Magic Moment

Wash­ing­ton and Frank­ford be­gin the third quarter at North­east High­school on Sat­urday, Oc­to­ber 23, 2011, Phil­adelphia, Pa. In a last minute score, the game turns around dur­ing the fourth quarter, and Wash­ing­ton wins 21-20. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

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.

Mis­sion ac­com­plished.

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.mor­

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