Photos/Videos: Zamani Feelings, Patty Morgan, Mike Nance & Marc Narducci
By: Marc Narducci
PHILADELPHIA -- Is there anything that zips by faster than the Inter-Ac football schedule? It’s a five-game meatgrinder of a schedule and this year, the championship status wasn’t known entirely until the final week.
The pride and essence of the Inter-Ac was shown when two 0-4 teams in league play – William Penn Charter and Germantown Academy - hooked up for their 137th meeting, the longest continuous football rivalry in the country. This game capped off the historied PC/GA Day, a day dedicated to a culmination of the fall sports season.
The two teams played like a championship was on the line. Maybe somebody forgot to tell the teams what their records were. Or more accurately, it showed high school competition and Inter-Ac football at its very best.
Pride can be an intoxicating motivator. Both teams battled as if the Super Bowl was on the line. Then again, with such great rivalries steeped in long-standing tradition, there is no let-up for any Inter-Ac teams, especially in the final game, where rivalry week never fails to produce its share of drama.
Enjoy our final Pick 6, where we salute not just the champion, but the teams and individuals who laid it all on the line, making this such a special league, one that has plenty of tradition and just as much talent.
Penn Charter senior running back-linebacker Zach Curtin had missed the Quakers previous game, a 17-7 loss to Haverford School due to injury.
He had zero chance of missing the final game of his career.
Not only did he return, but he was used in a relatively new way – wildcat quarterback. Penn Charter sophomore Tom McGlinchey also saw time at QB, but Curtin played a substantial number of snaps as the wildcat.
In an earlier game against Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Curtin was briefly used as a wildcat, but his experience at taking the direct snaps was rather limited during that game.
That didn’t stop him from mastering the position in Penn Charter’s 35-14 win over visiting Germantown Academy, played before the usual huge crowd that a rivalry of this significance attracts.
It was the 137th meeting between these two rivals in a series that dates back to 1887.
Curtin, who will continue his education and football career at Amherst, rushed 20 times for 176 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Eian Kilpatrick and caught two passes for 12 yards.
He was also a major menace on defense, recording six tackles.
Is it any wonder that he was voted the MVP of the game?
“It’s a mix of emotions, it has been a four-year buildup to this moment,” Curtin said. “Obviously I love going out with a win, it’s going to be sad not playing with my boys and it was a great experience.”
Everybody wants W’s every time out, but that doesn’t happen. What does occur is the camaraderie that a player has with his teammates, along with the ability to compete. Those are two major reasons why people like Curtin play this game.
PC/GA Day MVP Zach Curtin with head coach Tom Coyle and head of school Karen Warren Coleman - PSD Photo by Marc Narducci
Now let’s get to the wildcat.
It’s not as easy as he made it look. Not only taking direct snaps, but deciding whether to hand the ball off or keep it, is often challenging.
“We did it a couple of plays against Springside and didn’t move the ball well, but this was pretty much a full game playing wildcat and it was pretty cool.”
Even when he was sidelined during the previous game against the Haverford School, Curtin was putting in the time to master the wildcat position.
“I didn’t practice that week, I was non-contact, but for about two hours every day in practice I worked on handoffs,” he said.
And then he worked leading up to the Germantown Academy game, but he quickly discovered one major difference.
“It’s way different than practice, in the game it’s live action, but good players make good plays,” he said.
He made plenty of good plays.
And as thrilled as he was to win the MVP, there is nothing like earning a W in your final high school game. One gets the impression that at future class reunions, this game may be brought up a time or two.
“In the end, everybody thinks that this game is all that matters with your season go out positive if you win PC-GA,” he said. “Obviously winning in the Inter-Ac means a lot, but the whole outcome of your season really depends on this game.”
