A perfect pair

Fath­er Judge’s Raul Quinones heads up­field dur­ing a game against Penn Charter at Lin­coln High School on Sat­urday, Septem­ber 24. Kev­in Cook / for the Times

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.mor­rone@gmail.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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