles, 8 solo), linebacker John Palermo (8, 4), and Maginnis (7, 5). . . . North Penn netted 280 rushing yards on 56 attempts. . . . In the three previous meetings, the Explorers outscored the Knights in the second half by a combined 76-20.
Class AAA. In Friday's Class AAA semifinal against Allentown Central Catholic, Archbishop Wood racked up 635 yards of offense en route to a 70-14 victory. Wood netted 565 rushing yards on 38 attempts, and Joey Monaghan converted 3 of 7 throws for 70 yards. . . . Wood's Desmon Peoples (12 carries for 181 yards, two TDs) and Brandon Peoples (10 for 131, three TDs) gave way in the second half to Ryan McMullen (5 for 99, two TDs), Josh Messina (two for 85, one TD), and Jake Cooper (four for 57). . . . Wood's Nate Smith totaled 173 yards on four punt returns. His third-quarter TD return covered 63 yards. . . . On a second-quarter kickoff, Nick Visco (seven PATs) hustled down and tackled ACC returner Kevin Gulyas at the 20. . . . In the first half, ACC's Brendan Nosovitch, a South Carolina commit, connected on 22 of 42 passes for 238 yards and two scores. Overall, he was 24 for 53 for 262.
Extra points. Plymouth Whitemarsh's Xavier Ellington carried 122 times for 1,037 yards and 12 TDs this season. He also had 17 receptions for 246 yards and five scores. . . . Chichester's Laquan Lambert had 46 catches for 673 yards and seven TDs. . . . For Springfield (Montco), back Max Vido (76 tackles) and ends Clay Ewell (68) and Luke Wheatley (59) led the way on defense. Ewell rushed 175 times for 1,400 yards and 16 TDs. He finished his career with a school record of 3,125 yards. . . . Upper Perkiomen's John Olson rushed 251 times for 1,486 yards and 16 TDs. . . . Cordairo Taylor (140 carries for 1,204 yards, 11 TDs) and Conor Burke (143 for 1,018, 16) helped West Chester Rustin to its fourth straight Ches-Mont League American Conference crown.
Last week's ranking in parentheses.
1. Archbishop Wood (1) 13-1
2. North Penn (3) 13-2
3. La Salle (2) 12-2
4. Council Rock South (4) 12-2
5. Neshaminy (5) 8-4
6. Pennsbury (6) 9-4
7. Downingtown East (7) 9-3
8. Abington (8) 10-2
9. Garnet Valley (9) 11-2
10. Cent. Bucks South (10) 8-4
Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Malvern Prep (9-2), Roman Catholic (8-3), St. Joseph's Prep (7-4), West Catholic (10-4), West Chester Henderson (8-3).
- Rick O'Brien