Bum knee can’t slow down Frankford QB

A week after sit­ting out due to a knee in­jury, TIm Di­Gior­gio put up 100 passing yards and a rush­ing TD in a crit­ic­al 25-14 win over Wash­ing­ton. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Born and raised in the Frank­ford sec­tion of Phil­adelphia, Tim Di­Gior­gio star­ted play­ing foot­ball at the age of 5 for the Ox­ford Circle Raid­ers. But un­til Au­gust 2011, nobody really knew who he was; Di­Gior­gio quickly changed all that. 

Di­Gior­gio got some­what of a late start as a varsity ath­lete, as he played youth foot­ball for the Frank­ford Char­gers in ninth and tenth grades, pa­tiently wait­ing to get his shot at quar­ter­back for the varsity-level Pi­on­eers while hon­ing his skills. 

The wait paid off.

As a ju­ni­or, Di­Gior­gio burst onto the scene with 2,357 passing yards and 30 touch­downs, shat­ter­ing Pub­lic League passing re­cords. Cur­rently a seni­or and un­ques­tion­ably the best quar­ter­back in the Pub­lic League, in just his 15th ca­reer game, Di­Gior­gio be­came only the third Pub­lic League quar­ter­back to ec­lipse 3,000 ca­reer-passing yards on Sept. 21. 

Nev­er­the­less, after a 20-13 loss to the rival George Wash­ing­ton Eagles in last year’s Pub­lic League Cham­pi­on­ship game, Di­Gior­gio had a bit­ter taste in his mouth go­ing in­to Frank­ford’s reg­u­lar sea­son match­up against Wash­ing­ton this sea­son, played last Fri­day af­ter­noon at Frank­ford Sta­di­um.

Not even the sprained knee that kept him out of Frank­ford’s pre­vi­ous game against Ger­man­town could keep Di­Gior­gio from suit­ing up in this one.

“My knee wasn’t 100 per­cent, and there was doubt I would play,” Di­Gior­gio said. “My dad and a few of my coaches thought I should sit for an­oth­er week, but I wanted to play.”

The rivalry between Wash­ing­ton and Frank­ford goes back gen­er­a­tions across a wide range of sports, but none car­ries more weight than foot­ball. No play­er un­der­stands and ap­pre­ci­ates the his­tory of this Pub­lic League heavy­weight clash more than Di­Gior­gio.

“If you play for Frank­ford, you don’t like Wash­ing­ton, and vice versa,” Di­Gior­gio said after fin­ish­ing Frank­ford’s 25-14 win with 100 passing yards and no aer­i­al touch­downs, the lat­ter a first for him as the start­ing QB. “I’m not sure how it star­ted, but I re­mem­ber go­ing to Frank­ford-Wash­ing­ton games be­fore I even got to high school and the at­mo­sphere was so crazy and com­pet­it­ive between the two teams.”

Fri­day was the teams’ first head-to-head match­up of the 2012 sea­son, and the in­tens­ity was power­ful for a reg­u­lar sea­son con­test. Alumni and fans from both schools filed in­to the stands in an­ti­cip­a­tion of one of the most ex­cit­ing games, one that is circled on both sched­ules be­fore the sea­son starts. 

The game didn’t dis­ap­point, es­pe­cially for Di­Gior­gio and the Frank­ford loy­al­ists as the match­up re­mained with­in 13 points or less throughout, even if the game did not seem as close as the score some­times in­dic­ated.

While Wash­ing­ton switched from seni­or quar­ter­back Dave Gav­rilov (4-for-8, 42 yards, two in­ter­cep­tions) to seni­or Al Au­gustine (4-for-7, 42 yards) at half­time, Frank­ford had the lux­ury of re­ly­ing on their star quar­ter­back to calmly and coolly lead them to vic­tory.

