As the clock struck triple zeros on Thanksgiving Day at Frankford High School, the Pioneers felt as if they had just lived through the final satisfying act of a movie script that featured more twists and turns than an M. Night Shyamalan film.
Frankford had opened the 2011 season with a pair of 27-26 non-league losses; then the Pioneers reeled off seven straight wins, with the final two being a 21-20 nail-biter over rival Washington to win the Public League regular-season title, and then a trouncing of Central in the first round of the playoffs.
Then, on Nov. 11, in a rematch against Washington for the Public League championship, senior Mike Brown picked the worst possible time for a fumble, coughing the ball up on the Eagles’ 1-yard-line late in the second half in a game Frankford would end up losing by one touchdown. So it would just make sense that Brown would get to enjoy some sweet vindication in a big way on Thanksgiving, right?
Brown ran wild over Samuel Fels on Turkey Day, posting five touchdowns in a 49-26 romp. Actually, Frankford had trailed as late as the second quarter. With his team down 14-13, Brown posted three consecutive third-quarter touchdowns — a 25-yard run and touchdown catches of 44 and 18 yards on passes from junior quarterback Tim DiGiorgio.
Fels cut the deficit to 35-20 shortly after, only to see Brown return the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a score. Just for good measure, Brown added his third touchdown catch of the game in the third quarter, a 33-yard heave from DiGiorgio, to ensure that the Pioneers would at least end their season on a positive note after losing to underdog Washington in the title game.
“Man … that kid fumbles on the one (yard line) a few weeks before and is the goat,” said a spectator on the Frankford sideline. “Today he scores five touchdowns. You really can’t write this stuff.”
Luckily for Frankford, they had an ally on their side in whoever penned the completion of the script that was their season. Led by DiGiorgio’s golden left arm, 2011 quickly became Frankford’s year, which made it so difficult for the Pioneers to watch Washington celebrate a title they thought they had earned.
“From the beginning my coaches told me, as well as the rest of the seniors, that this was your last game ever in a Frankford uniform,” Brown said following the victory. “Me personally, I just wanted to go out there and give 110 percent and leave it all out there on the field. I wasn’t expecting to score five touchdowns, but hey… I’ll take it.”
Brown will find no qualms from his coaches and teammates, who came out flat early on against a Fels team that won just four games this season. The Panthers often looked overmatched in their first season as a member of the Public League Class AAAA Gold Division, although they briefly seemed poised for an upset on Thanksgiving.
After a short touchdown run and conversion put Fels up 8-7 late in the first quarter, junior defensive back Jamiel Hines picked off an errant DiGiorgio throw and returned it 20 yards for a score. Just like that, the Panthers led mighty Frankford 14-7 after one quarter that had them thinking upset early. But then senior tight end Aaron Allison hauled in a 3-yard score from DiGiorgio to cut the deficit to one.
From that point on, the game became the Mike Brown show, one that the Frankford players, coaches and alumni in attendance found as the perfect appetizer before their Thanksgiving feasts.
And although a Thanksgiving game against a team in transition didn’t carry nearly as much weight as the title game versus Washington, Brown didn’t waste his shot at redemption.
“It means a lot to me because these guys are my family and they stuck with me,” he said. “During the game against Washington, that fumble on the goal line pretty much blew our chances of winning the title. I just wanted to come out today and show them I was still a part of the team. I wanted to give them my best. I owed that to these guys.”
It’s safe to say that all is forgiven between Brown and the rest of his team. During his four-touchdown, videogame-esque performance in the third quarter, he had coaches marveling on the sideline.
“Hey… we’ve got to make sure Mike grabs an interception and returns it for a touchdown,” defensive coordinator Juan Namnun joked. “I’ve got to get in on this party.”
And though Brown, who also plays defensive back, didn’t secure a pick-six, his five-touchdown outburst was more than enough to end Frankford’s season on a positive note.
Overall, the Pioneers finished with eight wins to just three losses; as for Brown, he finished with 10 total touchdowns — five in the first 10 games, and five in the span of about 20 minutes on Thanksgiving. He ended up as Frankford’s second-leading rusher on the season, and also caught 16 passes for 229 yards.
(His Thanksgiving stats ended up looking like this: four catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns, two rushes for 29 yards and a touchdown, as well as a long kickoff return for a score.)
Though Brown and several other key members of the Frankford team will be lost to graduation — Allison, Marquan Scott, Kelly Johnson, to name a few — 2012 certainly appears bright enough to ensure that the Pioneers will have their own shot at redemption when battling toward the Public League title game.
DiGiorgio will be back for his senior season, and if his junior year numbers are any indication (2,357 passing yards, 30 touchdowns), Frankford already can count on a special run. Other key members such as junior receiver/defensive back Renz Compton and two-way lineman Kadar Jones also will return.
With the team in DiGiorgio’s hands, Brown expects big things.
“Tim is a wonderful kid,” he said. “He gets straight A’s, jokes a lot … there’s just not enough you can say about him. He’s going to carry this team to its fullest.”
As for Brown himself, he wanted just a few extra moments to stand on the emptying field in his Frankford uniform to soak up what he had just accomplished.
“I stuck through the downs of that Washington game, and my brothers had my back,” Brown said. “Words can’t explain how I feel right now … it’s wonderful. Definitely the best feeling on a football field, and to be honest with you, I needed it to end this way. Thankfully, the world is all about second chances, and I got mine today.”
For Frankford and Mike Brown, you can’t write a better ending than that. ••
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org