by Jonathan Vander Lugt
Since well before the advent of the motorcar, radio or even when electricity became widespread in the Philadelphia area, Germantown Academy and Penn Charter have faced each other on the gridiron. Saturday’s game – the 133rd iteration of the matchup – featured a pair of teams trying to make definitive closing statements on each of their respective seasons.
PC was fighting to stay out of the Inter-Ac’s cellar. The Quakers, despite being as talented as any school team in the past few seasons, started the league season 0-3. A win over Springside Chestnut Hill last weekend helped avert disaster, but a loss to GA would mean that PC was guaranteed nothing better than a tie for last.
The Patriots, meanwhile, wanted to continue to prove that they weren’t the same team that suited up for the first two weeks of league play. A revamped GA offense after a week two blowout at the Haverford School led to consecutive wins over SCH and the Episcopal Academy (the league’s eventual champ). Beating archrival PC to close their league season with a winning record would mark just the second time this decade that they’ve accomplished that feat.
In front of a packed house at PC, the teams couldn’t have delivered a better performance. GA won, 38-35, in a back-and-forth thriller.
The win marks GA’s first in this matchup since 2016, with the Quakers prevailing 26-17 and 41-14, respectively, the past two seasons.
“We felt like we were almost full-strength coming down for this game,” said GA coach Matt Dence. “We really felt that we could get this one. After that Haverford game [a 38-7 loss], we really searched for answers … but we didn’t give up and found them in a big way.
“We were down against Chestnut Hill,” he went on. “If we don’t come back there, none of this would have happened. We probably wouldn’t have beaten Episcopal, and we would have gone 0-5 in the league.”
The Pats got off on the wrong foot, fumbling away their opening possession and nearly doing it again a drive later. PC’s Matthew Marshall scored on a two-yard run on the drive between, and one could be forgiven if they thought that GA were letting this one slip away early.
But – as they characteristically would for the whole game – the Patriots hung in. They managed to recover their second fumble and eventually scored on Lacey Snowden’s three-yard touchdown to knot the score.
On the ensuing Quaker drive, PC fumbled it right back, handing GA a golden opportunity at PC’s 37-yard line.
On their first play, the Pats tried to catch PC off-guard. Jerry Griffen-Batchler caught a pitch as he swept right, faked a run and pulled up to pass near the sideline. Downfield, Snowden had three steps on his man and caught a perfect lob to cruise into the endzone for a quick six.
“Faking the run really opened up Lacey,” Griffen-Batchler said. “It ended up being a great play and a great call by coach Dence.”
Just like that, GA erased an early deficit after standing on the brink of unraveling.
“We’ve been able to answer when teams score against us in key spots,” Dence said. “We did that today, and I’m proud of them.”
The Quakers dabbled in some trickery of their own with a successful onside kick attempt to open the second half, and six plays later, Marshall punched in a three-yarder to tie the game.
The ensuing Patriot drive went nowhere, and after a shanked punt, PC set up camp from the Patriot 22-yard-line. Marshall scored again – this time from 15 yards out – to put the Quakers ahead.
“We just came out flat in the second half, and they did a great job,” Dence said. “They made that pooch kick and got some momentum.”
After squandering their advantage in less than half a quarter, GA faced another situation that might have caused other teams to wilt.
And again, Dence and his team responded with a kind of creativity and adaptability that had been missing in their first two league games. Leading off the next drive from their own 43-yard-line, Snowden lined up under center in wildcat formation.
This is not unfamiliar to the Pats – Snowden is their backup QB – but was a look that they hadn’t shown to that point in the game. Snowden took the snap, followed a key block by backfield mate Trae Vance, and bolted up the field for a 57-yard score.
Snowden – who was shaping up to be a candidate for the game’s MVP to that point – went down on the next PC series with what appeared to be an ankle sprain. It was bad enough to keep him out for the rest of the game, and GA had to make do without one of their foremost offensive playmakers.
On that drive, the Quakers marched all the way down to the one-yard-line before quarterback Kyle Jones punched it in from one yard out. Down again, the Pats had yet another hurdle.
“We’ve had an underdog mentality all year,” said Patriot quarterback Jordan Longino. “We’ve always had to keep coming back and keep fighting.”
“That’s the resilience of a GA man,” Dence said. “‘By persevering we shall see the fruits’ is our school motto. That’s how we run our team.”
So they dug their heels in and moved on. On the next drive, Longino completed a pair of passes for 31 yards and ran for another 14 to set up a Vance touchdown and bring the margin to 28-all.
On the next Quaker drive, Griffen-Batchler came up big again. His interception at the Patriot 18-yard line stopped a promising PC drive in its tracks, and his return gave the Pats good field position in their attempt to take the lead.
At that point, “the momentum switched,” Griffen-Batchler said. “I knew we were going to win the game from there.”
A 42-yard bomb from Longino to Jake Hsu (filling in for Snowden) set up a nine-yard Griffen-Batchler score to put the Pats back up. Another interception on the next Quaker drive – this one made by senior Shane Harkins – set up a 35-yard GA field goal by Nick Niemynski.
PC made it interesting with a quick touchdown on a 38-yard strike from Jones to Lance Rainer, but the Patriots did enough on the next drive to run out the clock and end the game.
“It’s a crazy feeling,” Longino said. “I’ve been at GA my whole life, and I’ve seen every PC-GA game. This is the first one I’ve played in, and it’s a surreal experience. I can’t even put it into words.”
Snowden finished with three scores on 96 yards rushing and 44 receiving in his abbreviated performance. Griffen-Batchler, the game’s MVP, made a difference in nearly every phase of the game: 50 yards on four receptions, his 37-yard gadget touchdown pass and clutch interception late in the game.
“This is one of the longest-standing rivalries in all of sports,” said the Patriot junior. “It feels great to be a part of history like that.”
On the other side, Marshall finished the day with 24 carries for 127 yards and three scores, while Jones had an uncharacteristically tough outing with three turnovers (two late picks and the first-half fumble).
“Turnovers probably defined today’s game,” PC head coach Tom Coyle said. “Usually that’s what allows a team to win or lose. We didn’t play our best football, and yet we still had a chance to make some plays. Our kids are resilient, and they played hard the entire game.”
“I’m disappointed, and it’s sad to say goodbye to these seniors,” he said. “I’ve got 12 guys graduating this year, and they’ve all lent something to this school. They’re part of this community and I’m proud to have coached them.”