In a game marred by imperfection, all Tim DiGiorgio had to do was be perfect to ensure Frankford High School’s biggest regular-season football victory in years.
DiGiorgio, the Pioneers’ junior quarterback, completed all eight of his passes — including a 14-yard touchdown strike to Renz Compton with 31 seconds to go on the game’s final scoring drive — to give his team a dramatic 21-20 win over league rival George Washington on Saturday night at Northeast High School.
The win pushed Frankford to a perfect 6-0 mark in the Public League’s AAAA Gold Division — good enough for the Pioneers to win the regular-season title and put themselves in the driver’s seat as they gear up for the postseason.
In a first half that featured five total turnovers, it appeared that neither of these supremely balanced, talented teams wanted to walk out of Charles Martin Stadium with a victory. But then a star was born in DiGiorgio, who looked a lot like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning in a do-or-die, fourth-quarter clutch situation.
ldquo;I mean, it was the last chance we had,” DiGiorgio said after the game as his teammates celebrated raucously around him. “Everything was right there in front of us. It really was do-or-die, and we didn’t really want to die.”
In a tightly contested battle throughout, neither squad ever had a lead larger than seven points. The score was deadlocked 7-7 at halftime, and the teams’ traded third-quarter touchdowns (Washington struck first on a 39-yard run by senior Hakeem Sillman to make it 13-7 before DiGiorgio put Frankford back on top less than two minutes later with a 21-yard toss to senior Mike Brown).
The Eagles’ missed extra point on the Sillman touchdown turned out to be critical, as did head coach Ron Cohen’s decision to kick an extra point on Washington’s next touchdown with 10:30 to go. Sillman scored on his second run of the game, but instead of trying for two to take a seven-point lead, Washington opted for an extra point and thus cost themselves a shot at overtime after DiGiorgio’s pass to Compton later in the quarter.
With the door left so wide open, it was time for DiGiorgio to finish painting his masterpiece. With 3:50 remaining and the Pioneers buried at their own 20, DiGiorgio calmly led his team down the field in an absolutely surgical drive. He hit four receivers to set up the winning touchdown, the biggest plays being a 21-yard completion to Compton to move the ball to their own 45 on a third-and-six, and a 28-yard bomb that senior tight end Aaron Allison caught in stride at the Washington 14.
Things got a bit dicey for the Pioneers before they could celebrate. A holding penalty pushed them back to the 20, and a low snap that led to a DiGiorgio sacking set up a fourth-and-10 at the 14. In the biggest play of his life, DiGiorgio calmly dropped back, picked up the defensive coverage and protection from his offensive line, and found Compton on a post route across the middle for the decisive score. It produced a deafening roar from the large contingent of Frankford supporters in the stands.
“With everything that had happened in the game, I knew it was on me to stay calm in that moment,” DiGiorgio said. “On the play, the safety came up and I read one-on-one on the outside. My man ran a post and I knew exactly where he was going to be the whole time.”
And the reaction following the touchdown?
“When he caught that ball … it was crazy. Best feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” DiGiorgio said.
Junior kicker Eric Salguero put the finishing touches on the win by nailing the extra point. Washington, out of timeouts, got as far as their own 48 on the final drive but never threatened to score. For the Eagles, Sillman led the way with 140 yards on 26 carries, plus the two rushing scores. It was the seventh game (out of eight) that he rushed for at least 120 yards, and he also grabbed an interception on defense.
For Frankford, it was difficult to identify what was more impressive: DiGiorgio’s eight-for-eight showing on the final drive, or his overall numbers, which checked in at 21-for-26 for 304 yards and two touchdowns. He has thrown for 1,645 yards and 22 touchdowns on the season. Allison (seven catches, 77 yards), Compton (three for 69) and senior Marquan Scott (four for 97) served as DiGiorgio’s top targets.
As his Pioneer players chanted “SIX-AND-OH, SIX-AND-OH!” following the victory, head coach Will Doggett’s address to his team was simple.
“This tall, skinny kid showed a ton of heart,” Doggett said of DiGiorgio. “And the rest of you … that’s the way you tough out a win.”
As for DiGiorgio himself, he was slightly perturbed that the game came down to the wire, but he was just fine with the win.
“I honestly thought we would have held a bigger margin of victory,” he said. “The way we turned the ball over in the first half … I know we’re better than that. But whether we won by one or twenty-one, I just knew walking out of here with a loss was not an option.”
While his teammates and coaches walked toward the stands to socialize and thank the fans who have supported the Pioneers all season, DiGiorgio stood near the middle of the field and allowed what he had just done to sink in just a little bit.
“That was by far the biggest game I’ve ever played in my entire life,” he said. “You saw it out there tonight, that the sky is the limit for this team if we play to our ability and cut down on our turnovers. We turned the ball over quite a bit tonight and still were able to beat a very good football team, so imagine how good we can be down the road if we hold on to the ball.
“It’s like our coach tells us … play hard and play smart on every down. If we do that, then nobody is going to beat us.”
And certainly nobody is going to beat the Pioneers if DiGiorgio exhibits anything near the perfection that he displayed in a magical fourth quarter on Saturday night. ••
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.email@example.com