More on Penn Charter
LB Hugh Maley, who has been a tackling machine all season, led the Quakers with eight tackles against Germantown Academy. For the season, he totaled a team-high 72 tackles….In addition to his TD reception, Kilpatrick had a team-high seven solo tackles, plus an interception against GA…RB Ohifame Ijeboi, finished his brilliant Penn Charter career with 132 yards rushing and two touchdown on 20 carries against GA…In nine games this season, the Minnesota commit rushed for 925 yards and nine TDs on 153 carries (6.0 avg.)… Penn Charter coach Tommy Coyle on finishing the season with a W: “This game is so important to both communities and it’s really a special opportunity to be able to close out your football season in this type of environment.”
A year ago, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy took its lumps, going 0-5 in the Inter-Ac. The Blue Devils weren’t predicted to finish much higher this season, but the heck with predictions.
SCH entered the final game of the season against Malvern Prep, vying for a share of the Inter-Ac title. Malvern was already guaranteed at least a share of the championship, but an SCH win would make it co-champions.
Despite being an underdog, SCH fought and scrapped and battled and whatever other word you want to use to say how determined this team was against one of the Inter-Ac titans.
SCH entered the fourth quarter trailing just 10-7 and was executing a drive into Malvern Prep territory, when the game turned on a 87-yard Malvern Prep Pick 6.
Final score: Malvern Prep 17, SCH 7.
While digesting the sour taste of defeat, SCH coach Rick Knox put everything well into perspective. His team entered the fourth quarter of the final game, within three points of the champs.
“We gave everything we had and had them on the ropes,” Knox said. “It was everything you want in a championship game.”
Even without the desired result, Knox was so appreciative to the veterans who helped turn the season around, from 4-6, 0-5 last year to 8-2, 3-2 this year.
“One of my assistant coaches said that If you are playing a meaningful game on the last game of the year, you had a great season, “Knox said. “Our senior class turned the program around and they brought a lot of pride to the program.
Among those seniors who went out with a bang was QB Tommy Markey, who completed 20-of-28 passes for 227 yards and a TD. The TD pass was 12-yards to Anthony Gentile.
Senior Tyler Roberts had six receptions for 76 yards and added five tackles, one tackle for loss and a fumble recovery.
It wasn’t just the seniors who stood out. Sophomore linebackers Harry Kull and Johnny Nosal, were all over the field. Kull had seven tackles and a forced fumble while Nosal added seven tackles, including a tackle for loss.
It was a memorable final game for Episcopal Academy senior QB-DB-P Na’Rome Rayborn.
The 6-1, 180-pound Rayborn guided the Churchmen to a 28-9 win over rival Haverford School on another celebrated day, the annual EA/HAV Day. Rayborn completed 10-of-13 passes for 92 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 14 times for 81 yards. The also booted three punts inside the Haverford School 10-yard line.
To say EA will miss Rayborn is a major understatement, especially for all he has done on and off the field for EA.
“He is an excellent kid, and I am really proud of the way he represents our program,” EA coach Todd Fairlie said. “He is a special person and an excellent football player and also a leader in the community and we are very lucky to have him as a representative.”
For the season Rayborn completed 60 percent of his passes for 946 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also rushed for 537 yards (6.39 avg.) and five touchdowns.
This has been a difficult season for Rayborn, who missed time due to injury and even when he first returned, he wasn’t 100 percent. Yet he kept competing and helped EA earn a 3-2 Inter-Ac record.
Finally, he could get a little nostalgic in looking back on the final performance of a spectacular career.
“Obviously the last win on Saturday is going to be on the minds of my teammates and I for however long,” Rayborn said. “There are a ton of other memories I made at Episcopal Academy. I have so much thanks to my coaches and teammates and the culture that is here.”
As for his final Inter-Ac game, Rayborn said, “It wasn’t just me making plays, it was our offensive line and our defense that played great and everybody on the field made a play to help us win.”
Now Rayborn finally has time to focus on recruiting.
“Whether a school wants me as an athlete or a quarterback, I will look at all situations,” he said. “Whether it is Division I, II or III, I want to ensure a good future for myself.”
The school that successfully recruits him will likely ensure a good future for its program.
