When the Samuel Fels Panthers meet the Frankford Pioneers on Thanksgiving Day, prognosticators would probably feel very confident in predicting a winner.
Then again, when a team still figuring out its identity takes on a Public League champion, it doesn’t take a genius to compute the odds of an upset.
However, Fels coach Bill Harrigan wants his Panthers to ignore the past and focus completely on the task ahead. If Fels lands a stunning triumph, that would be terrific. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, too, just as long the Panthers can leave everything on the field.
“We’re 3-8, so there’s a sense of disappointment in the kids based on their expectations,” Harrigan said. “But they’ve been in every game; they’ve played as hard as they could and they never quit. They’re already asking me about the offseason and looking forward to next year.”
This is the third Thanksgiving Day meeting between the two teams. Frankford won 49-26 in 2011 and 49-22 in 2010.
However, Fels appears to be much better competition this time. After losing their first five games, they are 3-3 and have won two of their last three.
In the regular-season meeting with Frankford, the Panthers’ 21-0 loss was by no means embarrassing, as Fels collected 172 yards of total offense. The Panthers’ 145 rushing yards mirrored Frankford’s 155, but the passing disparity proved pivotal, as Frankford out-aired Fels 115 to 27.
“In the past, kids wouldn’t have even made it to this game,” Harrigan said. “They would get made fun of and hear other kids tell them they stink. That’s not the case anymore. The kids are excited to play, and it shows that we’re building something here.”
Multipurpose standout Jamiel Hines has collected 532 yards and six touchdowns on 85 carries. Frankford focused on stopping Hines earlier this year and neutralized the senior to 24 yards on 12 carries.
Senior quarterback Isaiah Brinkley is a capable thrower, amassing 1,022 yards and seven touchdowns through the air via a completion rate of 82 for 185. Brinkley’s primary targets — seniors Jylil Reeder, Nadir Hudson and Hines — have combined for 55 receptions for 815 yards.
Defensively, Hines and Reeder comprise half of a Fels’ secondary that has been largely responsible for the Panthers’ continuing improvement. During their five-game losing streak, the Panthers allowed an average of 29 points; in their next six games, that average has dwindled to 17. This includes holding Public League finalists Frankford and George Washington to a respectable total of 43 points.
En route to winning its first Public League championship since 2006, Frankford (8-2 overall) dominated the Public League with a perfect 7-0 record. Of their eight overall wins, the teams that held the Pioneers to the fewest points — 21 — were Fels and Central.
“We were fortunate to get a win,” Frankford second-year coach Will Doggett said. “We made some mistakes and had some kids dinged up, but they moved the ball and fortunately for us they made some mistakes, too.
“They’re a pretty good team and they are well-coached,” Doggett said of Fels. “He (Harrigan) does a good job of always having his kids ready to play. They’re definitely a team we have to contend with, and we need to play better than we did before.”
The Pioneers are led by running back Damion Samuels. One of many outstanding juniors on the Frankford roster, Samuels leads the teams in touchdowns (13) and rushing (127 carries for 677 yards); junior teammate Quinton Ellis has added 399 yards on 69 attempts. Among Samuels’ better performances was against Fels, contributing 97 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.
Senior quarterback and Public League MVP Tim DiGiorgio (71 of 157 passing for 1,187 yards and nine touchdowns) was held in check by Fels, completing only four of 10 passes for 44 yards before giving way to junior Marquis Poston. An outstanding outside linebacker who moonlights as a back-up quarterback and running back, Poston completed each of his four passes, one going for a touchdown to junior Shareef Miller. Poston, coming off a fumble return for a score and an interception in the Public League championship, also rushed for another score.
DiGiorgio’s primary targets are senior Denzel Turbeville (24 catches for 478 yards), junior Wydell Compton (23 for 288, four touchdowns), and senior Renz Compton (10 for 239).
Turbeville leads a defense that includes fellow tackle Kadar Jones, ends Miller and Shyheim Ladson, linebackers Poston, Jahlil Harris, and Rasheed Muhammad (son of the Frankford offensive coordinator of the same name), and a strong secondary of Anthony Wright-Downing, Christian Santiago, Renz Compton and Ellis.
During their seven-game winning streak, the Panthers have surrendered only 73 points.
“We’re playing well, and so is Fels,” Doggett said. “It should make for a good game.” ••
Sports editor Ed Morrone contributed to this report.
Reporter John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org