The game was barely two minutes old, but Alex Rivera had already done what his coaching staff and teammates depend on him to do.
“That’s the way to set the tone,” said an enthusiastic voice from the sideline. “That is the way to set the tone.”
It might have only gone down as a small blip in the post-game statistics, but Rivera’s 20-yard run was vintage football.
The senior fullback took a handoff, broke four tackle attempts, and then literally carried three defenders before finally being dragged down near midfield. Rivera’s army tank imitation set up one of three first-quarter touchdowns that sparked George Washington High School’s convincing 28-0 demolition of Central in Saturday night’s Public League Gold Division semifinal at Northeast High School.
The victory powered the Eagles to the Public League championship game at the same venue at 4 p.m. this Saturday. It will be a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s title game, which Washington won with the help of some costly Frankford mistakes.
Better get your tickets early.
“We want this opportunity,” said senior tight end and safety Rene Villafane, who scored the final touchdown against Central on a 13-yard pass from senior quarterback Dave Gavrilov, who played brilliantly (11-for-14, 187 yards, two TDs). “I’ve been following George Washington football ever since I was six years old. This is for pride and joy. This is a big moment.”
The Eagles (8-1) might have been afforded some slack for looking past Central (6-3, only losses to GW twice and to Frankford) since they were already aware that Frankford, the only team to beat Washington this season, had already defeated Northeast in the other semifinal.
However, in a testament to their grit, the Eagles played hard from beginning to end. Even after senior Marquis Edwards’ four-yard run, junior Ken Everage’s 35-yard jaunt, and senior Josh Macauley’s 46-yard touchdown catch had staked Washington to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, the Eagles never let up.
One of those who made sure of that was assistant coach Frank McFillin. Despite the big advantage late in the second quarter, McFillin saw what he felt was a lackadaisical set by a member of the offense and immediately replaced the player.
Later, McFillin explained.
“It doesn’t matter what the score is,” he said. “The heck with that. It’s about doing things the right way.”
Doing things the “right way” is what the aforementioned Rivera is all about.
While he rarely shows up in the box score, the 5-foot-8, 190-pounder really doesn’t care. While he admits to having a “nose for the end zone,” Rivera realizes that his main task is helping others to get there.
“In the huddle, our running backs (Edwards and Everage) say, ‘We’re just gonna follow you,’” he said. “So whether it’s ten yards here, five there or another five there, me and the (offensive) line know what our jobs are.
“I enjoy my role. I try and pump the team up. When I get the ball, I’m expected to hit the hole hard and fast and make it worth it. We all block for a reason. We’re all family.”
Rivera’s unselfish and often-unnoticed play — which includes being the snapper on punts and field goals — wins praise from GW coach Ron Cohen.
“He’s a great kid,” Cohen said. “He’s the kind of player that every team needs. He leaves everything he has out on the field, whether as a runner or a blocker or on special teams.
“He is a quiet leader. He leads by example. It’s all about what is best for the team. His teammates and coaches respect him.”
Cohen was asked if Rivera’s 20-yard run early in the game served as a symbol for how Washington played.
“Very much so,” he said. “This was one of our best games of the year. Actually, it was probably our best. We played great in both halves and didn’t let up our intensity. The line, on both sides of the ball, did a great job.”
Rivera would like to play football in college, but he isn’t thinking about that right now.
“I’m just thinking about Frankford,” he said. “I’m not too worried about myself right now.”
What a shock. ••
Reporter John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com