Germantown Academy went 0-5 in the Inter-Ac but there is cause for future optimism. The Patriots have several young players, with sophomore QB Xavier Stearn leading the list.
In Saturday’s 35-14 loss to Penn Charter, Stearn became the school’s all-time leader in single season passing yards.
That record lasted all of one season. Tristan Machado set the single-season mark last year with 2054 passing yards.
Stearn threw for 325 yards and two touchdowns against Penn Charter, giving him 21 scoring passes this season. His new single-season passing yards record is 2,201 yards.
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Stearn has a big arm and no doubt over the next two years his new record will be in jeopardy.
“The record means something, but it is not as sweet as it should because we didn’t win the game,” he said.
He entered the season realizing he had big shoes to fill.
“Coming behind a guy like Tristan, it is definitely important to step up and I think I did an alright job so far and I just want to continue that next year,” he said.
Despite taking their lumps this season, Stearn sees hope for future improvement.
“I am definitely excited for the future,” he said.
In his first season as a varsity starter, Stearn picked up a wealth of knowledge.
“I definitely learned a lot as a young quarterback,” he said. “As the games went on, I learned more and think I played better as each game went on.”
It looks like the best is yet to come in the next two years.
As we suggested last week, we didn’t think Malvern Prep would be in a very sharing mood when it came to claiming the Inter-Ac title. The Friars were assured at least a tie for the title before the season finale.
As outlined above, they snatched the championship all for themselves during a hard-fought 17-7 win at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
In the six seasons that Dave Gueriera has coached Malvern Prep, the Friars have won four league championships.
“It was super important to win it outright and we controlled our own destiny,” Gueriera said. “I feel it wouldn’t have been as much a success had we lost.”
The key was a late fourth quarter 87-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior outside linebacker Owen Mears with about three minutes left.
“He has had an incredible season and it has been great to watch him get better and better as the year has gone on,” Gueriera said of Mears, who has committed to Duke to play lacrosse.
Senior DE Ennis Udo, who will play both football and lacrosse at Brown, was another standout in the game, according to Gueriera.
It was another example of Malvern Prep’s defensive dominance. While going 5-0 in Inter-Ac play, the Friars allowed just 9.4 points per game.
Gueriera had nothing but praise for SCH.
“I thought their players played really hard, the coaches had a great game plan,” he said. “I give them a lot of credit because they gave us everything we could handle.”
The Haverford School didn’t end the season as it hoped, with a 28-9 loss to Episcopal Academy. It was just a year ago that Haverford School clinched the Inter-Ac title with a 21-19 win over Episcopal Academy in a game matching 4-0 teams.
Huge losses to graduation and injuries saw Haverford finish 5-5, 3-2.
“There were a lot of highs and lows this year,” Haverford School coach Brian Martin said. “The positive is that we had at least 13-15 guys on the roster who never played varsity football or were new to the program and somehow contributed.”
Two of those players were freshman guards Preston and Owen Bernard, twins in the 6-2, 260-pound range.
In fact if anybody is looking for future optimism at Haverford School, just take a peek at the offensive line.
Junior right tackle Josh Williams (6-4, 300) has received about a dozen Division I offers, including one recently from Michigan, according to Martin.
Another offensive lineman, junior Thomas Barr (6-4, 300), who was injured prior to the season, recently an offer from West Virginia, according to Martin.
On the other side of the ball, two productive DL were sophomores Walt Frazier and Phil Okala, while freshman Marcus Jones started at corner.
While the Fords will graduate several key seniors, the above-mentioned players form a good nucleus to build around.
Malvern Prep 5-0, 9-1
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy 3-2, 8-2
Episcopal Academy 3-2, 5-5
Haverford School 3-2, 5-5
Penn Charter 1-4, 4-5
Germantown Academy 0-5, 4-5
Special thanks to Ed “Huck” Palmer for Penn Charter and Malvern Prep stats, to Dan Moyer for Haverford School, Mike McNulty for Episcopal Academy and coaches Rick Knox and Matt Dence for SCH and Germantown Academy stats.