Streaks are the fabric woven through the tapestry of sports.
The National Football League has seen outstanding individual efforts like Drew Brees throwing a touchdown pass in 54 straight games, Brett Favre making 297 consecutive starts and Jerry Rice catching a pass for 274 games in row.
Then there are the tremendous team conquests that include the Dallas Cowboys putting together 20 straight winning seasons (from 1966 to 1985) and the New England Patriots reeling off 21 consecutive victories (from 2003-04).
When you talk Pioneer Athletic Conference football, one streak in particular has emerged over the past few seasons — courtesy of the Pottsgrove Falcons.
Since Week 6 of the 2011 season, the two-time defending league champ Falcons have won 23 straight PAC-10 games, the most since the league came into existence back in 1986.
The main question heading into this season appears to be who (if anyone) will be the squad to bring that streak to a halt.
"We relish the fact that we have this streak, but streaks are broken,' Pottsgrove coach Rick Pennypacker said. "We just have to control what we can control and not worry about other teams.'
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The last time Pottsgrove tasted defeat at the hands of a PAC-10 opponent was on Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, when Spring-Ford dealt the Falcons a 49-35 setback at Coach McNelly Stadium. It was the Rams' first victory over the Falcons since 1999.
The following week, at home, the Falcons had to survive a failed two-point conversion attempt by Methacton with 15 seconds left to secure a 21-19 victory over the Warriors.
Ironically enough, win No. 1 of the streak was also the closest margin of victory. Since then, only Spring-Ford (in a 14-7 loss in Week 5 last year) has come within single digits of Pottsgrove.
"They're well-coached, they do what they do, and they wear you down,' Spring-Ford coach Chad Brubaker said of the Falcons.
During the streak, Pottsgrove has averaged 42.0 points per game and allowed 11.7. The Falcons have scored more than 50 points on 10 of those occasions, and hit the 60-point mark three times. And they've pitched two shutouts.
Pottsgrove's 62-29 victory over Boyertown in last year's league finale established a new league record, breaking the Falcons' own mark of 22 straight PAC-10 victories from 2007-2010.
"They breed winning up there,' said Perkiomen Valley coach Scott Reed, whose high-flying Vikings saw their hopes for a share of the league title dashed in a 23-12 Week 9 loss to the Falcons last year. "They have great coaching, and they seem to always have the same type of team. They have good size up front with guys who can run the ball. They're so simple in what they do, but they execute it so well.'
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Since 2008, Pottsgrove has won four PAC-10 titles and gone 51-3 in league play and 68-11 overall during that six-year span.
"I think the main reason for our success is the type of players we have been able to coach,' Pennypacker said. "Our kids buy into our system and know what the expectations are on and off the field. It's not an easy task to play football these days with all the time commitment involved, especially during the summer. But our kids work tremendously hard in the offseason.'
Pennypacker also lauded the efforts of varsity assistants Bill Hawthorne, Eric Engstrom, Bill Bradford, Brent Haring, Mike Tomasso, Jim Algeo, Preston Moser, Josh Lindy and Josh Ford.
"We've been together for years, and I have a tremendous amount of respect and trust in them,' Pennypacker said. "They teach the fundamentals of the game.'
That fundamental approach starts with a focus on strong, technique-laden line play on both sides of the ball.
Throw in a disciplined defensive approach and a superior stable of skill players over the past few years — Terrell Chestnut, Tory Hudgins, Maika Polamalu and Marquis Barefield, to name a few — and it's easy to see why the Falcons have been so tough to take down.
"Their defense, to me, has always been the catalyst to their success,' Reed said. "They strangle you, which can let them dictate what they want to do. It's very rare to get Pottsgrove in a situation where they're playing from behind, and to me that's the only chance you have.'
"When we beat them three years ago, we were able to stay ahead of them and make them play from behind,' said Brubaker. "That's not what they like to do. The last two years, we were right there (in the second half), but they just played ball control and kept the ball away from us. They have really good athletes and are really good defensively.'
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Like a lot of their PAC-10 brethren, the Falcons incurred heavy graduation losses from last year's squad, which won its first 11 games before falling 27-26 to Academy Park in the District 1-AAA semifinals.
