By: John Knebels
Then There Were Two . . .
One of the craziest and entertaining Inter-Academic League football campaigns in recent memory has come down to a bona-fide championship game.
At 2:00 on November 9, Haverford School will visit Episcopal Academy in a season finale. Both teams enter tied for first place with identical 3-1 records, so the winner would become the undisputed champion.
Two major outcomes on November 2 helped orchestrate a one-team, take-all final. In the afternoon, Episcopal saw its perfect season spoiled by a controversial 56-55, overtime loss at Germantown Academy. In the evening, visiting Haverford School stopped Malvern Prep, 30-20.
Passing . . . Running . . . Kicking . . . Controversy
After the EA-GA slugfest ended in regulation thanks to a 47-yard field goal by junior Nick Niemynski with two seconds left, Episcopal (8-1, 3-1) took a 55-48 overtime lead on Maurcus McDaniel’s fifth touchdown run of the game and an extra point by senior Max Pasternack.
Undaunted, Germantown Academy (6-2, 2-2) climbed to within 55-54 on junior Jordan Longino’s touchdown pass to junior Jerry Griffen-Batchler. Instead of playing it safe and kicking the extra point, GA coach Matt Dence put the game on the line and attempted a two-point conversion – using the trick play affectionately dubbed “Philly Philly”or “Philly Special”, made famous by Nick Foles and Trey Burton during the Philadelphia Eagles’ scintillating, 41-33 Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots on February 4, 2018.
Germantown Academy QB Jordan Longino caught the "Philly Special" pass from teammate Jerry Griffen-Batcher to win a 55-54 thriller vs. Episcopal Academy - PSD Photo by Patty Morgan
Episcopal Academy QB Maurcus McDaniel scored five TD's in the Churchmen's 55-54 loss to GA - PSD Photo by Patty Morgan
Longino took the snap from senior Matt Voutsinos and immediately pitched it ahead to Griffen-Batchler, who then tossed it back to junior running back Lacey Snowden.
“I used to play quarterback in middle school and even played it freshman year at GA, so I wasn’t really nervous about making the throw,” said Snowden. “I just thought of it as a throw and catch between me and Jordan. We had the play previously designed before and we just thought that it was the right time to use such a special play and win the game.”
The junior rolled to his right and found a wide-open Longino in the end zone for the game winner.
“I was just thinking ‘execute,’” said Longino. “I knew if our line held up, it was going to work.”
A livid Episcopal pleaded with the officials to call a penalty, citing an obvious rule that once a ball is advanced forward, it can’t be thrown down the field by anyone, lest it be ruled an illegal forward pass. The referees ignored the request, and the game was over.
For the Patriots, Longino (18 of 24, 284 yards, four touchdowns), Griffen-Batchler (13 catches, 185 yards, three touchdowns; 14 tackles on defense), Snowden (22 carries, 129 yards, two touchdowns; two-point conversion pass), senior Shane Harkins (14 tackles, two for losses), and senior Luke Strauss (10 tackles) set the stat sheets ablaze.
In a losing effort, McDaniel accounted for seven of EA’s eight touchdowns. In addition to rushing for 134 yards and scoring five TDs, he threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Junior teammate Malcolm Folk caught a 54-yard TD and ran 26 yards for another score; senior Brian Virbitsky snared a 48-yard touchdown.
“A great team win,” said Dence. “Unbelievable offensive performance. Very proud of our team.”
The unsung hero was arguably Niemynski. Very few times does a high school kicker successfully drill one from 47 yards. But “Niem” was up to the task, using his left leg for an old-fashioned, straight-on boot.
“Being a kicker, you always have to prepare for the most pressured moments,” he said. “For most of my life I have played soccer, and I always took the penalty kicks. So I have been used to being in pressure moments.
“Going onto the field goal I felt confident, and in these situations, you just have to exclude all the outside noise and trust your ability and preparation. In the end, it was a good snap by (junior) Jeff Decker and hold from (junior) Lacey Snowden, and I felt like I got a good hit on the ball, and it was rewarding to keep us alive in the game. I want to thank the coaches for having the confidence to put me out there.”
Dence wasn’t surprised that his kicker came through.
