Catty pulls away from Palisades
To beat the No. 6 team in the state, you have to play near perfect football.
Palisades (2-1) did not play a perfect first half when they hosted Catasauqua (3-0) on Friday.
But the Pirates played a very, very good one: committing no penalties, keeping the Rough Riders’ potent offense off the field and averaging almost four yards per carry when they had the ball. Palisades found itself down just 12-7 at halftime to one of the best teams in Pennsylvania.
Yet the Rough Riders, PA Football News’ No. 6-ranked team, were as dominant in the second half as they were evenly matched in the first. A 38-yard bomb from senior quarterback Zach Bradley to classmate and all-state wide receiver Paryss Marshall (10 catches, 204 yards, 2 TDs) highlighted a five-play, 57-yard touchdown drive that opened the second half.
Marshall returned a punt 87 yards for a touchdown one series later and a muffed punt, recovered by Catty, led to senior running back Ra’Von Burton’s 11-yard touchdown run. That blew the score open to 32-7 halfway through the third. The Rough Riders coasted to a 45-7 win.
“I don’t think you can prepare any differently. You have to go with what you have, and it’s too short of a week to prepare anything special defensively,” responded Palisades head coach Kevin Ronalds when asked how to prep for a team with Catty’s elite passing attack. “We have a good secondary, and in the first half, we got fortunate because they dropped some balls.”
Catasauqua has outscored its opponents 581 to 118 in its last 13 regular season games, all blow-out wins. It made Palisades’ first half all the more impressive.
“But we did some good things, too,” Ronalds added. “We disrupted them a little bit and we were able on offense to get a couple of first downs and keep the ball out of their hands. I think that frustrates them. In the second half, we did none of that. They got on a roll and it snowpiled.”
Trailing 6-0 in the second quarter, Pirate punter Sam O’Brien pinned the Rough Riders at their own 18. Sophomore cornerback Austin Krauss made a great tackle for a five-yard loss on a swing pass, keying a three and out.
Palisades then marched 44 yards in seven plays. Senior running back JD Donnelly broke off a 24-yard gain, setting up fellow tailback Christian Gretzinger’s one-yard touchdown plunge that gave the Pirates a 7-6 lead halfway through the second quarter.
“That is our run game and we expect to be able to do that,” said Ronalds, on the ground attack that picked up more than 500 combined yards in the Pirates’ two wins. “We’ll run off tackle and sneak one outside or we’ll run a couple of quick ones up the middle. We were efficient, and if we could have continued that, I don’t know if we would have won the game because they clearly are the class of our league, but it probably goes to the end.”
Donnelly and Gretzinger’s work this season can’t be overlooked. Running behind 305-pound left tackle Ben Henry, who is getting serious looks from the Ivy League, the two have keyed Palisades’ first five halves of very successful football.
Gretzinger has scored five touchdowns this year, one of them on a pick-six. Donnelly has rushed for more than 320 yards on just 30 carries, and has reached paydirt four times.
“JD doesn’t have a whole lot of moves,” Ronalds chuckled. “He is hard, straight ahead and deceptively fast. Gretz has so much vision. He cuts back much more than JD will. He’ll bounce out and see things just before they happen. They’re definitely two different types of runners. I like being able to mix them up. They are two tough kids. Tough kids,” he repeated.
The road to the Colonial League title clearly runs through Catasauqua. But Pen Argyl upset Catty in the district playoffs last year…and Palisades is one week removed from a 46-21 thrashing of the Green Knights. For one half, Ronalds’ charges showed that the road to Catty could be fraught with a Pirate ambush.
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