By: Matt Beltz | Towanda Daily Review | September 19, 2015
MILTON - Having outscored its first two opponents by a combined score of 90-6, North Penn really had not been tested in its first two games.
By contrast, even though Milton was 0-2 coming into Friday's game, it had lost by just a combined 10 points and was really just a few plays away from being 2-0.
That difference in experience in close games reared its head late as Milton blocked a punt with just over two minutes left in the game. From there, the Black Panthers scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on a 10-yard run by Rafael Rodriguez with just 1:01 left and then Xavier Rodriguez picked off a Brock Burleigh pass and Milton got an ensuing first down to seal the game and hand North Penn its first loss, 35-32.
"We didn't put them away when we had the opportunity to. They're not a bad team and they were more physical than us tonight," said North Penn coach Tom Dickinson. "Our youth showed. This was the first battle they were in and I wasn't pleased with how they responded. You can't imagine how many sophomores and juniors were on that field, especially sophomores and it was their first time in this type of atmosphere. As many sophomores as you're playing, you're going to take some lumps and they have to learn from it."
Milton ran for 371 yards, including 171 yards and three touchdowns by Rafael Rodriguez. That included a 49-yard scoring run early in the third quarter in which he broke several tackles and went down the left sideline for the score. Brandon Stokes ran for 142 yards and a touchdown while Lance Fogelman had 52. For North Penn, Brock Burleigh threw for 218 yards on 14-of-26 throwing and four touchdowns, but the Panthers' no-huddle offense actually ran the ball more times (31) than it threw. Bradley Pequignot led the way with 87 yards rushing and a touchdown.
"They were playing with five in the box and we have to be able to run against five in the box," said Dickinson. "They were backed off covering us so when they give us that we have to be able to do that and it was somewhat effective."
It appeared that Milton might be snake-bitten again about midway through the third quarter as a Burleigh pass that looked like a sure pick-six for Milton went right through the hands of Rafael Rodriguez and into the waiting arms of Joel Whitteker for a 46-yard touchdown pass to put North Penn up 24-13 with 8:40 left in the third quarter.
"That was one, where I, as a coach, was thinking 'oh, here we go again,' but our kids didn't hang their heads," said Milton coach George Goodwin. "They could have folded numerous times tonight, especially after last week, but they continued to battle and that's all we asked them to do."
Milton was able to answer right back, however, with a 10-play drive that took 5:02 and was capped with Stokes' 2-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 24-19. Milton then forced a three-and-out by North Penn and overcame two holding penalties on its next drive to go 69 yards in eight plays, capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Hunter Snyder to Jalil Garrison and a two-point conversion on a Stokes run to take a 27-24 lead. Those penalties were two of 15 on the night for Milton, totaling 145 yards. By contrast, North Penn only had three penalties for 15 yards.
But the Panthers answered right back and got a 54-yard kickoff return from Brendan Hill with a personal foul penalty tacked on at the end, which gave North Penn the ball at the Milton 14. The Panthers needed just two plays to retake the lead on a 3-yard run by Pequignot and a two-point conversion on a Sean Giles run gave them a 32-27 lead.
Neither team was able to score on either of its next two possessions and North Penn was forced to punt from its own 46 with just over two minutes remaining. But the punt was blocked - the second blocked punt of the night for Milton, the first of which failed to produce any points - and the Black Panthers took possession at the North Penn 27 with 2:15 remaining. Four plays later, Rafael Rodriguez ran it in for his third score of the game.
North Penn would get the ball to the Milton 47 before Xavier Rodriguez made his diving interception at the Milton 24. Needing a first down to seal the win, Stokes ran it three straight times and, on third down, needing just a yard for the first, plowed ahead for four yards to seal it.