Haverford’s Aaron Hudson intercepts a Penn Charter pass//Photo by Kathy Heupler.
If the first week of Inter-Ac football play is any indication, this is going to be one crazy season. All three games were decided by three or fewer points, with two going to overtime and the other featuring a pair of converted field goals in the last minute, each of which clanked off an upright before drifting through. Should these heart-stopping conclusions continue for the next four weeks, alumni officers at the schools might want to consider keeping nitroglycerine tablets on hand for some of the venerable schools’ older alums attending the games.
For the past several seasons, Inter-Ac drama was confined to the Haverford School, Malvern Prep and the occasional interloper: Chestnut Hill in 2009 and Episcopal Academy in ’12. This year is much different. The six I-A schools entered the first week of league play with a combined 24-5 record. That—plus the closeness of the past weekend’s games—indicates that this could be the craziest championship chase since 2009, when Haverford, Malvern and CHA tied for the title with 4-1 records. But that season featured a clear dichotomy between the top and bottom halves of the league. This time, it looks to be a complete free-for-all. “This league is very good,” says EA coach Todd Fairlie. “All the teams are pretty experienced. There should be no easy games.”
Fairlie’s Churchmen stunned Malvern early on Friday night, jumping out to a 27-9 halftime lead on the perennial Inter-Ac bully. “We felt we would be able to move the ball on them,” Fairlie says.
The Friars roared back in the second half, and when Garrett Reilly banged home the tying three-pointer, it appeared as if overtime was inevitable. But C.J. McAnally returned the ensuing kickoff to the 35, and a facemask penalty pushed the ball to midfield. Two plays later, McAnally and Dee wil Barlee teamed on a screen pass that brought the ball to the 10, setting up Connor Ringwalt’s 27-yard game-winner. “This is a close-knit team,” says Fairlie. “We wanted to be positive and upbeat all year, so that if we had adversity, we’d stick together. We’ve had some tough games this year, and no matter what the situation has been, we’ve stayed together.”
Earlier in the day, Haverford found itself down 14-7 to Penn Charter—a team it had vanquished eight straight times—with 1:54 to play. But senior QB Tommy Toal engineered a scoring drive that ended with his 12-yard TD pass to Conner Mosebrook with 19.7 seconds left. In overtime, Toal connected with Malik Twyman (117 yards rushing) on a 10-yard scoring strike. After countering with a touchdown of its own, PC tried a two-point shovel pass from PAT formation but didn’t convert, sealing the Fords’ 21-20 triumph. “[Toal’s] thing—more than my saying that he’s a great quarterback—is that he’s a competitor,” says Haverford coach Mike Murphy. “The kid’s used to being in tough situations, and he embraces it. He’s been a varsity baseball starter since he was a freshman and is a two-year quarterback. Pressure doesn’t overwhelm him.”
Episcopal hosts Germantown Academy Friday night, while Malvern visits Haverford the next afternoon. The Fords and Churchmen could end the weekend still perfect in league play, or it could be 2-0 GA and a big mess below. Whoever wins the Inter-Ac will be a darn good team, and if someone finishes perfect in league play, it will be a tremendous accomplishment. “It’s going to be pretty difficult to go 5-0,” Murphy says. “There’s such great balance. One thing, if somebody does it, they’re going to have to play very good football for five weeks.”
And make sure the defibrillators are on hand and fully charged.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Two straight losses have dimmed considerably the glow of the first three weeks of the season for the Eagles and spotlighted many of the problems we expected back in August. The Birds’ defense is suddenly vulnerable, the receivers are mediocre, and QB Carson Wentz is—surprise!—a rookie. The road doesn’t get much easier (undefeated Minnesota comes calling Sunday, with visits to Dallas and New York after that), so it may be time for fans to remember the enthusiasm they expressed after the trade of Sam Bradford set the stage for Wentz’s ascension. It’s beginning to look more like the rebuilding year everybody forecast.