After a few hours of watching Matt Smalley and Raul Quinones go to work on the football field, it’s easy to see why the duo are also considered track standouts. Quite simply, they run all over opposing defenses.
Smalley and Quinones, an explosive running-back tandem for Father Judge High School’s football team, headline an offense that has averaged 39.5 points in the team’s first four games of the season, three of which were runaway Crusader victories. During the spring, the two are standouts for the Judge track team, and now they’ve morphed into a seriously scary two-headed monster in the football backfield.
Just ask Penn Charter.
On Saturday afternoon at Abraham Lincoln High School, the Quakers (of the Inter-Ac League) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on a 90-yard touchdown run on the game’s first play from the scrimmage. The Crusaders gradually fought back, taking a 10-7 lead into the halftime break. Using a punishing ground attack to wear down the defense, Judge seemingly flicked a switch and outscored Penn Charter by four touchdowns in the second half en route to a 45-14 win.
So what changed so dramatically at halftime?
“When we came onto the field in the second half,” Smalley said, “something just clicked inside of us and we said, ‘OK, we’ve got to blow this team out.’”
It wasn’t necessarily that easy, though it sometimes looked like it over the course of the game’s final 24 minutes. A big part of what makes the Crusaders’ offense so scary is that either Smalley or Quinones can beat you, and in a big way at that.
Quinones is considered the top playmaker, and rightfully so. Last season, he rushed for a team-leading 939 yards and 11 touchdowns, statistics that earned him first-team All-Catholic League honors. Opposing coaching staffs could turn a majority of their focus into stopping Quinones and have a decent shot to beat the Crusaders, but with Smalley’s sudden, rapid emergence, this game plan no longer works.
Quinones was his usual steady self against Penn Charter, carrying 15 times for 94 yards and returning a third-quarter interception for a touchdown. But the real story was Smalley, who, after carrying the ball just 16 times in 11 games last season, erupted for 201 yards on 13 carries on Saturday, scoring three touchdowns. He scored from 11 yards out late in the first quarter to give Judge a lead it would not relinquish, then added touchdown scampers of 45 and 80 to blow it open in the second half.
With Quinones’ presence, Smalley, who also returns kicks and punts for the Crusaders, often had gone overlooked, though it’s safe to say those days are over.
“Maybe they were concentrating too hard on stopping Raul, I don’t know,” Smalley said. “We have a two-back thing going on right now. They can concentrate on stopping me, but if they do that then Raul will have a great game; if they concentrate on stopping Raul, then I’ll have a great game. It’s kind of a pick your poison type of thing.”
So how can opposing defenses get ready for Judge?
“They really can’t,” Smalley said with a laugh. “One of us is going to have a good game. If both of us have good games then watch out.”
Through the first four games, Judge has run the ball about 30 times per contest, resulting in two 100-yard games from Smalley (442 yards rushing) and another from Quinones (351 yards). And if that wasn’t enough, senior quarterback Rob Daniels has thrown for 723 yards and six touchdowns, four to senior wideouts John Landis and Tim Mills.
The Crusaders are as deep and experienced as they are talented, something head coach Tom Coyle raved about before the season started. In addition to the aforementioned players, senior captain Eric Condron anchors the offensive line at center. On defense, ends Anthony Walker and Shawn Hartigan and defensive back Connor Donahue join a senior-laden unit that also features Quinones at outside linebacker and Smalley at cornerback.
“Our coaches do a great job of conditioning us so we can stay in shape and play on both sides of the ball,” said Smalley, who is getting big-time looks from schools like Penn State and Tennessee for his track skills. “A lot of the guys on defense are known more for their offense, but at the same time, we still love to get out there and make plays on defense.”
While Judge has looked strong thus far in its four non-league games, the real test is set to begin on Sunday with a road game at league rival and perennial power St. Joe’s Prep. Coyle stressed in his postgame speech to his team that while the 3-1 non-league mark looks nice right now, 1-0 in the Catholic League would look a whole lot sweeter come Sunday night.
“In these first four games, we find out what type of talent we have leading up to the Catholic League,” Smalley said. “We get a good idea of where we can improve, and in turn we’ll have a good idea of how good we can potentially be.”
When asked about Saturday’s inconsistent first half, Smalley shrugged before offering some final words of encouragement to the Father Judge faithful.
“People should expect a team that won’t ever give up,” he said. “If we have a bad first half, that’s fine, because we won’t quit if things don’t go perfectly. Just like we did today, we’ll realize our mistakes and fix them. When that happens, you better come ready to play.”
And run. ••
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at Edward.firstname.lastname@example.org