It wasn’t a win, but it could have been.
Most coaches are not interested in the words “could have” and “should have.” However, they accurately applied to Samuel Fels High School’s season-opening, 24-8 non-league football loss to Abington High School on Friday morning at Northeast’s Charles Martin Memorial Stadium.
“We did some good things,” Fels coach Bill Harrigan said.
This certainly rings true, especially in the early going. Abington, having won 20 games and two Suburban One League championships the past two seasons, entered the contest as a heavy favorite. However, Fels stunned the Galloping Ghosts halfway through the first quarter when senior do-it-all playmaker Jamiel Hines took a handoff and raced 59 yards for a touchdown. Following a two-point conversion run, the Panthers led, 8-0.
While several Abington players later attributed their slow start and subsequent up-and-down performance to being unaccustomed to playing so early in the morning on a weekday, several Fels players said there was more to it than that.
In fact, they said, although Abington eventually forged ahead with two touchdowns and a field goal in the second quarter and an insurance tally in the third, it could be argued that Fels met Abington pound for pound.
So why did Fels lose?
“We turned the ball over too much,” Hines said. “It made a big difference.”
Indeed. When the game clock finally showed zeroes on a beautiful but hot and muggy Friday afternoon, the Panthers had committed five turnovers, two of them costly. Combined with some untimely penalties, the underdog Panthers were unable to emerge victorious despite having outgained the Ghosts, 286 yards to 194, and forcing five punts while attempting only two of their own.
Abington coach Tim Sorber was extremely complimentary of Fels, typically a Public League Gold Division bottom-dweller, but this year a team of confidence after bringing back 19 starters in the seventh year of the school’s football program.
“They are a very fast team,” Sorber said. “They jumped on us pretty good and we had to adjust.”
Although the Ghosts did eventually adjust, Fels made it easy for them to do so. The Panthers threw three interceptions, lost a fumble at their own 21-yard line that immediately led to a field goal and Abington’s first lead, shanked a two-yard punt that resulted in the back-breaking touchdown that finished the scoring and were unable to corral a sure-fire touchdown reception.
Sorber admitted that Abington dodged the proverbial bullet.
“They did enough to win the game,” he said. “They made some mistakes and we were able to take advantage of them. But they should be a good team. They don’t have a whole lot of depth and I think we just kind of wore them down a little bit.”
The one player who gave Abington fits was Hines. Normally known for his feisty aggressiveness as a highly recruited cornerback, Hines battled through occasional cramps to finish with 94 yards on six carries along with two receptions for 43 yards.
Coming off a season that included seven touchdowns (two on defense), Hines’ rushing numbers nearly equaled last year’s total (126 yards on 42 tries for the entire 2011 season) on 34 fewer carries. In addition to his status as a blanket defensive back, Hines will get plenty of touches as both a running back and wide receiver for the Panthers.
It was Hines’ 59-yard scoring scamper that ended up being the game’s highlight, much like his 102-yard interception return in last year’s opener. But last year’s result — a 26-6 victory over Ben Franklin High School — was not mirrored on Friday.
“There were a lot of good blocks,” Hines said about the touchdown. “Any time a player scores on a long touchdown, there are a lot of people who do their jobs.”
Fels’ senior quarterback Isaiah Brinkley completed 10 of his 20 passes for 140 yards, four of which were grabbed by senior Nadir Hudson (52 yards). Sophomore Wesley White gained 41 yards on 14 carries, while Brinkley added 29 on nine. Senior Jylil Reeder caught one pass for 17 yards and grabbed an interception.
These were among the many “good things” that Harrigan referred to, and that opinion was certainly supported by a highly respected opponent.
All in all, it was not a bad season premiere for a Fels team that should be much improved in 2012. However, just being good enough is no longer acceptable for this evolving program, and the team will continue to work out the kinks against non-league Penn Charter and Truman.