"We know we are rebuilding this year and have our work cut out for us,' Pennypacker said.
Still, the Falcons will feature arguably the league's top two players in Mike Fowler and Patrick Finn.
The 6-foot, 174-pound Fowler is a shutdown corner on defense and playmaking presence on offense at wide receiver. Last year, nine of his 16 receptions went for touchdowns.
"Michael is so quick, strong and talented,' said Pennypacker. "He has the strongest hands I've ever seen. He snatches the ball rather than catches it, and causes so many mismatches on both sides of the ball. He is dangerous whenever the ball is in his hands. I am more impressed with the way he has stepped up in a leadership role this year.'
Finn, a 6-4, 263-pound tackle, is the league's reigning lineman of the year who already has offers from schools such as Villanova, Delaware, Bucknell, and Navy. Look for him to anchor an O-Line that will pave the way for the Falcons' ground-and-pound attack, while being a focal point up front on a defense that should improve as the season progresses.
"Patrick's as good as an offensive lineman as I have ever coached,' said Pennypacker, who is entering his 26th season at the Falcons' helm. "His work ethic sets him apart from everyone else. He is very strong and smart — he has worked so hard in the weight room and classroom — and he leads by example.'
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The prodigious talents of Fowler and Finn notwithstanding, how far the Falcons will be able to extend their league winning streak will likely come down to how quickly their host of new faces develops.
"I think the biggest things for us is just keeping the same work ethic and coming out and working hard every day,' Finn said. "Right now we have a lot of building to do, and I think it will be interesting to see how it all works out.'
"This year will be a great challenge for us, but we feel our young kids have worked hard and most have gotten stronger over the year,' said Pennypacker. "We have some talent, but we're very inexperienced and it will take time for our kids to jell. How long it takes them to mature will determine how we will do this year. The players and coaches know they have to work extra hard for us to be competitive. We just need to practice with a purpose and get better every day.'
After seeing all-purpose weapon Barefield (1,578 rushing yards, 27 total touchdowns) and quarterback Riley Michaels graduate, Pottsgrove's ground game is expected to feature running backs Devon Fink and Terrell Barr. Senior Torin Verdone and junior Deyon Doctor are battling it out for the quarterback position, with Fowler expected to get plenty of touches while being deployed in several different packages.
And it goes without saying that the success of the skill guys will depend on the folks up front.
"As always, I am more concerned about our offensive and defensive lines,' Pennypacker said. "We will need some guys to really step up this year at these positions. We have some good kids in there, but they are young and need to work on technique and fundamentals. We will make mistakes, but we need to minimize them and get our kids to play at a (high) varsity level.'
On defense, the Falcons must replace nine starters, most notably the lights-out linebacking corps of Jeff Adams, Tyrone Parker and Sene Polamalu.
"I think we are strong in the secondary with talent, but need depth,' Pennypacker said. "Our inside backers (Wyatt Porter and Madison Kelsey) have looked good so far, as well as Kysan Harrow at outside linebacker. But other than Finn on the front line, we have to replace some very good players. We will rely on our quickness and speed as usual, and if we can mature up front and play our brand of defense, we may have a chance of being OK. If not, we may struggle.'
Judging by the Falcons' recent track record, the smart money will be on the former.
Spring-Ford (which is 27-3 over its past 30 PAC-10 games) and the duo of Perkiomen Valley and Methacton (who have each played the Falcons tough over the past few seasons) appear to have the best shots of bringing an end to the Falcons' league-record streak this fall. All three of those squads, however, have their own rebuilding or roster issues to deal with.
"Having a target on our back is nothing new for us,' Pennypacker said. "We know this and take pride in that. If we didn't have a target on our back, it would mean our program is not where we want it to be. We get every team's best effort and we know that going in every week.
"We don't talk about the past; all we can take care of is the present. Any team in this league can beat us, and we know that every week. We approach every game as though we are the underdog, and our kids understand this approach. We respect every team, and know that if we are not at our best, we will get beat.'
Though when — or if — that will happen this fall in PAC-10 play is anyone's guess.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.