With the tender knee an is­sue, the Frank­ford coach­ing staff un­der­stand­ably de­cided to ease Di­Gior­gio in­to the game. As a res­ult, Frank­ford re­lied heav­ily on ju­ni­or all-pur­pose back Dami­on Samuels, who on Fri­day was the most ex­plos­ive play­er on the field. Samuels fin­ished the game with 76 rush­ing yards, 27 re­ceiv­ing yards, two rush­ing touch­downs, a 94-yard kick-re­turn touch­down to start the second half and an in­ter­cep­tion on de­fense. Al­though Di­Gior­gio usu­ally car­ries the load for the Frank­ford of­fense, it nev­er hurts to have a little help from your friends.

“He’s the best run­ning back in the city,” Di­Gior­gio said of Samuels, who has 11 touch­downs in Frank­ford’s six games. “He’s a play­maker. I don’t think I’d rather have any oth­er run­ning back.”

Even­tu­ally, to­ward the end of the first half, Frank­ford began throw­ing the ball more of­ten. However, things wer­en’t ex­actly go­ing Di­Gior­gio’s way. After some un­ruly Pi­on­eer drops and su­perb de­fens­ive plays by Wash­ing­ton (spe­cific­ally from seni­or corner­back Rashaan Wil­li­ams, who helped hold Frank­ford lead­ing re­ceiv­er Den­zel Turbeville without a catch), Frank­ford switched back to a ground at­tack. Di­Gior­gio, who had his worst stat­ist­ic­al game in a win­ning per­form­ance, nev­er lost fo­cus and re­mained up­beat. He man­aged the game bril­liantly, kept his team in check, and most im­port­ant, did not com­mit any turnovers. 

“I just keep in mind that the pre­vi­ous play is over with,” Di­Gior­gio said, re­gard­ing in­com­plete and dropped passes. “I’ve got to keep the team up when things aren’t go­ing our way.”

And he did just that. Frank­ford nev­er lost its com­pos­ure or the lead, even as Wash­ing­ton at­temp­ted to slice in­to the de­fi­cit on more than one oc­ca­sion.

“I prefer to just run a bal­anced of­fense to keep the de­fense on their heels,” Di­Gior­gio said. “I think that’s the best chance we have at win­ning games.”

Ad­ded Frank­ford as­sist­ant coach Rasheed Muhammad: “We wanted to claim first place to show we’re the best team in the Pub­lic League. Not know­ing if Tim was go­ing to play or not, we showed today how bal­anced we are.”

Lead­ing by just five points at the time, Di­Gior­gio capped a cru­cial sev­en-play, 67-yard Frank­ford drive late in the third quarter by scor­ing on a 3-yard rush­ing touch­down to put the Pi­on­eers up 25-14 for good.

When eval­u­at­ing his team’s per­form­ance, Di­Gior­gio un­der­stood that Samuels and the run­ning game proved to be the dif­fer­ence.

“We played good and dis­cip­lined,” said Di­Gior­gio. “Of­fens­ively, we ran it down their throats, and the de­fense played well throughout the en­tire game.”

Frank­ford, now 3-0 in the Pub­lic League AAAA Gold Di­vi­sion and 4-2 over­all, has seen their top play­er throw for 860 yards and five touch­downs in five starts this sea­son. Though he may not equal last year’s un­pre­ced­en­ted num­bers, Di­Gior­gio has every reas­on to be op­tim­ist­ic about the fu­ture of Frank­ford’s sea­son.

“We def­in­itely want to win the [Pub­lic League] cham­pi­on­ship this year and com­pete for the city title.”

And as for the fu­ture of his foot­ball ca­reer, Di­Gior­gio isn’t sure yet, but con­sid­er­ing that he’s fo­cused on en­joy­ing what’s left of his high school days, he’s OK with that.

“I’m not sure [about] what col­lege I’ll be at­tend­ing, but I still have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I would love to go to a Di­vi­sion I pro­gram, but if that doesn’t work out, I would be more than happy to ex­cel at a Di­vi­sion I-AA or Di­vis­on II school.” ••

You can reach at andrew.porter@cbsradio.com.

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