Sweet beginnings

Des­pite los­ing a num­ber of key play­ers to gradu­ation, the George Wash­ing­ton foot­ball team is off to a stel­lar start this sea­son.

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 dave.nes­cio@gmail.com

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