Better late than never

Dami­on Samuels scampers in­to the end zone for one of his three scores in Fri­day’s 27-6 win over North­east. The ju­ni­or has sev­en rush­ing touch­downs on the sea­son. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

— Frank­ford’s Dami­on Samuels shook off an early bench­ing to help lead his team to its first league win.


Dami­on Samuels wants to be the story, but with his team cling­ing to a 7-6 half­time lead, he was the story for the wrong reas­ons.

Luck­ily for Samuels and his Frank­ford team­mates, they had the en­tire second half to make up for it.

The Pi­on­eers’ ju­ni­or run­ning back ripped off three second half touch­down runs Fri­day af­ter­noon at Frank­ford Sta­di­um, turn­ing a pos­sible back-break­ing up­set in­to a breezy 27-6 win over area rival North­east. The win hal­ted Frank­ford’s brief two-game los­ing streak and al­lowed the reign­ing Pub­lic League AAAA Gold reg­u­lar sea­son champs to start league play with a much-needed vic­tory. Samuels, who notched his second three-score game of the sea­son (both Pi­on­eer wins), had to watch the start of this one from the side­line as part of his pun­ish­ment for miss­ing Monday’s prac­tice without an ex­cuse.

“We didn’t have school on Monday, and I woke up a little late and missed prac­tice,” said Samuels, who leads the team with 216 rush­ing yards and sev­en touch­downs through four games. “I knew what the rule was, and that I was go­ing to have to sit. When I sat, I felt mad. When things hap­pen like that, you have to go out and prove your­self.”

With all of his second half end zone trips, it’s safe to say Samuels did just that.

“Now is the time for my ex­pos­ure,” he said. “I can’t dream of hanging my pads up after seni­or year. I want to get to the next level in col­lege, and I want to be a story.”

The smil­ing Samuels, who fin­ished with 58 yards on 13 car­ries, even found a sil­ver lin­ing in his pun­ish­ment.

“I didn’t run too much in the first half,” he said with a laugh. “I had fresh legs.”

With Tim Di­Gior­gio, Frank­ford’s man un­der cen­ter, con­tinu­ing to set re­cords, the Pi­on­eer rush­ing at­tack has kept a low pro­file and been able to creep up on op­pon­ents.  Di­Gior­gio, who broke single-sea­son Pub­lic League re­cords for passing yards and touch­down passes a year ago, was at it again against North­east, throw­ing for 227 yards and a first-half touch­down to Wydell Compton. The seni­or sig­nal-caller be­came just the third Pub­lic League quar­ter­back to reach 3,000 ca­reer passing yards, and it took him just 15 varsity games to do so.

However, there is a flip side to that coin, and after watch­ing Di­Gior­gio ab­sorb sev­er­al crush­ing hits in the North­east game (mostly cour­tesy of seni­or line­back­er Dav­id Pul­li­am), as well as many more the week be­fore in a 35-6 loss to Arch­bish­op Wood, the Pi­on­eer coach­ing staff is fo­cused on pro­tect­ing the boy with the golden left arm. The key to that, as Frank­ford tells it, will be bal­ance.

“I call it the Mi­chael Vick ef­fect,” said Samuels, re­fer­ring to the Phil­adelphia Eagles’ start­ing quar­ter­back. “If we can get five to six yards a carry on the ground, then we can really keep teams guess­ing. We’re a pass-heavy team, but good rush­ing can open up the passing game even more. We know Tim will lead the team, but if we use the rush­ing at­tack to keep things evenly bal­anced, we can hope­fully keep him off his back and healthy for the rest of the sea­son.”

Un­like Andy Re­id, Frank­ford (2-2, 1-0) head coach Will Dog­gett and top of­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or Rasheed Muhammad don’t seem to shy away from run­ning the ball, des­pite an ex­plos­ive passing game. In ad­di­tion to Di­Gior­gio’s 23 passing at­tempts, the QB handed off 28 times to four run­ning backs (Samuels, Quin­ton El­lis, Juwan Man­ning and Alex Can­delario), res­ult­ing in 139 yards — al­most five yards per carry — and Samuels’ three touch­downs.

