Penalty flags were abundant, the offense was sloppy and it never stopped raining as George Washington took on West Catholic in a non-league game Saturday night at Northeast’s Charles Martin Stadium. West Catholic dominated the first 36 minutes of the game, but the adversity brought out the best in the battle-tested Eagles.
Through the first two games of the season, there has been some uncertainty at the quarterback position for the reigning Public League champs between seniors Al Augustine and Dave Gavrilov. Gavrilov led Washington to a 16-12 season-opening win over SCH Academy. Then, it was Augustine’s turn on Saturday, as 28th year head coach Ron Cohen wanted to get a feel for what Augustine would look like in game action before deciding on a starter for the rest of the season.
“Coach Cohen just wanted to see how both of us could play in a game situation,” Augustine said after the game. “He will most likely make his decision this week. Good luck to David, and may the best man win.”
In the first half, Washington had a difficult time moving the ball in the rain. Augustine completed only two of five passes for a mere 17 yards. Additionally, on the ground, Washington used a three-headed attack with junior Ken Everage and seniors Marquis Edwards and Donald Smith. In the first half, Washington managed 70 yards on the ground to move the clock and control the ball at times, but first downs were few and far between.
After a sloppy, scoreless 18 minutes of football, Washington senior kicker/punter, Jake Wright pinned West Catholic on the four-yard line with 6:23 to go in the first half (one of two punts Jake pinned inside the five). Nevertheless, tailback Greg White took West Catholic’s first play of the drive the distance, accumulating 96 of his eventual 140 yards to give the Burrs a 7-0 lead.
Washington followed the White touchdown run with a three and out. On West Catholic’s ensuing drive, sophomore quarterback Antwain McCollum orchestrated a 10-play drive, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to senior all-purpose and defensive back Shaquille James (three receptions, 43 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT). West Catholic missed the extra point, but dominated the half and took a 13-0 lead into the locker room.
The second half, however, was a completely different game as the Eagles showed that they were down but not out.
Washington’s defense came out with some renewed energy in the second half, led by defensive lineman and Division-I prospect Justin Moody, who sacked McCollum for a nine-yard loss on West’s opening drive.
On offense, Augustine finally had Washington moving the chains, but after two first down conversions and a 15-yard defensive facemask penalty, James picked off Augustine’s third down pass, deflating the drive and seemingly Washington’s hopes of a comeback with only 1:52 remaining in the third quarter.
But the defense stayed strong, stepped up and held White to just 26 yards on nine second half carries.
Beginning the final quarter from their own 48 yard-line, the Eagles picked up two consecutive first downs and faced an important 3rd and 10 from West Catholic’s 23 with 8:59 left in the game.
Up to this point in the game, Augustine was just 2-for-8 for 17 yards, including the interception. On a surefire passing down, Augustine needed to make a play, and he did just that. He connected with senior tight end D’Andre Dunkley for 14 yards, and on the very next play, Augustine handed off to senior fullback Melvin Gonzalez for a 9-yard touchdown. Now trailing 13-7 with 8:29 remaining, it finally looked like the Eagles would have a shot at victory.
After another defensive stand, the Washington offense started from their own 30 with 5:10 remaining. After six straight runs (two first downs, including a 25-yard carry by Everage), Washington was on West Catholic’s 28 and within striking distance. Augustine threw incomplete on 3rd and 6 with 1:45 remaining, setting up a crucial fourth down.
With the game on the line, Washington reached into its bag of tricks, and ran a reverse to Smith, who snuck around the left side for 12 yards and a first down.
The drive continued, as Augustine committed an intentional grounding penalty on first down and threw an incomplete pass on second, bringing up a 3rd and 25, back at the West Catholic 29 yard line with 1:05 left. With his back against the wall, the struggling Augustine remarkably delivered, hitting junior wideout Rasheed Black on a short slant pass. Black rumbled the rest of the way for a 29-yard score with under a minute to play to tie the game.
“We needed a big play, and fast,” Augustine said of the critical play. “Our coaches saw a hole in their defense, which we decided to attack. With great blocking up front and an excellent catch by Rasheed, the play was perfected.”
However, Wright’s extra point kick went wide left, and the game stayed knotted at 13 and was bound for overtime.
Awarded the first extra session possession, Washington was stopped on three downs. Wright, looking for redemption, came out for a 24-yard field-goal attempt but clunked it off the left upright to keep the score tied. But the drama kept coming, as a West defender ran into Wright, drawing a roughing the kicker penalty. Washington got the ball back and Augustine held a 1-yard keeper for a touchdown. Wright nailed the extra point this time, giving Washington a 20-13 lead in overtime.
Now, it was West Catholic’s turn for one final attempt to push the game to a second overtime.
After a false start penalty and an incomplete pass, Washington had all the momentum. But facing a second down and goal from the 15, McCollum (12-for-20, 168 yards, 2 TDs) who was impressive all night, threw a bullet into the chest of receiver Patrick Amara for a touchdown to make it 20-19, Washington.
West elected to go for two points and the win, but McCollum’s pass came up a little short. The comeback victory pushed the Eagles to a perfect 2-0 start, with two extremely tight contests.
Showing poise, Augustine remained the leader of his team’s offense throughout the game’s peaks and valleys. Although his passing numbers (4-for-15, 60 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) weren’t pretty, he did enough to deliver the win. On the ground, Everage and Smith gained 77 and 76 yards, respectively.
“God pulled us through the game,” Augustine said after it was over. “We never lost faith or confidence in him or in ourselves. We just kept playing to the last whistle.” ••