For the first time since the 2007 season, the George Washington Eagles are not defending Public League champs — a fact that does not sit well with the players.
Although having lost 21 seniors to graduation, the Eagles — coached by Ron Cohen for more than a quarter century — took that chip on their shoulder into Saturday’s game against Overbrook and continued their dominance of the Public League, torching the Panthers, 40-0.
Washington scored early and often, overwhelming the Panthers from both the air and the ground. Seldom did Overbrook have possession as the Eagles’ defense forced the Panthers do go three and out, not allowing a first down until late in the second quarter.
Though young, the Eagles have come out of the gates succeeding at every aspect of the game. They are 2-0 and have outscored opponents 66-7 thus far this season. Unless the first two games prove to be a fluke, the Eagles are poised to make another run at the Public League title.
“I feel really good about this team right now,” said Cohen, who has piled up 11 Public League titles in 26 years with the Eagles. “It was tough getting ready for the season because a lot of our guys are young, but they worked really hard and things are looking good.”
Washington had a similar start last year. After losing to St. Joe’s Prep to start the season, they won six straight en route to 5-1 league record and 8-3 overall.
Last year’s offense, operated by quarterback Tony Smith, averaged 25 points per game while the defense allowed an average of 10. Although Smith and his favorite receiving target, English Peay, have graduated, the main offensive weapon, running back Hakeem Sillman, is now a senior and has gotten off to a quick start with an unprecedented five touchdowns and more than 200 yards through two games. Last season, Sillman rushed for 911 yards and scored six touchdowns.
At quarterback, Cohen is juggling juniors Dave Gavrilov and Al Augustine and sophomore John Santas, but it’s working thus far. Augustine conducted the offense for the majority of the win over Overbrook, rushing for two touchdowns in the triumph. Gavrilov tossed a 50-yard touchdown pass to Kendell Truitt.
The Eagles opened up the scoring on their third play from scrimmage after Sillman returned the opening kickoff to the Panthers’ 30-yard line. After running back Donald Smith rushed down to the one-yard line, Sillman pounded it in. It was 7-0 before two minutes had run off the clock.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers returned the ball to their own 40-yard line but went three and out after a sack for a loss of 10 yards. The Eagles went right back to work, taking advantage of a short punt that granted them good field position at the 50-yard line. This time it took one play. Gavrilov connected with Truitt for a 50-yard strike.
Washington continued the assault, forcing Overbrook to go three and out again and wasting no time, this time scoring with two plays. Augustine connected with Truitt again for 49 yards, then ran it in on a QB sneak from the one-yard line. The extra point was no good, but Washington held a 20-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The only downside for the Eagles came in the second quarter, when Truitt, who was in coverage for a punt return, took a helmet to his arm, which then appeared badly broken. He was taken to St. Christopher’s Hospital.
With Truitt gone, Washington continued to march up and down the field, racking up points until they hit 40 late in the third quarter.
“This is a good start but we have to stay humble and focused,” said an excited Sillman. “We’re going to just keep working hard. We have a good team, and our three-quarterback rotation is working out pretty well.”
The Panthers are no strangers to Washington beatings. Since 2006, Washington is 8-0 against Overbrook and scored 50 or more points twice. Overall, they’ve outscored them 296-70, with an average differential of 28.3 points.
Overbrook had a decent season last year, going 6-4 despite finishing 1-4 in league play. They are currently 0-2 and have been outscored 63-6.
“I’m extremely confident about our team,” said Smith, who complemented Sillman well on the ground. “I see no weakness at all. I want step up our game and continue to win. I’m thinking championship and that’s it.”
Washington now sits atop the Public League Class AAAA Gold Division as the only unbeaten team. Archrival and defending Public League champions Northeast High is 1-1 after crushing Bartram, 36-6. The Vikings got off to a rough start in week one, losing to Father Judge, 45-19. Frankford, whom the Eagles edged 13-9 in the AAAA semifinals last season, is off to an 0-2 start after falling to Hatboro-Horsham and Unionville, both by a score of 27-26. This week Washington sees Fels, which is 1-1.
The end of the game was a familiar scene as the Washington players rallied around Cohen and sang their alma mater. Cohen made it clear to his team that he was pleased with what he saw and wants to win.
“Winning should be enough glory for everyone,” he said before they dispersed. ••
Reporter Dave Nescio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org