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