If the game had been scheduled a week earlier, all bets were off as to whether or not Frankford’s football players would be motivated enough to put forth a 48-minute effort.
But sometimes, a bye week does wonders.
So when the Pioneers meet visiting Samuel Fels at 9:45 on Thanksgiving morning, the Panthers will be facing a Frankford team that has mentally, emotionally and physically rebounded from losing a 10-7 decision to St. Joseph’s Prep in the PIAA District 12 Class AAAA title game on Nov. 16.
“We were crushed,” said senior two-way standout Damion Samuels. “There’s no other way to put it. We felt like we should have won the game. We did everything we could and when it was over, I can’t describe the feeling. It was awful.
“The only thing all of us wanted to do after that was play in a state playoff game. We felt like we had earned it.”
No offense intended to Fels, Samuels said, but the last thing on Frankford’s mind was playing on Thanksgiving.
“I’m sure we would have still played the game, but we’d have been excited because states would have been next,” said Samuels, Frankford’s leading rusher with 625 yards and scorer with 11 touchdowns. “When you lose a game like that
… something that would have been huge for the entire school and for the entire Public League … it’s not easy to recover from.”
Frankford coach Will Doggett surmised that the first few days of practice after losing to the Prep might be drudgery.
Then the week of practice began.
Welcome to drudgery.
“They didn’t feel like playing,” Doggett said. “I understood that. How could you not? What they did in that (Prep game) was almost beat a team that no one outside of a few people gave us any chance to win. We couldn’t have been more proud.”
Accustomed to being a pseudo-psychologist, Doggett allowed his players significant slack. For awhile, at least.
But by the end of the week, a sense of normalcy began to marinate. Now, outside of a few nicks and bruises, the Pioneers appear ready to finish their season on a high note against a Fels team they defeated a month ago, 41-24. Fels’ offensive output was four more points than the composite total scored by Frankford’s other four PL opponents during the regular season.
Not that that means a whole lot.
“We’re a lot better than we were back then,” said Doggett. “But so are they. Every week the goal is to get better than the last, and we did that. That’s all we can do is get better.”
Doggett said Frankford (7-4) is as healthy as it has been all season.
“The way our defense is playing, I like our chances against anybody,” Doggett said. “I really do.”
As Doggett said, Fels has also improved since their last encounter. Riding a two-game winning streak, the 4-7 Panthers are hoping to do against Frankford what Frankford could not do versus the Prep — shock the entire city.
“Honestly, who gives us much of a chance?” said Fels star senior Jylil Reeder, the MVP of the Public League Gold Division. “We’re playing the team that has won two straight Public League championships. If that doesn’t excite you, nothing will.”
Instead of being concerned or overwhelmed at the impending challenge, Reeder said that he and his teammates view this as “way more” than just a Thanksgiving Day rivalry, something that began in 2010 and has since included three Frankford triumphs.
A playoff game, perhaps?
“No,” said Reeder. “It’s not a playoff game. For us, it’s a championship game.”
For Fels to pull off the huge upset, Reeder needs to contribute even more than he has throughout his four-year career, which is really saying something.
An all-around performer, he starts as a slot receiver, running back and occasional quarterback on offense; at free safety, cornerback and linebacker on defense; and as a kickoff and punt returner on special teams, Reeder — quite literally — never takes a play off.
The Panthers’ unquestioned leader’s 2013 resume includes 48 catches for 975 yards, 84 rushes for 476 yards, four interceptions and 25 touchdowns (13 receiving, nine rushing, two on kickoffs and one via an interception), and a team-leading four interceptions. He is fully cognizant of the mission that awaits.
For Fels to solve the mystery of outsmarting Frankford defensive stalwarts such as Shareef Miller, Kadar Jones, Qahire Moore, Javez Baker-Hall, Marquise Poston and Wydell Compton, not to mention a secondary led by Quinton Ellis, Devontae Lee and Samuels, it will take more than a Herculean Reeder to emerge victorious.
Hence the pressure put on younger teammates such as junior running back Wesley White (433 yards rushing) and sophomore quarterback Aasim Campbell (1,413 yards passing, 16 touchdowns).
“It has to be a team effort,” Reeder said. “If everyone comes to play, we have a chance. If not … well, you can’t have anyone ‘not playing’ against a team like Frankford.” ••
Frankford Memorial Stadium
Thursday, Nov. 28, at 9:45 a.m.
Frankford won, 32-0
FRANKFORD LEADS SERIES: 3-0-0