by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Springside Chestnut Hill senior Ke’Shawn Williams – a Division I commit to Kent State University – surely wanted his season to start well.
Did he imagine that would involve two punt-return touchdowns in the first quarter of Friday’s 36-24 win over Father Judge? Probably not. But there’s no more exciting start that he could think of either.
“A punt return is always a fun play to watch,” he said. “And when you put fear into the other team’s heart so much that they don’t want to punt the ball to you, it’s always a good feeling.”
The first was a 42-yard dash with about eight minutes left in the frame to put SCH ahead 7-0. The next – a 70-yarder – came with less than a minute before the second.
“He’s like a video game player,” Blue Devil head coach Rick Knox said. “He runs at a different speed than the other guys. Any time he’s got the ball in his hands, he’s dangerous.”
On the first punt return, he caught the ball and slowed to almost a walking pace while surveying the field ahead of him. Once he got the defenders in a lull, he bolted through would-be tacklers for the score. It was a rare display of on-field awareness for a high school player.
“It’s definitely an advantage to come out with a slow tempo on a run,” Williams said. “You slow the defense down, and once they settle if you give it a little burst they end up too far behind to catch you. Then it’s over.”
The second punt return came from the SCH 30-yard line on a ball that had already taken an unpredictable bounce and that the whole SCH sideline was yelling at players to avoid.
Williams saw a seam, picked the ball up and weaved through would-be tacklers for a long score.
“Even though he’s not the biggest kid, he runs so hard and he’s really difficult to tackle,” Knox said. “He brings a lot of tenacity.”
The big plays helped mask an otherwise rusty start for the Blue Devils, as they committed nine penalties, lost a fumble, failed to convert two PATs and missed numerous tackles, including one on a would-be second-quarter sack that let Judge’s Aidan Dooley scamper for a nine-yard touchdown run.
“We’re going to keep our confidence up,” Williams said. “We know people make mistakes and that we’ve got to fix it, but at the end of the day, we got our W. We have to keep our heads high and keep improving.”
The Blue Devils scored first in the second half on Aaron Rascoe’s 16-yard run to pad the lead to 30-10 before Dooley (whose older brother, Paul, plays quarterback at West Chester University and played at SCH before graduating in 2014) bounced back with another TD run from four yards out at the beginning of the fourth.
With less than two minutes left, Rascoe punched another one in from nine yards out to put SCH back up by three scores.
“He’s a beast,” Knox said of his senior running back. “He’s 205 pounds of muscle and he’s tough to tackle. There’s not a lot of 200-pound running backs in high school that can run like him.”
Rascoe finished with 122 yards and three scores on 17 carries, and added a 39-yard reception on a second-quarter screen that set up his first touchdown (an 11-yarder).
“To win your first game against a team that has already played one is big,” Knox said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we did a lot of good things despite having a lot to improve on.
“I attribute that mostly to first game inexperience,” he went on. “Seeing it on film will help them tremendously.”
Some adjustments might not need film to be made on the fly. Take, for instance, the case of defensive end T.J. Spirito. He missed the aforementioned second-quarter tackle on Dooley.
On that play (a third-and-five from the SCH nine-yard line), Spirito made an off-balance attempt at tackling the Dooley’s upper body. The QB shed it with relative ease and darted down the left sideline for a score.
After the play, Knox let Spirito hear it and told him that he should have gone after Dooley’s hips and lower body, which is a more mechanically sound method of tackling.
Faced with a very similar situation on the first drive of the third quarter – a third-and-two from the SCH 18-yard line – Dooley roved toward the left sideline again, hoping to eke out a few yards and convert a first down. The game was far from decided at that point, as a Judge score would have brought them within seven points to tie.
Spirito caught Dooley behind the line of scrimmage, tackled his hips and sacked him for a two-yard loss. Dooley’s incomplete pass on the next play led to a turnover on downs, which set up an 80-yard Blue Devil touchdown drive.
Other plays may have stood out more in the box score, but it’s tough to argue that Spirito’s sack in that spot didn’t mean as much or more than any of SCH’s touchdowns did.
“That was a huge play,” Knox said. “I love it when kids bounce back and learn.
“Spirito didn’t play last year, but we’re excited to have him,” he went on. “If you miss a year and haven’t ever played defensive end, making an adjustment like that after just one play is impressive.”
Elsewhere, Williams added four offensive touches for 39 yards, but had a 24-yard touchdown run and another 38-yard catch called back due to penalties.
“We definitely want to get him more involved,” Knox said. “When we watch the film we’ll see some places where we can get him more touches.
“Obviously we’ve got to get our passing game solidified,” he went on. “Whether it wasn’t a good ball, the blocking was off or the route wasn’t quite right, we’ve gotta get that figured out.”
Junior QB A.J. Graham performed well enough to get the win – 6-for-14 for 101 yards – and will hopefully get his varsity footing as the season goes on. He’ll have his next shot against Central on Friday.
“He was hurt most of last year and missed a lot of time the year before that, so he doesn’t have a lot of high school snaps in JV or varsity,” Knox said.
“It can be nerve-wracking, especially with the receivers we have,” he went on. “A.J. wants to get them the ball – he knows it’s his job – but it’s just a matter of staying focused and watching your technique. … Playing quarterback is tough.”
FJ: 0 10 0 14: 24
SCH: 16 6 7 7: 36
SCH: Ke’Shawn Williams 42 punt return; Marco Goldberg PAT good (7-0; 8:11)
SCH: Goldberg 21 field goal (10-0; 3:59)
SCH: Williams 70 punt return; Goldberg PAT good (17-0; 0:44)
FJ: Jack Isdell 28 field goal (17-3; 10:09)
SCH: Aaron Rascoe 11 run; Goldberg PAT no good (23-3; 8:30)
FJ: Dooley 9 run; Isdell PAT good (23-10; 0:51)
SCH: Rascoe 16 run; Goldberg PAT good (30-10; 0:32)
FJ: Dooley 4 run; Isdell PAT good (30-17; 10:07)
SCH: Rascoe 9 run; Goldberg PAT no good (36-17; 1:43)
FJ: Dooley 81 pass to Damier Johnson; Isdell PAT good (36-24; 1:25)
Around the Area:
Northwest Philadelphia (and the near suburbs) have a sterling football record so far. La Salle won each of its games over the past two weeks, while Germantown Academy and Penn Charter both notched blowout wins to start their seasons.
La Salle’s (2-0, 0-0) first game – a 15-9 win – came over Imhotep Charter. In the second, a 42-6 blowout of North Penn, all-purpose offensive star Samuel Brown ran for 60 yards on nine carries, caught eight balls for 165 yards and scored five times. The Explorers will host defending Inter-Ac champ Malvern Prep next Saturday at Springfield Township High School.
The Patriots (1-0, 0-0) beat Simon Gratz 35-18 in Ocean City, New Jersey on Friday. Junior Jerry Griffen-Batchler had his fingerprints all over the win, as the all-purpose back ran for three scores (from nine, nine and 11 yards out, respectively) and saw 17 touches for 110 yards. GA heads to Bishop McDevitt for its second contest next Saturday.
PC (1-0, 0-0) ran roughshod over Lansdale Catholic in another Ocean City tilt, 41-20 for the 700th win in the program’s history. Quarterback Kyle Jones ran 18 times for 176 yards and four scores. Not to be outdone, Matthew Marshall added 223 and a score on 20 carries. The Quakers will play at Conwell-Egan Catholic on Friday.