— 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.” ••