George Washington football coach Ron Cohen didn’t want to complain following his team’s 41-7 loss to La Salle in the Class AAAA City Title game on Saturday evening, especially when the Eagles overcame so much adversity to win the Public League championship the week before.
However, Washington’s longtime boss did want to make one thing clear: There are a lot of disparities in resources between the two schools.
ldquo;It’s always an exciting opportunity for us to play a great opponent like La Salle, and there’s no shame in losing to such a quality team,” Cohen said. “That said, it is hard for us to stack up against them. They have the ability to recruit players and essentially choose who they want for their football team. They run their own camps all summer, and money really is no option for them. If they decide they need a quarterback three years from now, then they can start scouting and go get the guy they want.
ldquo;Our coaches and players don’t have those luxuries,” he continued. “We don’t have that kind of money. There’s no money for film, no money to feed the players, no money for transportation. We only have four paid coaches, so we can’t send them to scout as extensively. Meanwhile, my arm got tired after the game on Saturday from shaking all of their coaches’ hands. I’m not complaining, and it is what it is, but it’s important for people to know we’re not dealing with the same animal here.”
In a way, the fact that Washington lacks the resources of Catholic League and Inter-Ac League schools makes the Eagles’ sustained run of success under Cohen even more impressive. With no recruiting allowed in the Public League, Cohen essentially has to work with whoever decides to show up for practice in mid-August. Despite the various hardships, an impressive 18 Washington High players received football scholarships last year, which Cohen valued at more than $1 million.
This season Cohen lost four volunteer coaches, including his offensive and defensive coordinators, who got “real jobs,” as Cohen put it, and couldn’t put in the time anymore to help out. Even so, the Eagles still managed to dispatch the more-talked-about teams (Frankford, Northeast, Germantown) to win a 12th Public League title under Cohen’s leadership.
ldquo;Winning the Public League title this year may have been our greatest job as coaches and players when you consider everything that happened,” Cohen said. “I remember that the first two plays in our scrimmage against O’Hara went for eighty-yard touchdowns against us. We weren’t highly touted by the experts, and we played from behind in four of our games. But the coaches did a great job, and the kids really bought into what we were selling them, and for that reason I’m so proud of them.”
After the Eagles knocked off a favored Frankford team to win the league championship last week, the result of the La Salle game almost seemed irrelevant. Sure, Washington wanted to win, but the fact that they even got to the city title game shows how far this team had come since those first two plays against O’Hara.
The title game against the Explorers, for lack of a better word, was ugly. The Eagles quickly fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter, and a “brain freeze” by a Washington player on the ensuing kickoff allowed for a La Salle recovery. Senior running back Tim Wade (12 carries, 79 yards, three touchdowns) scored his second touchdown in as many possessions five plays later, and the La Salle rout was on.
As a result of getting behind big so early, Cohen had to alter his game plan; this involved throwing the ball more than usual, and that essentially took star senior running back Hakeem Sillman out of the equation. Sillman, who came into the game with 1,695 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns on the season, rushed just eight times for 18 yards. It was just the second time in nine games this season that he failed to rush for at least 120 yards (there also were four games when he amassed 218 or more yards).
ldquo;Whatever our game plan was, it didn’t work,” Cohen said. “We were down 14-0 before we even knew what hit us, which took Hakeem out of our plans. Everything just kind of disintegrated.”
Washington has one last chance to end its season on a high note, though Cohen does not expect his team’s final game to be an easy challenge. The Eagles will meet a much-improved Archbishop Ryan team on Thanksgiving, and, for his part, Cohen is a bit apprehensive.
ldquo;Again, we didn’t really have the time or resources to prepare or scout for this game,” Cohen said. “We’ve been fighting for our lives the past couple of weeks, and obviously this past week we were preparing for La Salle. We haven’t had the luxury of planning ahead. Ryan is a good football team, and we expect a tough match-up.”
Cohen did say that he doesn’t think the La Salle loss will carry over; he hopes his players are ready.
ldquo;I’ve seen Ryan play and I certainly expect them to be ready, so I hope we are too,” he said. “I don’t have a pulse on the team just yet, but I expect us to be hungry. The game will be on TV, and the guys are going to want to play well on Thanksgiving in front of their family, friends and the alumni. They were distraught after the La Salle game, but I give them credit for continuing to fight. We have a lot of pride, and we had no qualms about falling to a really good football team.”
Archbishop Ryan’s struggles over the years have been well-documented, but a four-win season has signaled a turnaround on Academy Road (Washington won last year’s Thanksgiving contest, 20-7). One thing the teams have in common, aside from their Northeast locales, is that they have handled adversity this season while proving many doubters wrong.
And regardless whether this Washington season ends in victory or defeat, the players’ hard work has earned them a big fan in their legendary head coach.
“It’s been a strange season, which is sort of fitting because this is a strange team,” Cohen said. “There were a lot of new faces, and we’re very young. At the beginning of the season, I would have said we were one or two years away. But these guys came to play and won the Public League title. It certainly was no fluke, and the character of this group showed when it mattered the most. I’m very proud of them.” ••
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org