by Jonathan Vander Lugt
With a combined nonconference record of 12-2, the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Germantown Academy, and Penn Charter football teams, generally, are pleased with the way they’ve started the season. But if they don’t make it count over the next five weeks—the start of Inter-Ac play—much of it will be for naught.
The Academies Germantown and Springside Chestnut Hill play each other Saturday to kick off their respective conference slates, and Penn Charter will duel the Haverford School Friday afternoon. The Local caught up with each team’s coach for progress reports and a midseason grade.
Germantown Academy: a solid B
The Pats started the season with a dud—a 35-14 loss to Father Judge—but have since rebounded and are coming into their conference season on a roll with four victories in the four games since.
“I feel pretty good about that,” said Matt Dence, GA’s head coach, about the winning streak. “The thing I keep telling the guys—I don’t care who we’re playing—is that the goal is to get better every week.
“Going into the year, if you would have told me that we’d be 4-1 going into the league games and be relatively injury-free, I would have taken it. The Judge game just sticks in my craw a little bit, because I think we could have played better.”
Given their next three victories—all by at least 30 points—and their stout win on the road against a tough West Catholic team this past weekend, that’s probably the case.
“I’m pretty pumped about the job that our kids have done these past four weeks, especially last week,” Dence said. “I’m really happy about the way we played defensively. I’m sure there are some things we could do better—there are always things that pop up on film.”
Nonetheless, he said, “What our defense has been able to absorb in response to what teams are trying to do to us—I’ve been really impressed with that.”
This isn’t an unfamiliar position for Dence and the Pats. Last year’s team won seven straight to start the year—nominally better than this year’s 4-1 start—before falling in each of their last three conference games.
This year’s team is improved, though. Dence—of course—said as much, but it is evident on the field, and the trick to continuing the trend is staying healthy.
“It’s huge,” Dence said. “I don’t know where the other teams in our league are—but I was at SCH a couple weeks ago and didn’t see a lot of kids on the sidelines wearing just their jersey.
“For the teams down the stretch, the ones that are winning those games are the ones that don’t have guys wearing street clothes. I hope that’s what we continue to do—we’ve been relatively lucky. Our trainers have done a good job, and our kids are tough.”
As for an on-the-field grade, Dence was hesitant to go over the top, but still offered praise.
“If I was a B student, I’d take it,” he said. “That’s pretty darn good. If you’re sitting there saying it’s an A, you don’t think you can get better. I think we can.”
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy: B+
It’s hard not to see the parallels between Germantown Academy and Rick Knox’s Blue Devil team. Springside Chestnut Hill also sits at 4-1, and from a wins-and-losses standpoint, are in the same place they were last year.
Knox is hoping to avoid last season’s second half—an 0-5 slide—and he, like Dence, thinks his team is much better.
“Our non-league schedule has really pushed us,” We’ve played a high level of non-league games, whereas last year, other than Father Judge, the teams weren’t pushing us.”
SCH had a cakewalk against George Washington in its season opener, but has since beaten Father Judge handily, topped Roman Catholic, and ran the clock on a Hill School team that took Episcopal Academy to the brink a week prior.
“So one,” Knox said, “We’ve already been tested. Two, there’s already a different feel and work ethic around the team. There’s a much better outlook. Even though we’re both 4-1, you can tell there’s a difference there. The biggest reason though is that we’re very senior-laden, whereas last year, we only had three.”
One of those seniors is quarterback Matt Rahill. He won’t be playing football at the college level—he has a lacrosse scholarship offer from Maryland in hand—but he’s sure to be fielding some calls trying to pry him away.
Currently, he leads Inter-Ac passers in passing touchdowns with 11, and has added three more with his legs. Haverford School’s Tommy Toal has the league lead in passing yards, but Rahill’s got him beat in total yardage—1,033 to 984. His 63 percent completion rate leads the league as well.
“That’s huge in the high-school game,” Knox said. “He’s concerning for a defensive coordinator, because he’s making good throws in the pocket, but is also making plays on scrambles.
“He’s shown a tremendous amount of growth. If you’re going to win football games, it’s going to start with your quarterback, so his improvement is probably the most significant.
“He’s gotten a lot more confident, and his speed has improved. His 40-time is upwards of three-tenths of a second better. Being faster, stronger, and older, that’s playing a big role in his success.”
For reference, three-tenths of a second may not seem like much, but it means a great deal in on-the-field speed. That margin can mean multiple rounds and millions of dollars for NFL prospects, and in the high school game—where the talent disparity can be much wider—having that much more of an edge can make an outsized difference.
The one game that Rahill didn’t perform well in—the Blue Devils’ week-two loss to Blue Mountain—is one that Knox would like to have back.
With that said, the 21-14 defeat has become something of a kick in the pants for SCH.
“In the end, it was a really positive thing because it refocused our kids and has led to a much better work ethic and a much better attitude,” Knox said. “It was a good wakeup call. I’m happy with the overall progression of the team.”
Penn Charter: right now, an A
Tom Coyle gave his Quakers the highest grade of any area coach, but that’s not to say that it isn’t deserved. Penn Charter ended its 4-0 nonconference slate Saturday with a 35-0 blowout of the Academy of the New Church, and hasn’t won a game by less than three touchdowns.
“Our kids deserve an A right now,” Coyle said. “Our athletic department works very hard to make sure that we’re playing meaningful football.
“One thing that we’ve talked about—and we’re proud to be 4-0—is that we’re getting better each week. Whether it was from our practices in June, to our camp in August, we just wanted to improve each week. I think this team’s gotten better.”
Last season featured some Jekyll-and-Hyde play—PC scored a lot, but also couldn’t keep opposing offenses off the board—and has mostly turned it into just Dr. Jekyll. Their shutout against ANC was their second one of the year (the first one came at Interboro), and they’re happy to go into Friday’s game against the Haverford School on a roll.
“We’ve challenged our guys to play fast and with confidence, whether it’s on offense or defense and I really think they’ve done that,” Coyle said. “Over the last three weeks, you’re seeing 26, 27, 28 guys getting involved in varsity-level minutes. The more guys that we have that we think can contribute, the better chance we have at winning.”
The Friday tilt with the reigning league champs will obviously be a tall order. Last year, the Quakers went to Haverford and gave the Fords a serious scare in a 41-40 triple-overtime thriller, the longest game in Inter-Ac history.
“Our kids have confidence that they can make plays,” Coyle said. “If you’re a receiver in our offense, and you’re fast and making good routes, Michael (Hnatkowski) can get the ball to you anywhere on the field—down the field or in the flat.
“We have guys like Chris Tucker and Denarii Beard who can make guys miss, and we have the ability to put points on the board rather quickly. You have to defend the whole field.
“We’re excited to get involved in a game like Friday’s. We’ve got a playoff-level game each week now.”