Though not sen­sa­tion­al, Frank­ford’s rush­ing at­tack was highly ef­fi­cient, which kept the clock run­ning as the lead con­tin­ued to grow. Juan Namnun’s de­fense did the rest of the work, shak­ing off an early 75-yard touch­down catch by North­east’s Devon Dillard and al­low­ing just 35 yards on 33 total of­fens­ive plays the rest of the game.

“De­fens­ively the second half of this game was the best we’ve played all year,” Dog­gett said. “When we play that well de­fens­ively, we want to run the ball more and es­tab­lish the run­ning game. As you saw today, we cer­tainly have the backs to be able to run the foot­ball.”

As the Pub­lic League slate con­tin­ues to un­fold, the Pi­on­eers will likely go as far as Di­Gior­gio takes them. That said, when Frank­ford has suc­cess­fully run the ball, they’ve won, and giv­en how well the team can de­fend and catch the ball (trans­fer tight end Den­zel Turbeville caught five passes for 133 yards, and con­tin­ues to emerge as Di­Gior­gio’s new­est fa­vor­ite tar­get), the Pi­on­eers can be very dan­ger­ous when they put it all to­geth­er for an en­tire 48 minutes.

For his part, Samuels says he learned his les­son after be­ing benched. The 5-foot-8 ju­ni­or, who also lines up at corner­back, is in his first sea­son of high school foot­ball after pre­vi­ously play­ing for the Frank­ford Char­gers (the neigh­bor­hood’s highly re­spec­ted youth foot­ball pro­gram, now in its 45th sea­son). Sens­ing he wasn’t ready to be a con­trib­ut­or on the varsity level just yet, Samuels spent an ex­tra year with the Char­gers be­fore his break­out ju­ni­or sea­son.

“I owe a lot to Coach Rasheed, who’s been help­ing me since I was about 13,” said Samuels in ref­er­ence to Muhammad, who was also praised by Dog­gett after the win for his of­fens­ive game plan in the second half. “He’s taught me how to read de­fenses be­fore I got the ball, know­ing when to cut and when to use my speed. The rest was just stay­ing de­term­ined in the weight room.”

With the two-game los­ing streak in the rear­view mir­ror and now with a league win un­der their belts, the Pi­on­eers hope they are peak­ing at the right time. A win over North­east (2-2, 0-1) was cer­tainly nice, but with Ger­man­town and reign­ing league cham­pi­on Wash­ing­ton on the dock­et the next two weeks, there will be no time to let up.

After see­ing and real­iz­ing the im­port­ance of his role with­in the Frank­ford of­fense, Samuels, who lives a few train stops away from the school near Kens­ing­ton and Tioga, has no plans of let­ting up either. Part of be­ing a young, in­ex­per­i­enced play­er is how to re­act to and learn from mis­takes, and Samuels showed im­press­ive ma­tur­ity when dis­cuss­ing the in­cid­ent after the game.

“When Tim was tak­ing a beat­ing, I put that on my­self,” Samuels said. “When I don’t have the ball, I try to be a good pass pro­tect­or; when I came in, I just wanted to help the team out, and that in­cludes keep­ing Tim up­right.”

And while one of the team’s main ob­ject­ives will be keep­ing Di­Gior­gio off the ground, Samuels talked about how im­port­ant stay­ing groun­ded is, too, for he and his team­mates.

“We have a lot of new­comers … I’m a new­comer,” he said. “When we won our first game (over Hat­boro-Hor­sham), I’m not go­ing to lie, our heads got big. We thought nobody could beat us. Then, Penns­bury and Wood ran it down our throats. We got things to­geth­er, and there will be no more big heads. We’re just very fo­cused. I had three touch­downs today, but it’s be­hind me. Now I’m look­ing to have an­oth­er three next week and keep this thing rolling.” ••

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