by Jonathan Vander Lugt
“Coming into this game, winning was a big deal for us,” said Penn Charter’s star running back Eddie Saydee after the Quakers’ 131st matchup with Germantown Academy on Saturday. “We haven’t won nine games since 1905, so that’s what we were really looking forward to.”
Back then, nearby Forbidden Drive still saw automobile traffic. Alden Park Manor, the massive, Jacobian-revival apartment complex that looms near the Penn Charter campus, was still twenty years from breaking ground. The Quakers and Germantown Academy hadn’t even reached the second decade of their rivalry.
“We weren’t worried about anyone else winning or losing – just us,” Saydee said.
If there had been a scoreboard with tallies from around the league, it would have been easy for Saydee and his teammates to give in and watch. A Malvern Prep loss would have given Penn Charter a shot at a shared league title.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be—the Friars beat Springside Chestnut Hill 52-21. The only thing the Quakers had left to play for was pride.
“We came through,” Saydee continued, with a 26-17 win over the Patriots in hand. “And we’re happy about that.”
For a while though, it was Germantown Academy’s game to lose. The Pats struck first on a 29-yard strike from freshman QB Lacey Snowden to Timmy Ruth with a shade less than three minutes in the first quarter. An onside kick gave them the ball right back, and after another long pass between Snowden and Ruth – this one for 34 yards – set up a two-yard Tanner Long touchdown run, GA was up by two scores in a snap.
Two drives later, GA faked a punt – Mike Reilly snapped the ball and quickly lofted it to Long, wide-open in the flat, for a big and potentially game-changing gain.
Not so, according to the referees. The Pats were flagged for an illegal motion penalty – meaning that more than one player was changing his position along the line of scrimmage before the snap – turning a big gain into a five-yard loss.
The Patriots punted, and Penn Charter marched 87 yards to score, capped by a 12-yard pass from Will Samuel to John Washington. What could have been a three-score Germantown Academy lead at halftime instead stood at 14-7.
“I need to see that on film, because I think that’s one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dence said, of the penalty. “To call that in that situation, it’s just despicable.”
Coaches don’t often out-and-out criticize the officiating. They’ll make overtures or innuendos that hint at displeasure, but a direct contradiction of a referee’s call is rare. Not to insinuate that Dence was necessarily correct in his assessment, but it seemed that he legitimately believed that there was no penalty.
“If we go up 21-0 right there, it could have been a totally different game,” he said. “I could be wrong, so I don’t know. We practice that play nonstop, and I’d bet my paycheck that we didn’t have two men in motion.”
That play started a rolling snowball for Penn Charter. With five minutes left in the third, Samuel found Brendan Thomas for a four-yard score, though Ryan Bradby missed the PAT. Germantown Academy had a tenuous 14-13 lead.
Four plays into the next GA next drive, Donavan Ganges put the ball on the ground, only to see Penn Charter pick it up. Bradby, making up for his missed extra point, knocked in a 19-yard field goal on the ensuing Quaker drive to bring it to 16-14 PC.
“There’s a real, genuine toughness with the group and that begins with two of our captains – Eddie Saydee and Terence Thompson,” PC head coach Tom Coyle said. “Not to use coach-speak, but we really had a ‘never-say-die’ attitude, and it was contagious.”
Saydee finished with 103 rushing yards and 78 through the air – 53 of which came on a touchdown pass from quarterback Will Samuel on the next PC drive to pad the Quakers’ lead. GA fought back with a 25-yard field goal later in the quarter, but Penn Charter responded with one of their own with nine seconds left to seal the game’s final margin.
“I feel amazing,” said Samuel, who ended with three touchdowns 234 yards on 17-of-31 passing. “This is something we knew we could come in and accomplish. We knew they were a tough team. We started off slow, but we stepped up and were able to pull it out.”
Elsewhere for the Quakers, senior John Washington tallied 85 yards and a score, making it six touchdowns in his last three games. Saydee, in addition to his prolific yardage totals, finished with 11 scores on the ground, three through the air and another on an interception. The pair combined to form a stellar duo in the Quaker secondary as well, with Saydee leading PC with three interceptions and Washington pacing the team in passes defensed with five.
In all, the only blemish on Penn Charter’s season was its week-six 23-9 loss to Malvern Prep.
“It starts with a work ethic that’s shared by everyone on the team,” Coyle said. “For this team to have won nine games and be remembered the way they will be is really special.”
For the Patriots, the ending isn’t so rosy. Dence’s team flashed promise throughout the season, but weathered injuries and offensive inconsistency on its way to a 4-6 year. It stayed out of the conference cellar with its 28-14 win over the Haveford School, but a 1-4 conference record lacks much consolation.
“Part of me wants to say it’s disappointing, but I’m not disappointed in the kids,” Dence said. “I’m disappointed for them because I feel like we were so close to achieving much more. Some of our seniors were some of the best leaders we’ve had at GA. In the end, today’s about them. They had everything. Work ethic, toughness, relentlessness – there were a lot of things that they did really well. They set the bar higher.”
The Patriots aren’t without hope. They had their first real semblance of a running game in at least three seasons, and all members of GA’s backfield – its late-season QB, as well as the top two running backs on the depth chart – are sophomores or younger.
After this one though, there is no ‘next time out.’ For GA, the loss especially stings because it has to sit. Penn Charter, on the other hand, will look back on an all-time year.
With the chilly air comes the promise of winter, and with that, the end of the football season. Soon, the sound of basketballs pounding the hardwood will dominate the high school sports landscape and after more than three months’ worth of games, this one puts another season in the books.
SCH, La Salle lose to end their seasons
Springside Chestnut Hill lost a tough one to Malvern Prep Saturday, 52-21. Statistically, Jack Elliott stood out from under center, finishing with 178 yards on 17-of-26 passing. He often found his brother Pat, who finished with nine receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The loss puts a cap on a 6-5 season for the young Blue Devils. Though it was up-and-down, SCH managed to win its first Inter-Ac game since 2014, and has much of its roster – there were only seven seniors in 2017 – will return in 2018.
The Explorers, in a rematch with St. Joe’s Prep for the Philadelphia Catholic League 6A title, fell 17-3. The offense – at times among the most prolific in the state – struggled to get much of anything going with a 148-yard effort against a stout Hawk front.
On the season, La Salle weathered a weeks-long injury to Jones – who figured prominently in the Explorers’ preseason plans – and finished with a 7-4 record. The “good, not great” record hides the fact that La Salle was one of the best five teams in the city (if not the state), but they twice ran into SJP (one of the best teams in the country, let alone Pennsylvania), and once into Archbishop Wood, another one of the state’s best.