by Jonathan Vander Lugt
You ever light coals in a chimney starter?
You throw a match in, watch it smoke a little bit. You know that it’s supposed to catch flame. But it hasn’t yet, so you’re a bit worried. You shake it some, watch the smoke puff and see a bit of orange light from down in the aluminum cylinder. As soon as you really start to worry as to whether or not you wasted 10 dollars of charcoal, the flames light and you have more than you really know what to do with.
That sort of slow build was the way that the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy gridiron Blue Devils played in their season opener on Saturday afternoon. Taking on George Washington High school with new faces at quarterback and wide receiver (replacing two of the most talented players in the league), coach Rick Knox didn’t know exactly what he was going to get.
He ended up getting a whole lot — SCH won by a whopping tally of 39-7 — but it took a bit of stoking to get there. As he told his team after the game, they went away with some “lessons learned” as they head into autumn.
“We were in a battle that didn’t open up (score-wise) right away,” Knox said. “We had to go into the third quarter thinking, ‘Hey this is a tough game; we’ve really got to pull it out.’”
The first two frames were marred by offensive inconsistency, penalties, and missed opportunities. The team had six infractions, including four in its first drive (two personal fouls, a block in the back, and a hold). The team’s second possession went three and out, punctuated by a 13-yard sack. They had another personal foul on defense in the following George Washington possession, which the Eagles eventually took to the house.
Jordan Young shook up the Blue Devils’ coals and provided a spark, ripping off three consecutive 20-plus yard runs in the next drive that eventually led to a one-yard score by Ryan Murray. They scored again after a three-and-out from George Washington, but still failed to get everything clicking — they had their first extra point attempt blocked, and while trying to make up for it with a two-point conversion after the next touchdown, snapped the ball wide of quarterback Matt Rahill, leaving the Blue Devils with just 12 points at the half to show for a pair of touchdowns.
“Consistency, more than anything,” is what SCHA needs to improve on, according to Knox. “That would be the biggest thing—doing things consistently.
“I’m just glad we came out to play in the second half. The first half was crazy, but I’m really happy with the way we executed later. We made some awesome plays.”
Most of those belonged to Rahill. Three of the team’s four scores in the second half were through the air. He finished the day 10-for-17 with 167 yards and four touchdowns. Though he didn’t end up getting a touchdown, Young was the other crucial cog in SCH’s offense. The sophomore had a monster day: 33 carries for 216 yards.
This all serves as a fine tune-up for the year — they found some things to work on, as well as some good things they weren’t necessarily expecting, given that Rahill’s performance had to be exactly what Knox was hoping for.
“We lost the best quarterback and receiver in league history,” Knox said. “These juniors really stepped up, and I was glad to see that.”
What Knox liked best about Rahill was his poise.
“He put some really nice touch on a few of those balls,” he said. “He took his time, and leading the team in a game situation for the first time was big.”
What he got out of Young though, might have come as a borderline shock.
He didn’t even know that the back was going to come out to play until right before the preseason began, and claims (though Young gave him 216 reasons to put this into limbo) that he wasn’t even the starter heading in.
“He’s been a pleasant, pleasant surprise,” Knox said. “Justin Telemaque, who is still probably our number-one back, had an ankle injury in a scrimmage and wasn’t 100 percent, so we didn’t want to overdo it on him. To have Jordan here to pick it up for him was huge.”
Knox, Rahill, Young, and the 37 other members of the varsity team have three more weeks to work out their kinks before they hit Inter-Ac play, and will look to figure some more things out against Central High School Friday. Their conference opener is on Saturday, October 3, at the Hill School.
Though their numbers (39, including 11 freshman) are small, requiring SCHA to sometimes play five or six players, by Knox’s estimation, on both sides of the ball, Rahill feels like this will be something of an advantage as they move in to the meat of the season.
Where other, larger teams might separate into cliques, everybody on this team is close.
“When you’ve got a group of guys this close,” Rahill said, “You start to bond. All it takes is hard work.”