Just by showing up this season, Stephane Smith made history.
Of course, the Samuel Fels High School quarterback — the first and only four-year varsity starter in Panthers’ history — has done much more than show up. He has helped continue a tradition just six seasons in the making. He has helped establish Samuel Fels on the gridiron.
“I’m very happy to be part of such a great team and help build the tradition at Fels,” said the senior. “I feel good about it. It motivates me to continue to be the best I can because I want to step up and be everything that is expected of me.”
The Panthers are off to a shaky start this season — they’re currently 1-2 in the Public League Class AAAA Gold Division. They fell to powerhouse George Washington, 32-8, at Northeast High School’s Charles Martin Memorial Stadium on Friday afternoon.
“We have a lot of ups and downs, but we don’t come at each other,” Smith said. “We win as a team and we lose as a team. We work together and pick each other up when we’re down.”
The first half of Friday’s game action was a relatively close call on the scoreboard. George Washington senior running back Hakeem Sillman struck first, rushing for a touchdown in the first six minutes of play. Washington added three more points with a field goal late in the quarter.
Less than one minute into the second, Fels answered back with help from senior wide receiver Nijay Kelly, who caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from Smith. The Panthers went for two points and succeeded, with Kelly grabbing that pass too.
By halftime — despite a whopping four turnovers in the game — the victory was still up for grabs.
That didn’t last long.
George Washington returned with a vengeance, scoring two touchdowns within two minutes. Rene Villafane intercepted a pass by Smith and returned it for a TD. Two plays later, Fels fumbled and Washington’s Shaquan Allen grabbed the ball and dashed downfield for another six points. The final nail in the coffin was hammered with six minutes remaining, when Sillman ran for another touchdown.
Final score: George Washington, 32; Samuel Fels, 8.
“Six turnovers was the difference. We spotted them twenty-five points,” said Fels coach Bill Harrigan, referring to his squad’s two interceptions and four fumbles. “Easy turnovers on short fields — you’re never going to win a football game like that.
“This is the second week in a row that we played decent teams in games that I feel — and I think the rest of the kids feel — we should have won,” he added. “It should have been games that were within our grasp, but six turnovers, you’re not going to overcome that until we get better ball security.”
Fels’ Nijay Kelly caught six passes for 86 yards and scored the Panthers’ eight points. Eric Jones grabbed two interceptions. Smith completed nine of 18 attempts for 167 yards and one touchdown.
On Washington’s side, Sillman was the star, rushing for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Villafane caught five passes for 68 yards and a TD. Junior quarterback David Gavrilov completed nine of 13 attempts for 106 yards, while fellow QB Al Augustine was 0-for-4.
“We could have done way better than we did. We had a lot of turnovers,” said Smith. “Defensively, we performed very well. Offensively, we got to work on it. We’ll be better for next week.”
The Panthers will travel to Chester for a non-league game on Saturday, then return to Charles Martin Memorial Stadium the following week to face the Public League’s defending champs, Northeast High School.
This season, Smith has completed 11 of 21 attempts for 233 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He took over the QB job following the graduation of last year’s star tosser, Tyree Rucker, who guided the Panthers to a 6-0 league record. During a Thanksgiving Day game, he passed for 196 yards, boosting his season total to 1,994 — a new Public League record.
“When I first came to Fels, I could tell that they had a good football team, a good program, and I knew that I wanted to be part of it,” said Smith. “I love the game of football. I’ve always loved it.”
Smith hopes to play in college next year.
“Stephane is a great kid. He’s our first four-year starter here at Fels. He’s grown a lot, not just physically but as a player and a person,” said Harrigan. “He’ll do anything that we ask of him. He’s filled so many roles for us. I’m always happy with his performance. He always gives his best.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at email@example.com