by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Springside Chestnut Hill football is in a tough spot.
Its conference hopes have long been dashed. There’s no PAISAA football playoff, so the Blue Devils certainly aren’t going to be playing after the last game of their season next week.
Heck, even a conference win would be nice. It’s been, by coach Rick Knox’s estimation, 15 years since SCHA (then just Chestnut Hill Academy) hasn’t won an Inter-Ac game, but that’s exactly what’s in danger of happening if the team doesn’t clean up its play.
Malvern Prep, while probably out of contention for the league title as well, won’t present an easy test this week. The Blue Devils showed flashes of what could be in their 17-12 loss at the hands of Episcopal Academy Saturday, but if they have any shot at salvaging what’s left of a once-promising season, they’ll have to turn those flashes into production against an excellent Friar team.
“Right now, we’re 0-4 in the Inter-Ac with a tough road game left,” Knox said. “That was a win we had to get.”
“The biggest thing is getting execution from a younger team,” he said. “It’s inexperience. The one thing we haven’t done a good job of this year is being where we need to be mentally.”
It’s not as though the team was without chances. They made it into Churchmen territory six times, but managed to score just twice. Two of those whiffs came on possessions where the Blue Devils had a first-and-goal, but SCH was unable to punch it in.
“We don’t have the experience, and we don’t necessarily realize what it takes to win a high school football game,” Knox said. “In a close game like this, it takes a lot of focus. You can’t make goofy plays. We’ve got to do things consistently.”
That concentration lapsed early, when Episcopal Academy scored 14 of their points by the end of the first quarter. The first seven came on a third-and-21, a prime opportunity for the SCH defense to get off the field. EA quarterback C.J. McAnally lobbed a short pass to Christian Feliziani, who proceeded to glide through a host of Blue Devil defenders on his 51-yard journey for six.
The next came after a pass interference call muddied what was otherwise terrific downfield coverage by SCH. On third-and-six, McAnally lofted a pass down the sideline defended well by Justin Telamaque, but Telamaque had his hands on the receiver just enough to draw a flag.
Just like that, what would have been a drive that ended in a punt got a 15-yard boost and new life. Two plays later, Dee Barlee scored from one yard out to pad the Churchman lead.
“There are flashes,” Knox said, “but we just don’t do it consistently.”
The Blue Devils bounced back, keeping EA’s offense largely in check while scoring a pair of touchdowns of their own. Matt Rahill found Jack Cucinotta for a 33-yard score late in the second, but – and here’s another lapse in concentration – the snap was botched on the point after attempt, keeping the score at 14-6.
Episcopal Academy notched a field goal early in the second half, and after Rahill scored from one out on the following possession, SCH had to go for two.
Rahill’s pass fell incomplete, leaving the game at 17-12.
SCH had a golden opportunity to take the lead later in the fourth, but that evaporated as fast as it opened up.
SCH was set up with first-and-goal from the one after the refs called a would-be 19-yard TD reception by Telamaque back a yard, and came up flustered. On the first play at the goal line, the Blue Devils fumbled the snap – and eventually, the game – away.
Cucinotta probably had the best day on offense for SCH, with his 104 yards and a touchdown on five receptions. Telamaque played well too, registering 80 yards (28 rushing and 52 receiving) from scrimmage on 11 touches.
Rahill’s play, on the other hand, was erratic at best. He finished with 246 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions (though one was on the game’s last play, a Hail Mary) on 16-25 passing. On the ground, he ran his way to 17 yards on nine attempts.
At times he was brilliant – like on his 38-yard scramble that set up his rushing score – and at others, made head-scratching decisions. His interceptions would qualify – even his touchdown came after Cucinotta reeled in the pass off of the defender’s hands – and he looked skittish behind a line that allowed four sacks.
“We have two sophomores and a freshman on the offensive line,” Knox said, highlighting his team’s youth and sometimes-frustrating execution. “[Running back] Jordan Young is a sophomore. That’s four right there, and Rahill’s a junior.”
“I hope this one sticks in their craw a little bit,” he added. “This was a game we could have easily won. We gave it to them.”