by Jonathan Vander Lugt
There was 1:06 left in Germantown Academy quarterback Kyle McCloskey’s career.
The game—the Patriots’ 130th consecutive yearly battle with Penn Charter—was tied, 14-14. McCloskey was responsible for each of the Patriots’ touchdowns—the first, a seven-yard run through Penn Charter’s defense for the game’s first score. The second came three drives later on a 49-yard strike to Mike Reilly on the series’ first and only play.
Each GA score was met with one from the Quakers. Eddie Saydee powered through from one out with 9:39 left in the fourth to knot it at sevens, before he took a catch-and-run from Mike Hnatkowski 68 yards to the house two drives later.
So, ball in hand, McCloskey knew that his team’s season was on the line. If they won, it would force a tie with Malvern Prep for the Inter-Ac crown.
If they lost, the season, while successful, would be an afterthought.
“Kyle had to carry us there,” said GA coach Matt Dence. “He might be the toughest kid I’ve ever coached. He just doesn’t let things affect him.”
Six plays and 59 yards later—all tallied by McCloskey (47 in the air, 12 on the ground)—Vince Capone lined up for a 22-yard field goal with a shade under six seconds to go. When the ball sailed off his boot and flew through the uprights, the Germantown Academy crowd was ecstatic. After PC failed to do anything with the 2.4 seconds they had on the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots were league champs.
“All I was worried about was keeping my form right and keeping my head down,” Capone said. “You can’t think about anything else, really.”
With the GA’s season hanging in the balance, it’s easy to imagine how stressful the moment was, even if the field goal was relatively short. Adding to the pressure was the fact that Capone missed one earlier in the game—that attempt came from 37 yards.
“It means the world,” Capone said. “I’ve never been happier to win a game my whole life. It’s an amazing feeling. It makes me feel like the last four years of hard work have really paid off.”
For Penn Charter, the loss puts a sour punctuation mark on a once-promising season. The Quakers closed out 2016 at 6-3, after sweeping their four-game nonconference slate and starting the Inter-Ac season 2-1.
To add salt to the wound, all of their losses were close. In addition to the season-ender, their season-opener to the Haverford School was decided by a point in overtime, and PC’s loss to Malvern Prep two weeks ago came by just a touchdown.
“Let’s roleplay here,” said PC head coach Tom Coyle . “If we win this football game, we finish the year at 7-2, and we’re really proud of our guys.”
Had they won, it would have brought a winning record to the conference as well. It’s not a conference championship, but it’s something to hang your hat on, if nothing else.
“Unfortunately, we finished 6-3 and I think it’s a completely different story,” he said. “If we’re the ones kicking a field goal with less than five seconds to come away with a win, it becomes a great season for us.
“But that’s the league this year. Everyone was competitive.”
The Patriots, though, were on cloud nine. The share of the league title represents GA’s first taste of the crown since 2004, when nobody on the team was beyond the first grade.
The win also puts a fitting arc on McCloskey’s career and with it, Dence’s tenure. His first season with the program was that of McCloskey’s 8th grade year—the last one prior to his attendance at GA—and in that season, the Patriots went winless in the Inter-Ac.
Slowly, they’ve been chipping away. Last year started well enough—the Pats opened on a 7-0 run—before taking a nosedive in the team’s last three league contests.
Each of the team’s four league wins this year were close (they came by a total margin of just 15 points), but they all counted in the standings just as much as a blowout would have.
McCloskey took home the game’s MVP trophy after 277 total yards (172 passing, 105 rushing) to go along with his aforementioned touchdowns.
“I’m lucky that I get to play football at the next level,” the Villanova-bound southpaw said, “but it’s amazing that I could come out and play well to get this win for my team.
“Especially for the seniors who don’t get to keep playing. This is their last football game. I couldn’t have picked a better last game.”
He’s right. This one featured an MVP performance in a victory over his team’s archrival—a contest with history dating back prior to the industrial revolution.
“It’s pretty storybook,” he said.