WEST CHESTER - This was Division II college football at its best.
Bloomsburg University paid a visit to West Chester at Farrell Stadium on Nov. 9 to determine the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) East Division champion.
Both sides of the field were full of spectators and more people stationed themselves on the steep, hilly bank that leads to the locker rooms at West Chester. The game was televised on a cable station.
Four former local standouts were part of the atmosphere that finally resulted in a 31-28 victory by Bloomsburg, ranked No. 15 in Division II, over No. 8 West Chester, which had entered the contest with an undefeated record.
Senior Chris Kennedy, a Phoenixville resident and Archbishop Carroll product, started at defensive tackle for the winning Huskies. Redshirt freshman Ezra Ranco from Perkiomen Valley saw a lot of playing time as a backup defensive tackle for pass rushing and on special teams.
For West Chester, redshirt junior Kayo Bakare from Perkiomen Valley saw playing time at defensive end and on special teams. Phoenixville’s Ryan Pannella is a redshirt for his freshman year with the Golden Rams but was in uniform on the sidelines and took part in pre-game drills. He has switched from inside linebacker to strong safety for college football.
Both teams are now 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the conference. However, Bloomsburg won the division with the verdict and will face West Division winner Slippery Rock for the PSAC title at home at Redman Stadium at 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 16. West Chester is also still alive in the playoffs against Clarion.
Bloomsburg rebounded well following a 34-18 upset loss to Shippensburg in a nationally televised game the previous Thursday evening at Bloomsburg.
The Huskies outgained the Golden Rams, 310-70, in net yards rushing, averaging 5.4 yards per carry to just 2.8 per attempt by WCU. West Chester held a 305-262 advantage in passing yards, giving Bloomsburg 572 yards of total offense as compared with 375 by the hosts.
Kennedy made one solo tackle and had one assist on the day, including one hit for a one-yard loss. He played mostly on rushing downs at the left defensive tackle slot. Ranco plays the same position on passing downs and had one sack.
“This was big after the Shippensburg game,” said Kennedy. “It was different having the week off. Coming here was great for a nice rebound game. They were 8-0. We knew they had a great running back (Rustin’s Rondell White) who was a 200-yard game rusher most of the year. We wanted to try to keep up our number one standing for rushing defense in the PSAC.”
The Huskies utilize a two-front system among their defensive linemen in order to keep players as fresh as possible.
“Last week we didn’t come to play,” said Kennedy. “Today we did.”
Kennedy has enjoyed his senior season immensely while starting on a championship-caliber outfit.
“I could not have asked for anything more, except for a national championship,” said Kennedy. “That is everyone’s dream.”
Ranco was also thrilled to be part of the showdown.
“I was really eager, and it was really exciting,” said Ranco. “In my mind, it was a blessing to get the strength to set the sack. I am glad the team pulled together at the end and got the win. It was really exciting to come back after losing.”
All the players were glad to be back close to home for a game that many family members and friends could attend. Phoenixville head coach Bill Furlong and several of his assistant coaches had a large group of Phantom football players on hand to witness the game.
“Of course, I had to make some type of play,” said Ranco.
Bakaro has added the bulk to play in the defensive line after previously lining up at linebacker.
“We knew it was going to be a good game from the start,” said Bakare. “Both teams had good plays from the start. Nowadays, it is so hard to go undefeated. I was hoping we would win it at the end, but we came up short.”
Due to the redshirt rule of not being allowed to play at all (even special teams) in order to save a full year of eligibility, Pannella had to watch the game from the sidelines along with the rest of the redshirts. Pannella admitted that it was difficult emotionally.
“It was a tough one,” said Pannella. “It’s really hard. I would have given anything in the world to be playing in a championship game. We gave a great team like Bloomsburg a run for their money.”
He said collegiate football is so different from high school. Young men are surrounded by so many outstanding players who were all stars at the high school level as well as a large staff of coaches. The older, more experienced players mentor the younger ones.
Pannella likes playing in the defensive secondary after a brilliant linebacker career at Phoenixville that saw him finish among a litany of top linebackers there in terms of tackles and overall quality performances.
“I really like it a lot,” he said. “I fit in better with my size.”
Being ranked in the top 10 teams in the nation in Division II has created quite a stir on the West Chester campus.
“It’s great,” Pannella said. “We sold the game out and people were also sitting on the hill. It resonates in the hallways. About midway through the season, more people started coming to our games because we were undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in the nation. It was all over campus, and people see that you are on the football team.”