by Jonathan Vander Lugt
After Penn Charter closed out its game against Germantown Academy, the 129th iteration of the nation’s longest-running interscholastic football rivalry, PC quarterback Michael Hnatkowski made his way around the field grinning from ear to ear. He hugged teammates, coaches, fans, and even stood and posed for some pictures along the way.
By the time he had made his rounds, he stood, exasperated, but still elated. After all, the junior had just won the game’s MVP award – the prize for which was a trophy that had passed through the annals of past PC and GA greats over decades.
What was going through the kid’s head?
“Too much,” he said. “It’s a lot right now, but it’s a great win.”
The 45-17 blowout put the Quakers over the .500 mark in the Inter-Ac for the first time since 2006.
Barely taking any time to bask in the light of what was likely the finest performance of his football career, he had already set some goals for 2016.
“This program’s on the rise,” he said. “We want to win it next year.”
Well, if there’s any time they can afford to relax and take it in, it’s probably right now. Hnatkowski led his rambling Quakers to victory over Germantown Academy with a monster 455-yard (380 passing, 75 on the ground), five-touchdown day.
It didn’t look like it was going to be that way early, though. Penn Charter took the game’s opening drive all of one yard before punting away to GA. Three plays and 55 yards later, a Kyle McCloskey pass to John Haynes put the Patriots up 7-0.
PC answered with a 77-yard drive capped by a one-yard run by Cody Sweeney, but GA went right back up with Vince Capone’s 25-yard field goal to make it 10-7.
“I was disappointed with how it started,” PC coach Tom Coyle said, “but our guys have been so resilient all year long. They don’t get down.”
He’s right – they didn’t. The Quakers rumbled for three more scores before the half: two touchdowns (Hnatkowski passes of 81 and 2 yards) and a 30-yard field goal by Colin Mattice put PC up 24-10 heading into the third quarter.
There, they struggled. GA scored, and held PC scoreless, to bring it to 24-17 going into the fourth, making Hnatkowski and Co. realize that their work wasn’t done yet.
The south-blowing gusts of wind played a big role. Hnatkowski’s passes died in the third frame before they were able to get any air under them, but once the field turned for the final 12 minutes, PC couldn’t be stopped.
PC took the quarter’s first drive for six, capped by a seven-yard pass to Sweeney, and after Kyle McCloskey threw an interception three plays into GA’s opening drive, the Quakers had momentum on their side.
Just like that, a 68-yard pass to Chris Tucker, a four-and-out by GA, and a 30-yard Hnatkowski run, all in the span of less than two minutes, turned a surmountable deficit for the Patriots into a Quaker blowout.
“We wanted to score 40,” Hnatkowski said. It’s what PC’s been doing all year—they’ve eclipsed that threshold four times (and scored 36 in a loss to Lawrenceville School), so it shouldn’t come as a shock that their high-flying offense threw up 21 points in a hurry.
“Run the ball, throw the ball, it didn’t matter,” Hnatkowski said. “I didn’t know we were going to throw that much, but that’s just what we had to do.”
Sweeney was his seemingly his favorite target on the afternoon, as he finished with eight receptions for 157 yards and a pair of scores. Chris Tucker had quite a day too – 114 yards and a score on just three catches.
Hnatkowski ran all over the field waiting until the last minute to throw, and wasn’t afraid to air it out for his receivers on the way to his stellar day. He makes no bones about being considered a gunslinger.
“I was always told by my dad, ‘Just throw it. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,’” he said. “I want to go 100 miles an hour, 100 percent all the time, so that’s just what I try to do.”
Coyle was particularly pleased with his quarterback.
“This is my 29th year of coaching high school football,” Coyle said. “I’ve been around a while.”
“His work ethic is second to none. He works extremely hard. He’s constantly in our offices, looking at film, trying to gain an understanding of a weakness and how to exploit it.”
With the win, things are looking up for Penn Charter,. They’ll be losing Sweeney and lead back Jake McCain, but they’ll have Hnatkowski, Tucker (who Hnatkowski says is the fastest football player he’s ever played with) and the speedy Marqui Johnson to take McCain’s place alongside the signal-caller.
So, could this win serve as a stepping stone?
“I’d like to think so,” Coyle said. “We have kids in middle school, the JV level, and the varsity level all playing good football.”
“When you look at our record, it doesn’t look great, but we were in all of the football games we played,” he said. “We stepped up and made some plays to win five, but on the flip side, didn’t make others to lose five as well.”
Who knows? Maybe with a bit of seasoning, the Coyle, Hnatkowski, Tucker, and Co. can take that first five and turn it into quite a bit more in 2016.