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Rick O'Brien: La Salle-North Penn epic full of highlights

As countless people said afterward, the bout between a pair of Southeastern Pennsylvania football heavyweights couldn't have been scripted any better.

A pass slips through the hands of La Salle's Kevin Foster in the end zone in Saturday's game. North Penn's Trevell Moxey defends.
A pass slips through the hands of La Salle's Kevin Foster in the end zone in Saturday's game. North Penn's Trevell Moxey defends.Read moreAKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer

As countless people said afterward, the bout between a pair of Southeastern Pennsylvania football heavyweights couldn't have been scripted any better.

Well, maybe if it had lasted six or seven overtimes, was decided by a 55-yard field goal or a no-time-on-the clock Hail Mary pass, and drama was added by playing on a snow-covered or rain-pelted turf.

With back-and-forth scoring, No. 1 La Salle and No. 2 North Penn kept spectators at Plymouth Whitemarsh (many watched from outside the stadium) glued to the action for nearly all of the game's 48 minutes.

The Explorers' wild, 38-35 victory in Saturday's PIAA Class AAAA state semifinal wasn't settled until beefy tackle Ryan Geiger intercepted a deflected screen pass with 1 minute, 14 seconds to play. The Knights, out of time-outs, could not land another counterpunch.

Here is a review of the epic, which will long be remembered for its swift shifts in momentum, physical interior tussles, highlight-film catches, make-or-break plays, and overall competitiveness.

Best individual performance. With apologies to La Salle's Jamal Abdur-Rahman and Sean Coleman, North Penn's Dom Taggart, a rugged-as-anything fullback, carried 28 times for 138 yards and four touchdowns. He doubled as an outside linebacker.

Close second. Abdur-Rahman, a speedy tailback and Villanova recruit, rushed 21 times for 142 yards and three scores. In the second half, he produced bursts of 16, 19, and 23 yards. At cornerback, he notched three solo tackles and an assist.

Best catch. In the first quarter, Coleman (five receptions for 118 yards) made a diving, 27-yard grab over the middle. Two plays later, Abdur-Rahman scored from the 2 and Ryan Winslow's extra-point boot made it 7-7.

Best hit. In the third quarter, after Coleman made a 16-yard catch at the North Penn 19, he was nailed instantly by cornerback Danny Wynne. A dazed Coleman had to gather himself before getting up.

Top drive. Down by 31-28 early in the fourth quarter, the Knights put together a 15-play, 87-yard series that was capped by Taggart's 19-yard TD run off right tackle. On fourth and 8 from their own 48, up-back Craig Needhammer took a direct snap in punt formation and darted 8 yards to move the chains, just barely.

Best deflection. Geiger's clinching pick came courtesy of end Joe Naji's lefthanded deflection of a right-side screen pass intended for Taggart. Taggart, had he made the catch at about the La Salle 42, had plenty of open space in front of him. Enough, possibly, to set up a tying field-goal try by Brandon Mandes.

For Geiger, who rumbled 14 yards after cradling the ball, it was his second interception of the season. Against Father Judge in Week 7, he picked off a screen pass and barreled 58 yards for his first career score.

Extras. The Explorers were penalized four times for 44 yards, and the Knights were flagged twice for 20 yards. . . . Needhammer, seeing limited time at tailback after suffering an ankle injury in a quarterfinal win over Neshaminy, carried just three times for 12 yards. He finished the season with 1,373 rushing yards and 16 TDs. Taggart (1,098, 19) and scatback Brandon Mercer (503, six) were next in line. . . . La Salle has zero turnovers in its last three outings. Its last, a fumble, came in the third quarter of the Catholic League final against Roman Catholic. . . . Against the Knights, Geiger posted a team-high 10 tackles, including four solos. Linebacker Connor Daly had five stops, including a fourth-quarter sack. Abdur-Rahman, Naji, free safety Kevin Forster, and tackle Matt Maginnis each made four stops. . . . For North Penn, linebackers Ralphie Reeves (four catches for 95 yards at tight end) and Matt Donovan were both involved in seven tackles. . . . Knights QB Corey Ernst, who was 9 for 18 for 207 yards and a score, threw for 1,983 yards and 22 TDs, with seven INTs, this season. . . . Abdur-Rahman totaled 61 yards on three kick returns.

This and that. Harry S Truman QB Derron Thompson rushed for 1,141 yards and 16 TDs and threw for 450 yards and five scores. Teammate Larry Winton, a fullback, matched Thompson's rushing total. . . . For Upper Perkiomen, QB Casey Perlstein accounted for 1,501 yards passing, 1,023 rushing, and 27 total TDs. His top target, wideout Ronnie Gillespie, had 1,028 yards receiving and 12 TDs. . . . Central Bucks South's Matt Johns hit on 128 of 244 passes for 1,856 yards and 16 TDs. He also rushed for 346 yards and four scores. . . . In District 7's South Fayette, its opponent in Saturday's Class AA final, West Catholic is facing its third straight undefeated foe. In Saturday's 21-7 win over District 4's Lewisburg, Burrs tailback Brandon Hollomon (18 carries for 208 yards) upped his career rushing total to 3,151 yards. He is just 10 yards shy of breaking his brother Rob's school mark.

Championships. Here is the schedule for next weekend at HersheyPark Stadium:


Class A: Riverside (14-1) vs. Clairton (15-0), 2 p.m.

Class AAA: Allentown Central Catholic (15-0) vs. Bishop McDevitt (13-2), 7 p.m.


Class AA: West Catholic (12-2) vs. South Fayette (15-0), noon.

Class AAAA: La Salle (13-1) vs. North Allegheny (14-1), 5 p.m.