North Penn to rely on explosive offense vs. St. Joseph's Prep in 6A semifinal

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North Penn defenders John Haynes ,15, and Dan Drop,17, react after stopping the Garnet Valley offense on a third down last weekend. Mark C Psoras

While this North Penn team might not be as physically talented or dominant as some of Dick Beck's previous best squads, the Knights are making a serious run at their first state championship since 2003.

A tight-knit and savvy group of seniors, a potent passing attack, a bend-but-don't-break defense, and a speedy and sure-handed receiving corps have been the key ingredients in this year's drive to Hershey.

Now, in what is a dramatic step up in competition, North Penn (14-0) will take on fellow unbeaten St. Joseph's Prep (12-0) in a PIAA Class 6A state semifinal at 5 p.m. Saturday at Northeast.

The scorching-hot Hawks have outscored foes by 486-187, averaged nearly 247 yards rushing and 170 passing per game, and appear primed to capture their third state crown in four seasons.

"They're quick. They have a huge offensive line. They have a terrific running back. Their quarterback is a threat to throw and run the ball, and they're aggressive on defense," Beck said of St. Joseph's Prep.

North Penn must find a way to slow tailback D'Andre Swift. The 5-foot-9, 215-pounder carried 18 times for 318 yards and two touchdowns Saturday in a 38-17 win over District 11's Parkland.

"He's fast. He's strong. He's got great vision, and he's very tough," Beck said of the Georgia recruit.

Swift, who was slowed in the middle of the season by an ankle injury, has rushed for 1,135 yards and 18 touchdowns. He has 19 receptions for 391 yards and five touchdowns.

"We can't let him get outside on us," Beck said. "We have to keep him contained. If he's going to beat us, he's going to have to beat us running downhill."

Beck is also concerned about a mammoth Prep offensive line that features guards Carter Lynch (6-6, 310) and Jackson Evans (6-4, 295) and tackles Taron Hampton (6-3, 290) and Sal Cinaglia (6-3, 265).

"It's the biggest line we've faced all year," Beck said. "We can't let them push us back to the linebackers."

The Knights are banking on solid play from a defensive line that is headed by tackles Owen Verespy (5-10, 215) and Zach Lavalla (5-6, 195) and ends Nick Vasger (6-0, 220) and Julian White (5-10, 185).

The linebacking corps is made up of Owen Thomas, Ricky Johns, Andrew Roth, and Dan Drop.

Thomas, also a tight end, suffered an undisclosed injury early in a 48-38 win over Garnet Valley last week and did not return. "If there's any way for him to play against the Prep, he's going to play," Beck said.

North Penn has one of the area's best quarterbacks in Reece Udinski. The 6-4, 180-pounder has hit on 210 of 336 passes for 3,827 yards and 37 touchdowns.

Udinski nicely spreads the ball among wideouts Johns (eight catches for 210 yards against Garnet Valley), Justis Henley, and Jake Hubler and tight end Vasger. Halfback Nick Dillon and Thomas, if available Saturday, are also options.

robrien@phillynews.com

@ozoneinq

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