As the players took the field for the opening kickoff of last Friday night’s AAAA Gold Division Public League matchup between Northeast and Samuel Fels at Charlie Martin Stadium, the skies opened and a heavy downpour soaked the supersite’s artificial surface. Seemingly unaffected by the conditions, Northeast quarterback Daquan Bohannan led his team downfield on its opening possession and produced a quick scoring drive, one of many on this night in an eventual 43-20 Northeast victory.
Less than five minutes had elapsed on the game clock and Fels (0-5, 0-2) already found itself in an all too familiar position — playing catch-up. On the Vikings’ very next possession, using their wide-open spread attack, Bohannan hit Jabree Tilghman for a 41-yard strike to make the early score 12-0.
In the past, Fels might have thrown in the towel. Not this time. Enter fourth-year head coach Bill Harrigan and his never-say-die attitude.
The Panthers collected themselves on their very next possession and drove 51 yards in nine plays to cut the deficit in half as the quarter ended. It was Harrigan’s first big group of seniors that led the drive. Senior quarterback Isaiah Brinkley connected twice with senior wideout Jylil Reeder for 31 yards. Senior tailback Jamiel Hines contributed with two carries for 15 yards on the march.
“We have a big group of seniors that we haven’t had in two years,” Harrigan noted after the game. “Jamiel has been a steady four-year starter for us. He is very athletic and continues to get better. Whether it’s receiving or running, there isn’t anything that he hasn’t done for us.”
Of course, Northeast (3-2, 1-1) didn’t exactly give up as a result of Fels’ scoring drive. Bohannan went right back to work and connected with wideout Shimeek Carter on a 52-yard touchdown pass.
On the Panthers’ next possession, after three positive plays, Brinkley was forced from the pocket and released a backward lateral pass that got loose on the turf. The ball was recovered by Fels, but not before a 21-yard loss.
The Vikings regained possession and entrusted the in-the-zone to Bohannan create more mayhem. This time he connected on a 35-yard toss to fellow senior Devon Dillard to close the first half scoring with Northeast up 24-6.
The second half produced more instant offense for the Vikings, as Bohannan struck two more times from the air. His final statistical line, 16-for-24, 341 yards and five scores, was only good enough for co-MVP honors. Carter’s final tallies, 11 receptions for 217 yards and two scores, also included a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“Today, we gave up too many big plays on defense,” Harrigan noted. “You’re not going to get away with doing that in this division.”
Second half highlights for the Panthers included two touchdown passes from Brinkley, including a well thrown corner route to senior Nadir Hudson. The final tally came on a short post pass to Hines, who exploded into the open field and took the ball the rest of the way untouched for a 44-yard touchdown. The late push made the final score more respectable.
“Every week, we are getting closer to playing 100 percent of the game,” Harrigan said. “We have had two games where it was a tale of two halves and we’ve had two other games where there was a 75 percent effort with 25 percent missing throughout the game.
“We do a good job of stringing plays together, but we often fall short of getting the ball in the end zone,” he added. “I think that we still have to turn the corner with the guys and their mental approach … feeling that they don’t belong on the same field as these other power programs. It’s my job to get them to start realizing that they are a good football team.”
Samuel Fels High School’s football program, along with its entire athletic department, is looking for respectability. Athletic director Mark Heimerdinger likes what he sees from Harrigan, a Central High and Kings College graduate. The boss is proud of his head coach’s strides in making the Panthers competitive.
“Bill is starting to get kids with the desire, but maybe not the football experience that other neighborhood Public League programs are getting,” Heimerdinger said. “He and his staff are doing a good job teaching the fundamentals. As a school, we need to build a tradition to attract the local neighborhood talent.”
Harrigan is working hard to build his program. He loves the challenge of playing the best teams each week in the AAAA Gold Division.
“It’s a good football climate,” he said. “We have a lot of underclassmen and are dressing about 80 players total. We have a lot of young guys that are new to football who are good athletes, but not necessarily natural football players.”
The administration at Fels is working hard to remove the negative stigma associated with previously being on the ‘persistently dangerous’ list of Philadelphia public schools. Heimerdinger has been left impressed by second-year principal Shawn McGuigan:
“He (McGuigan) has taken the school from persistently dangerous to safe,” Heimerdinger said. “There are no longer kids walking the halls while class is in session. Fels is pursuing excellence both academically and athletically. He has taken on the challenges at the school and defeated them. We need that brand of consistency.”
In the meantime, the athletic program is committed to making a positive name for Samuel Fels in the Public League.
“In addition to Harrigan’s efforts, we have George Dufner in baseball and George Ewerth in soccer, who have received coach of the year honors in their respective sports,” he said, referring to the annual Northeast Sports Awards Banquet. “They are both great teachers of the game.” (Heimerdinger, the longtime basketball coach at Cardinal Dougherty, led the Fels hoops program to an impressive 18-win turnaround season last year that earned him his own coaching accolades.)
The immediate road ahead for Harrigan and his players is no walk in the park. They still have yet to face the meat of their schedule, including perennial powers George Washington and Frankford.
“Our main goal is to stay in this division; however, we need to come up with some wins,” Harrigan said. “Any win at this point would be looked at as a pretty major upset. I feel like we are close to turning the corner. Guys stayed with it tonight and never got down even though Northeast was up big. They dug deep and showed some pride.” ••