Northeast Times

Defense wins championships … just ask Frankford

— Want­ing to erase pain­ful memor­ies of last year’s title game, Frank­ford’s de­fense made a state­ment.

Most of the packed house at North­east High School’s Charles Mar­tin Me­mori­al Sta­di­um had long since filed out.

In­side, nu­mer­ous Frank­ford High School play­ers and coaches were cel­eb­rat­ing, talk­ing with re­port­ers, or simply chilling, bask­ing in the glow of the school’s first foot­ball title in six long years.

Or, per­haps, do­ing all three at the same time.

“Take your time,” said ju­ni­or Mar­quis Po­ston with a smile. “No hurry. We got all (night).”

On an un­season­ably warm Sat­urday even­ing, Po­ston and his Pi­on­eer team­mates had cap­tured the Pub­lic League AAAA foot­ball title by de­feat­ing de­fend­ing champ George Wash­ing­ton High School, 30-16.

When Frank­ford (8-2 over­all, 7-0 league) scores 30 points, one might fig­ure the of­fense was dom­in­ant, which it usu­ally is. This time, not ex­actly.

Of the Pi­on­eers’ four touch­downs, two were scored by their de­fense. Com­bin­ing that with a 32-yard touch­down pass from seni­or Tim Di­Gior­gio to ju­ni­or Brandon Jack, a 64-yard scor­ing run by ju­ni­or Dami­on Samuels (his 13th touch­down of the sea­son), a two-point con­ver­sion run by ju­ni­or Quin­ton El­lis, two ex­tra point kicks by seni­or Kenny Ap­pi­ot, and a spe­cial teams safety, Frank­ford had more than enough to de­feat Wash­ing­ton for the second time this sea­son. The de­fense forced five turnovers in all — four in­ter­cep­tions and one fumble.

“We had to come out and play right from the first play,” said Po­ston. “We knew that go­ing in.”

An out­side line­back­er but a multi-pur­pose per­former (as the backup quar­ter­back, he com­pleted 10 of 15 passes for 146 yards and two touch­downs this sea­son), Po­ston was all over the field. His phys­ic­al play helped squash any GW mo­mentum un­til it was too late. Po­ston’s most im­port­ant con­tri­bu­tion was ar­gu­ably his 12-yard fumble re­turn for a touch­down that gave Frank­ford a 23-0 lead in the second quarter.

“It was a mat­ter of be­ing there at the right time,” said Frank­ford de­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or Juan Namnun, who in­her­ited head coach­ing du­ties for the night be­cause head coach Will Dog­gett was in Louisi­ana to be with his ser­i­ously ill moth­er. “That’s really what you want to see — play­ers be­ing in po­s­i­tion to make plays.”

That theme con­tin­ued in the fourth quarter.

After a hust­ling Po­ston pinned Wash­ing­ton (8-2 over­all, 5-2 in league — both losses be­ing to Frank­ford) at its own 1 fol­low­ing a beau­ti­ful downed punt off the foot of Prince Cooper, the Eagles needed to go 99 yards with 8:02 re­main­ing. After two short run plays, the Eagles faced a crit­ic­al third and sev­en at the four-yard line. 

Wash­ing­ton seni­or quar­ter­back Dave Gav­rilov (two touch­down passes, both to seni­or Shaquon Al­len) at­temp­ted to throw a short pass to seni­or Rene Vil­la­fane, but Po­ston in­ter­cep­ted the pass … or did he?

Po­ston, who jumped in front of Gav­rilov’s short throw to Vil­la­fane, col­lided with the re­ceiv­er as he cor­ralled the pick, caus­ing the ball to squirt free onto the turf. If Po­ston had lost the ball be­fore he es­tab­lished pos­ses­sion on the pick, the res­ult would have been an in­com­plete pass; giv­en Vil­la­fane’s slow re­ac­tion to the in­ter­cep­tion, this is un­doubtedly what he thought had oc­curred. 

But with no whistle blown, trail­ing team­mate An­thony Wright-Down­ing scooped up the loose change at the 6 and trot­ted in­to the end zone with 6:31 re­main­ing. 

GW’s play­ers vehe­mently pro­tested the lines­man’s call.

ldquo;That wasn’t a touch­down be­cause it wasn’t even a catch, and every­one knows it,” said an emo­tion­al Vil­la­fane. “After play­ing our hearts out, we feel like we were robbed of a chance to come back.”

Asked for his opin­ion, Wright-Down­ing said he agreed with the of­fi­cials’ de­cision. However, he un­der­stood GW’s in­cred­u­lous re­ac­tion.

“I would have been up­set, too,” he said. “Some­times calls go for you and some­times they go against you. Maybe we got a break.”

Break or no break, the fact that Wright-Down­ing was per­fectly sta­tioned to re­cov­er the fumbled in­ter­cep­tion — or fumbled non-in­ter­cep­tion — sup­por­ted what Namnun and the rest of the coaches have preached since prac­tices com­menced in the fall.

“You nev­er stop play­ing un­til the whistle,” Wright-Down­ing said. “You nev­er as­sume a play is over. That is the way our de­fense has played all year long and it has made a very big im­pact.”

The rest of the Pub­lic League whole­heartedly agrees. ••

Re­port­er John Knebels can be reached at jknebels@gmail.com

You can reach at jknebels@gmail.com.

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