by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Sure, they’ve had some bumps along the way. In fact, during Saturday’s game against Episcopal Academy, there were quite a few. The Patriots committed 11 penalties, threw three interceptions, and an inadvertent whistle overturned what would have been a crucial GA fumble in the game’s final minutes.
But, after their 27-24 win over the Churchmen, here they sit, 7-0, and 2-0 in the Inter-Ac. That same quarterback who threw three interceptions played the game with two broken fingers (on his non-throwing hand), and accounted for nearly 350 yards of total offense while throwing all three of the Pats’ touchdowns.
So it’s probably safe to say that the folks on GA’s campus are pretty happy with the way things are going.
“This is year four of what we’ve put in here,” Patriot head coach Matt Dence said. “This is smile times, but we haven’t accomplished any of our long-term goals yet.”
The last time Germantown Academy locked up a league title was a two-year stretch in 2003 and 2004 (both shared titles), a time when most of their current players were still using sippy cups. The last time they won the league outright was in 1973 – a few years before Dence was even born.
Rest assured, the remainder of their schedule is going to be very difficult, but the fact that the Patriots are even able to think about conference hopes is quite an accomplishment.
“Being 7-0, people are buzzing, and the campus is behind us,” he went on. “Four years ago, it was a lot different.”
A big part of their uptick this year has been the play of McCloskey. Even with the three interceptions, his play is what kept GA in it. The Pats are without much of a traditional running game with lead back KJ Cartwright limited due to a number of lower-body maladies (though Nick Picariello filled in admirably with a 10-carry, 59-yard effort).
So, the junior signal-caller keeps finding ways to help GA win, be it through the air or on the ground.
He finished with 283 yards on 25-37 passing (ending the game on a tear, completing 10 straight), and ran for another 57 on nine tries, all with his right hand in a cast.
“It was weird getting used to,” McCloskey said. “I do think it affected my running a little bit. It was hard to really wrap the ball up. Other than that, I kind of forgot about it during the game. It wasn’t much of a factor for me.”
It wasn’t much of a factor for Dence, either. McCloskey sustained the injury against Springside Chestnut Hill on Oct. 17, but “as soon as they said he can play, there was no concern” Dence said.
Saturday’s contest marked an uptick in offensive production from the week prior as well. The Pats didn’t run the ball as much, but that’s because they felt that they could use the short passing game in its place.
“We felt that our pass game could be our run game,” Dence said. “We felt that we could get six, seven yards, at an efficiency that made it worth it.”
That turned out to be the case – they averaged 6.7 yards a play, up from 5.8 the week before.
“We had a great game plan this week,” McCloskey said. “Our defense made great plays, and my protection was insane. The route running was great too – I threw it, and they were right were they needed to be.”
Elsewhere on offense, Jon Haynes and Mike Gilmore did most of the work on the other end of McCloskey’s passes. Haynes caught six for 86 yards and a score, while Gilmore hauled in eight passes for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Elsewhere, Picariello bolstered his 59 yards on the ground with a 19-yard reception, giving him 78 yards on 11 touches.
Up next for the Pats is a tilt with Malvern Prep, followed by a match with defending champ Haverford School, before closing out the year with their annual rivalry game with Penn Charter, and each of the matchups presents a significant test.
“It’s huge,” McCloskey said about Saturday’s win. “It’s not going to get any easier. We’ve got to keep playing the way we have been – making big plays, that way we can keep winning games.”
“We can’t take any games for granted – they’re all hard-fought, and they’re all tough,” he said. “Every week is a challenge.”
“Malvern’s going to gun for us,” he went on. “It’ll be a heck of a matchup – another hard-fought Inter-Ac game.”