Thanksgiving football preview: Fels vs. Frankford

After nar­rowly fall­ing to St. Joseph’s Prep in the city cham­pi­on­ship game, Frank­ford will get a chance to end its sea­son with a win against Fels on Thanks­giv­ing.

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


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