Cohen's butterflies end in season-opening win

"There's al­ways but­ter­flies. It's an ex­cit­ing time. I guess the day you don't get ex­cited, it's telling you something." — Wash­ing­ton head coach Ron Co­hen on his nerves be­fore sea­son-open­ing games.

Former Wash­ing­ton High School Quar­ter­back Aaron Wilmer, at his Alma Ma­ter meet­ing with his High School coach Ron Co­hen.


Those first-game jit­ters … can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, and not just in the case of teen­age foot­ball play­ers.

“It’s al­ways dif­fer­ent, that’s for sure,” said George Wash­ing­ton head coach Ron Co­hen, a 28-year vet­er­an. “But no mat­ter how long you do it, there’s al­ways but­ter­flies. It’s an ex­cit­ing time.”

The high school coach paused, and then con­tin­ued. “I guess the day you don’t get ex­cited, it’s telling you something.”

GW’s sea­son open­er Sat­urday night against non-league op­pon­ent Spring­side Ches­nut Hill (SCH) Academy (of the Inter-Ac League) told Co­hen two things — one, he is still ex­cited to be coach­ing; two, his Eagles will be an in­ter­est­ing squad to watch as it tries to de­fend the Pub­lic League title it cap­tured in 2011, the 12th since 1989.

Des­pite trip­ping all over them­selves here and there — what young, ar­gu­ably in­ex­per­i­enced team doesn’t, es­pe­cially in the sea­son’s first game? — the Eagles edged SCH Academy, 16-12.

High­light-reel plays were few and far between, but when a pro­gram has won as many games as Wash­ing­ton has, some­times a team wins ugly. This was one of those in­stances.

“We def­in­itely made a lot of mis­takes and need to im­prove in some areas,” Co­hen said. “What I liked is that we found a way to win the game. That says a lot for these guys.”

Asked for his choice of a game’s most valu­able play­er, Co­hen men­tioned names of both the house­hold vari­ety and fresh-face new­comers. Upon deep­er re­flec­tion, he par­tic­u­larly lauded his de­fens­ive coach­ing staff, which in­cludes co­ordin­at­or Keith Kar­ron and as­sist­ants An­thony De­Gannes and Has­san Brock­man. The first two once played for Temple Uni­versity; the lat­ter was a former standout All-Pub­lic se­lec­tion at Dob­bins Tech.

“They did a really great job,” Co­hen said. “Good game plan, good coach­ing all-around. I think every­one played hard, but the de­fense was able to make some very key stops when it had to.”

The Eagles fell be­hind, 6-0, thanks mostly to a fumble and two pen­al­ties — one of which was highly ques­tion­able, as were oth­er calls by the of­fi­cials later on. Then again, it was the ref­er­ees’ sea­son open­er, too.

But the Eagles bounced back quickly.

Fol­low­ing an ath­let­ic punt re­turn in­side Blue Dev­ils ter­rit­ory by run­ning back Don­ald Smith, seni­or quar­ter­back Dav­id Gav­rilov shoved aside his own nervous­ness by fir­ing two passes that ate up 35 yards of real es­tate.

With the crowd now of­fi­cially in­to it, Wash­ing­ton moved the ball to the one-yard line and faced a crit­ic­al fourth down. Gav­rilov took the snap and bounced in­to the end zone, and base­ball star Jake Wright’s — also Wash­ing­ton’s kick­er — ex­tra point gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead.

“I was glad we went for it,” said Gav­rilov, who threw for 96 yards on 6-for-12 passing. “We had some mo­mentum and if we didn’t score there, who knows what could have happened?”

A staunch de­fens­ive ef­fort by both teams en­sued un­til Gav­rilov con­nec­ted with wide re­ceiv­er Rene Vil­la­fane on a beau­ti­ful 55-yard scor­ing strike in the third quarter. Vil­la­fane suc­cess­fully lulled his de­fend­er to sleep, and Gav­rilov’s ac­cur­ate pass al­lowed Vil­la­fane not to break stride in what be­came the game-de­cid­ing score.

That touch­down play has been called many times over the past few years, and Co­hen said when the Eagles are able to ex­ecute the form­a­tion in prac­tice, it car­ries over in­to the ac­tu­al mo­ment of truth.

The key is wait­ing for the op­pon­ent to be­come overly ag­gress­ive, and once bit­ten by an un­bal­anced ap­proach, the Eagles’ of­fense re­acts ac­cord­ingly.

“We do a great job with that,” Co­hen said. “It’s a de­signed play. We do it all the time. It takes a bit of time to get everything worked out, but when the guys know were they are sup­posed to be and do what they are sup­posed to do, it should work.”

In the fourth quarter, SCH Academy con­nec­ted on a 61-yard touch­down to close to with­in 14-12, but on the Blue Dev­ils’ two-point con­ver­sion at­tempt, the Eagles pres­sured quar­ter­back Mi­chael Hayes out of the pock­et, and GW was able to main­tain its slim ad­vant­age.

With no kick­ing game to rely on, SCH Academy chose to take a safety late in the third quarter rather than punt. Some on the side­line wondered aloud why the Blue Dev­ils would double their de­fi­cit when a field goal could have won the game, but without an ex­per­i­enced kick­er, it was a moot point.

Sure enough, SCH Academy had one last chance to win the game, but the Eagles held.

“I was happy for the kids,” Co­hen said. “We had a lot of new play­ers get­ting varsity ex­per­i­ence for the first time. I think they really held their own.” ••End­Frag­ment 

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