by Jonathan Vander Lugt
“We had a chance to play a neighborhood rival, and there is some emotion out there,” said Penn Charter coach Tom Coyle, of the underrated rivalry between his Quakers and the Springside Chestnut Hill Blue Devils. “We knew this was going to be a hard-fought football game.”
Since Germantown Academy moved to its current campus Fort Washington, the only Inter-Ac schools that play within Philadelphia’s city limits are SCH and PC. The two are separated by about a 10-minute drive across the Cresheim Valley, Mt. Airy, Germantown and into East Falls. Geographically, they’re the closest pair of schools in the conference.
“They were going to step up and give us a fight,” Coyle said. “In my five years that I’ve been here, we’ve won four times against them, but every single one was a well-contested football game.”
This one, which rang final with a 28-7 Penn Charter advantage, was indeed a more closely matched game than the margin would suggest.
“The scoreboard says we got blown out, but we didn’t,” SCH coach Rick Knox said. “What they did to separate was that they made a couple of breakaway plays, and we didn’t. That’s what we talked about all week – we can’t have ‘that one play’ go against us, because if you stack a couple of those up, you lose.”
The plays he’s referring to were a pair of touchdown passes from Will Samuel to John Washington (for 33 and 60 yards, respectively), and Eddie Saydee’s fourth-quarter, 70-yard rumble for six.
The what-if game is a dangerous one, but Knox has a point.
SCH’s game plan was to stop Saydee – which, to this juncture, has been folly for opposing defenses – and, save for the touchdown jaunt, the Blue Devils were effective. Saydee tallied zero yards on seven first-quarter carries and he finished the first half with just 39 yards, 33 of those came on a garbage-time run with seconds to go in the half. Knox’s defense did what it wanted to.
His offense, on the other hand, was in shambles. Still down its best four skill players, the Blue Devils turned the ball over four times – two fumbles, and two Aaron Angelos interceptions.
In the meantime, Penn Charter scored twice in the half – the first on a six-yard Saydee run, and the second on Washington’s aforementioned 33-yard haul.
Washington’s 60-yarder in the third quarter made it 21-0 Quakers, and the Blue Devils answered with a drive to the Penn Charter 13-yard line only to turn it over on downs. They quickly recovered, as Miles Hugee reeled in an interception from PC’s Will Samuel within the Quaker 10.
Again, the Blue Devil offense couldn’t deliver. Two straight Angelos incompletions turned the ball over on downs at the three-yard-line.
“If we convert in those situations, the game could be 28-21,” Knox said. “Who knows what happens then.”
On its next drive, Andrew Gwynn broke loose for a 73-yard score, despite a broken left hand. He led the way for the Blue Devils on offense, with his score and 81 yards rushing. Hugee had a nice game through the air, pulling in three Angelos passes for 72 yards, and the SCH signal caller finished with 136 yards on 12-of-26 passing.
So, the Blue Devils finished with a mixed bag. The defense played well, despite what the score made it seem, as it’s hard not to give up points when a lack of offensive execution leads to giving the opposition 15 drives to work with. In the end, moral victories ring hollow, but Knox’s tone to the team was far from disappointment.
“Offensively, when you’re without your top four guys, it hurts,” he said. “They made some good pass plays, and that’s not what we really planned for. Going in, obviously, we were trying to stop Saydee. We did, except for one play. Overall, I told the guys that I was extremely proud of their effort.”
For Penn Charter, Coyle was thrilled with the way his team played. His defense forced turnovers, held taut at the goal line, and the offense was resilient against a stout SCH front.
“Our defense gives teams problems because, despite not being the biggest bunch, we’re fairly physical and our guys run to the ball well,” Coyle said. “We have speed and athleticism, and our guys aren’t afraid to be physical.”
The Quakers also had two touchdowns called back: the first, Matthew Marshall’s long fumble recovery in the second quarter, and the second on a would-be 23-yard pass to Saydee in the third. Despite the penalties, Penn Charter punctuated each ensuing drive with a touchdown.
“Our kids showed some really good resiliency to finish on that drive (after Marshall’s negated return),” Coyle said. “This team is really strong mentally. It’s important that when things go bad for them that they’re able to stay in the moment and finish those drives.”
Washington broke out for 115 yards on four receptions, and even with his early struggles, Saydee, like clockwork, finished the game with 21 carries and 153 yards.
“Eddie is a very tough kid. The more you put on him, the better he gets,” Coyle said. “I’ve coached football for a long time, and he’s one of the top kids that I’ve ever had. He has a unique ability to run fast, be extremely physical, and really understand the game of football. When he plays college football somewhere, he’ll have an opportunity to eventually play on either side of the ball, and be a contributor on special teams right away.”
Penn Charter, now at 7-1 on the year (2-1 in the Inter-Ac), will host the Episcopal Academy next week. Springside Chestnut Hill (5-4, 1-2) hosts the Haveford School Fords (1-8, 0-3) in search of its second conference win.
Elsewhere, local teams struggled. Germantown Academy’s offense continued to sputter in an 18-0 loss at the hands of the Episcopal Academy, and La Salle dropped its last regular-season game to Archbishop Wood, 31-17.
The shutout makes it just three points across GA’s last eight quarters of football, and the season isn’t about to get any easier. The Pats tallied just 124 yards, and turned to gadget plays to find offense – running Lacey Snowden and receiver Mike Reilly combined for as many passing completions (three) as starting QB Colton Niedzielski. Up next for the Pats (4-4, 1-2) is Malvern Prep (4-4, 3-0).
La Salle (6-3, 4-2) lost mainly because it couldn’t get anything going on the ground. The Explorers tallied just 34 rushing yards – a far cry from their early-season efforts and clearly not enough to get past Wood. The Explorers will take on Roman Catholic (2-8, 2-4) in the Philadelphia Catholic League’s Class AAAAAA semifinal on Friday for a chance to rematch with either St. Joe’s Prep or Father Judge in the 6-A final.