Eagles fall short of city title

"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. That said, it is hard for us to stack up against them." — Wash­ing­ton coach Ron Co­hen

On a La Salle punt re­turn, spe­cial team play­ers SS Miguel Caban (#34 L) and E Justin Moody (#84 R) com­bine to stop La Salle’s #2 WR Sean Cole­man.

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.mor­rone@gmail.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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