GLEN ROCK — Even in the joy of describing their own successes, East Pennsboro’s Nik Karoly and Noah Alejandro lumped praise upon famous No. 12.
The junior wide receiver, Karoly, and the senior speed-back, Alejandro, provided crucially explosive scoring plays Friday night in a 45-14 mercy-rule victory over host Susquehannock at Robert Lau Memorial Field in southern York County.
But they still gleefully recognize this District 3 Class 4A quarterfinal triumph started with senior running back Onasis Neely.
“Opens up a lot, because a lot of teams key on him because he’s one of the best in the whole state,” Karoly said.
“It opens up the rest of our offense,” added Alejandro.
No. 5 seed East Pennsboro (9-2) racked up 454 yards of offense in its sixth straight win and also limited the Warriors (8-3) to 161 yards, a big chunk of which came on the host’s opening drive or after starters were pulled in the fourth quarter.
Next up is top seed Berks Catholic, which ended the Panthers’ season in last year’s quarterfinals by a 63-33 count. That game will be next Friday night at Berks Catholic.
“It’s all because of [Neely],” East Penn head coach Todd Stuter said. “He did have a little bit of an injury with the knee, some soreness, so we told people somebody has to step up. ... When you have a kid like that, the whole world is keying on him.”
Neely still rushed 20 times for 132 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He added three catches for 9 yards.
But it was Alejandro stealing the show with a trio of touchdown runs.
While his 5-yarder tied the score in the first quarter after Susquehannock marched 58 yards on eight plays, he gave the Panthers a lead they would keep with a 61-yard eruption one play after the Warriors fumbled the ball away early in the second.
Alejandro then added a 62-yard catch-me-if-you-can sprint to the end zone on a third-quarter reverse, generating a running clock for the rest of the contest.
It also gave him a career-high 147 yards on just eight carries.
“Our offensive line did a tremendous job blocking for me and Onasis and protecting Payton, and I just [saw] holes and exploded through them,” he said.
Payton Morris was fantastic at quarterback, completing 14 of 17 passes for 125 yards, including a 29-yard strike to Karoly to put East Penn up 21-7 late in the second quarter.
“They were keying on Onasis,” Karoly said. “Coach called a nice play. I was wide open.”
Morris added a 16-yard TD run on a naked bootleg in the third quarter, as the Panthers scored 45 straight after that opening TD by the Warriors.
That’s also because the East Penn defense clamped down on Susquehannock’s Wing-T.
After that first drive, the next four drives for the Warriors resulted in three turnovers and a punt without a first down.
“We just said we got to step it up if we want to win,” said Karoly, also a linebacker. “Stop the run. That’s what we did.”
Said Stuter: “[Fullback Kyle Orndorff] is a very powerful, big running back. So what we did is we just adjusted our line. After that [first] drive, we kind of shut that down, and [Orndorff] became a non-factor after that.”
The fullback finished with just 26 yards on five carries. Daniel Clapp led Susquehannock with 65 yards on nine totes.
“You can’t turn the ball over three times with the weapons they have,” Warriors coach Steve Wiles said. “[Defensively] I think they sat back a little bit and really started to crowd the line of scrimmage [after that first drive], and they’ve got some nice linebackers. We couldn’t block [Trent Fries], and [Garrison Shields-Seelig] was all over the field, too.”
Fries finished with seven tackles, including a sack and another for loss. McGee Schnarrs also had a sack, and Daiquann Everett added a first-quarter interception on the Warriors’ first pass attempt.
“I think we’re very confident right now,” Stuter said. “We know what Berks Catholic is, so we’re not going in there overconfident, but I think we have a different attitude than the team that played them last year. So hopefully we can go down there and see what happens.”