“Nick’s kick has to be one of the most important and clutch kicks in GA Football history,” said Dence. “We are very proud of him and how he approaches his job. He is so solid in everything that he does. He has a lot of talent.
“But perhaps more importantly, he has a great mindset. He is calm and collected. He doesn’t let the moment get too big. We have complete confidence in him.”
Big Lead, Lonnnnnng Field Goal Lift Fords Past Friars
Speaking of long kicks, Neimynski was actually outdistanced several hours later.
In Haverford School’s win over Malvern Prep that eliminated the defending champion Friars (3-6, 2-2) from the title race while handing them their first Inter-Ac losing streak in seven seasons, senior Chris Clark tied a Delaware County record by booting a 50-yard field goal, the longest in school history. The three points early in the fourth quarter stemmed a Friars’ comeback attempt.
“Anytime we play a talented team like Malvern, it is a great atmosphere and a lot of fun, so to be able to contribute is a good feeling,” said Clark. “I try to channel my nerves into excitement and not let the moment get too big.
“It was really cool to get the chance to capitalize on that kick. That was my career long in a game and for my coaches to have that trust in me in a tight game was pretty awesome.”
Highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown connection from senior quarterback Dante Perri to senior Daiyaan Hawkins, Haverford School (6-3, 3-1) scored the first 20 points of the game. A pair of 47-yard touchdown runs by junior Lonnie White (151 yards rushing) cut Malvern’s deficit to 20-14.
Though they scored 30 points, the key factor to Haverford School’s victory was defense and special teams. The Fords forced a safety in the first quarter, and a second-quarter, 28-yard touchdown run by junior Mekhi Ajose-Williamson was set up by senior Pat Toal’s first career interception.
“Lonnie started rolling out away from me, and I started getting some depth and picked up an open man down the seam,” said Toal. “He never saw me and it came right to me. It was electric.”
Shoulder Injury Doesn’t Deter Aching Ford
Unfortunately for Toal, a left shoulder injury in the third quarter necessitated an immediate ride to Bryn Mawr Hospital. His status for Saturday’s championship remains uncertain.
Despite being away physically, Toal remained glued to his team’s performance.
“One of the guards blocked me and landed on top of me and I felt a pop right away,” said Toal. “It was really hard leaving the game. I was watching the live stream in the car to the emergency room.”
His team’s victory helped assuage Toal, one of Haverford’s team captains.
“Getting the win was the big thing,” he said.
Penn Charter QB Kyle Jones completed seven of 11 passes for 116 yards and two touchdown passes in victory vs. SCH - Photo by Zamani Feelings
No Longer Winless, Quakers Prevail
After losing their first two league games by a composite nine points, Penn Charter was crushed by Haverford School the following week. On Saturday, the Quakers rebounded by defeating Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 35-21.
Senior Kyle Jones completed seven of 11 passes for 116 yards and two touchdown passes to junior Aaron Maione. While Jones added 107 yards and his 10thtouchdown on the ground, senior teammate Matt Marshall contributed 136 yards and a TD on 29 carries. Marshall also intercepted his first pass of the season.
“It was a great way to bounce back after a rough few weeks,” said Jones. “We just got back to basics and what we do well all week in practice, and we came out and executed. It was huge to get momentum going into next week.”
Tough week. Got the hard one (Haverford School over Malvern) but was tripped up by surprising wins by Germantown Academy over Episcopal and Penn Charter over Springside Chestnut Hill. This will be the last Saturday afternoon of Inter-Academic League football, so this is the last chance to nail down a 3-0 prognostication. Here goes:
Malvern Prep (2-2) hosts Springside Chestnut Hill (1-3) at 1:00. Although disappointed they’re not competing for a league crown, there is no way Malvern will lose three straight. Friars will triumph, 30-17 . . . Penn Charter (1-3) picked up its first win last week, but the Quakers’ visiting 1:30 opponent, Germantown Academy (2-2), is flying high after consecutive dramatic wins. This is a coin flip. Let’s go with the hotter team, as GA wins, 26-20 . . . And that takes us to the championship – and the Inter-Ac Game of the Week – between Haverford School (3-1) and Episcopal Academy (3-1). The winner – and 2019 Inter-academic League champion – will be? Let’s see what the preview says!
Last Week: 1-2