by Jonathan Vander Lugt
“It was grit, baby, grit,” said Springside Chestnut Hill coach Rick Knox. “It was resiliency.”
It turns out that after three calendar years without an Inter-Ac win, that’s what it took to finally send the Blue Devils home with a conference victory.
“It feels great. It really does,” Knox went on, after his team beat Germantown Academy 10-3 on Saturday. “It’s been a long time.”
For two years, the Blue Devils have started the season hot, ripping through nonconference slates before injuries and lack of depth would befall the team. Last year, after a 4-1 start, the Blue Devils finished 4-6. In 2015, they swept their non-league schedule before again finishing winless in the Inter-Ac.
This year, they started 4-2 in nonconference play before losing to the Episcopal Academy, 21-7 in their league opener.
“It was starting to look like it was going that way again,” Knox said.
With receiver Ke’Shawn Williams already out with a broken collarbone and offensive everyman Rob Gentile a late scratch, the Blue Devils could scarcely afford more injuries.
“We finally got our best runner back, and he went down in the second series,” Knox said, noting sophomore runner Aaron Rascoe’s first-quarter ankle injury.
To make matters worse, Pat Elliott, the team’s best remaining receiver, went down later in the half.
“We were down, basically, our best four offensive players. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys’ effort,” Knox said. “They battled together and stuck it out.”
The game—a defensive battle throughout—featured just three scoring plays. SCH marched the length of the field on its first drive and settled for a 21-yard field goal, and three drives later, Germantown Academy matched with one of its own.
The Blue Devils responded with a 75-yard drive capped by Aaron Angelos’ nine-yard strike to Brian Richardson, and Jack Myers’ extra point ended up being the last of the game.
That’s not to say the game was without drama, as Germantown Academy’s defense kept the game close. The Patriots’ best opportunity came in the fourth, when they had SCH pinned on third-and-long from its own three-yard line.
Seeking an opportunity to get a short field and possibly tie the game, GA promptly gave up a 72-yard pass from Angelos to Myles Hugee, setting SCH up well into Patriot territory. Myers missed a 37-yard field goal try later in the drive, but GA’s momentum had already been sapped.
“We had a chance to make them punt right there,” GA coach Matt Dence said. “Who knows what would have happened.”
What did happen was that GA went three-and-out on its next possession – as it had on two of the three prior. After a brief SCH drive, the quarterback Colton Niedzielski got one more shot to lead the Pats with a shade under three minutes to go.
Niedzielski had struggled in the quarter, with zero yards on 2-of-6 passing across the two pervious Patriot drives.
“I don’t know what the issue was,” Dence said. “I think he knew where to send the ball, but I think sometimes he felt pressure when there wasn’t or didn’t feel it when there actually was.”
Dence called two running plays to start the Patriots’ last drive, despite having less than three minutes to go and only one time out. The first time Niedzielski dropped back on that last drive, he was sacked for a five-yard loss.
He did complete a 25-yard pass to Mike Reilly to bring the ball within the Blue Devil 40-yard-line, but GA eventually turned it over on downs, essentially ending the game.
The story here ended up being the lack of Germantown Academy offense – and, relatedly, the performance of the SCH defense. Niedzielski struggled, though he didn’t have any turnovers to show it. He finished with just 70 yards on 13-of-25 passing.
Freshman Lacey Snowden provided the lone bright spot for the GA offense, running for 65 yards on 12 carries.
“I just thought we were clicking better on offense,” Dence said. “I would’ve been shocked—don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Springside Chestnut Hill—but if you told me that we would have only scored three points, I would have taken you up on that bet.”
As for SCH, Knox was obviously thrilled.
“I couldn’t tell you enough how well the defense played,” Knox said. “It was an unbelievable effort to hold them to just three points. We really felt good about our scheme, and we really executed well.”
On the other side, Andrew Gwynn performed admirably in Rascoe’s absence, rushing 14 times for 91 yards. Angelos finished the day with 189 yards and his score to Richardson on 9-of-16 passing. Up next for SCH is a date at Penn Charter this Saturday.
“We would have like to score a little more – we had big plays every now and then and it would have been nice to convert,” Knox said. “But a win’s a win.”
It’s a cliché – “a win’s a win” has been uttered by countless coaches across all levels, age groups and sports generally – but after waiting three years for a conference victory, Knox probably deserves a pass.
In other local football news, Penn Charter came away with a win, while La Salle dropped its first conference game in a 28-14 loss to St. Joe’s Prep.
For the Quakers, the 21-7 victory over the Haverford School represented a bounce back from the previous week’s 23-9 loss at the hands of Malvern Prep. As always, Edward Saydee led PC in yards and touches, with 114 and 27, respectively, to go along with a touchdown. According to Ted Silary, veteran Philadelphia Daily News reporter and encyclopedia of area football knowledge (especially as it pertains to Penn Charter, his alma mater), the win is the Quakers’ first over the Fords since 2007. PC will host Springside Chestnut Hill on Saturday.
La Salle, in its annual mega-rivalry game with the Prep, gave the Hawks one of their stiffest challenges to date. Danny Solecki performed well, passing for a touchdown and 147 yards on 17-of-25 passing, while Joey Burnham led the way on the ground with 105 yards on 13 carries, to go along with 25 yards on a pair of receptions. La Salle will face Archbishop Wood in the final game of its regular season this week.