To say that Chris Schlegel is a perfectionist might be putting it mildly.
In Saturday afternoon’s Public League AAAA semifinal at Charles Martin Memorial Stadium, George Washington survived a nerve-wracking 17-13 victory over a thoroughly disappointed Northeast.
The GW sophomore conducted what appeared to be an excellent game. He kicked a career-long 37-yard field goal and two extra points, and when computed, his contribution literally made the difference between a win and a loss. Take away one kick that bounced out of bounds, he also did a commendable job on his kickoffs and punts.
“My teammates picked me up during the game,” he said. “They gave me confidence when I was losing mine.”
Turns out that on both of his extra-point kicks, Schlegel “almost” missed them, particularly his second boot — a line drive that barely cleared the crossbar.
To the casual observer, that might not mean much. But to a kicker, it means everything.
“Kicking is all about believing in yourself,” Schlegel said. “You have to believe that when your time comes up to make a kick, there is nothing in your mind except knowing that you are going to be successful.”
Being able to impart such “kicking wisdom” would suggest that Schlegel has been defining his craft for many years. But prior to this September, Schlegel had never kicked a football.
A soccer player, Schlegel figured that Washington would need a kicker this year with the graduation of former stalwart Jake Wright, so he quickly practiced to prove that he could do it, and then asked for a tryout.
A composite three field goals and 24 extra points later, Schlegel was suddenly a major contributor to his team’s ability to reach this Saturday’s Public League AAAA championship, where it will meet defending champion Frankford for the third straight season (4 p.m., Northeast High).
It will mark the third straight season in which the two Public League titans meet for the title. Frankford won last year, GW the year before.
For the Eagles to dethrone the Pioneers, Schlegel acknowledged that his strong right leg might be the difference between a year-long victory celebration or a year-long case of the “What ifs.”
Among those who believe in his ability is senior Rasheed Black.
“Number 32 is a big factor on this team,” Black said, referring to Schlegel’s jersey number. “He’s got a great leg. We have all the confidence in the world in Chris.”
Like Schlegel, Black was also among GW’s key performers.
Trailing 3-0 on senior Tyler Gormley’s 26-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, the Eagles (5-4 overall) were having a tough time generating any consistent offense. After Northeast (4-6) missed a field goal with 1:45 remaining in the half, the Eagles took over on their own 20-yard line.
Waking up from their two-quarter slumber, GW marched 61 yards on eight plays. Black was involved in four of them, catching passes of 10, 18 and 6 yards from senior quarterback Cedric Wright and inducing a pass interference penalty. With zero seconds on the clock, Schlegel jogged onto the field and calmly nailed a 37-yarder through the uprights to tie the game.
If the first half provided horse and buggy excitement, the second half was more like a drag race.
With 7:48 remaining in the third quarter, senior Natwan Curtis returned a punt 62 yards for a touchdown. But before Northeast’s players and jubilant fans could even finish celebrating, GW senior Hassan Brockman answered by returning the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for a score.
Undaunted, Northeast calmly relied on its running game, namely junior Asa Manley (17 carries, 86 yards). Aided mostly by his jaunt of 48 yards, Northeast regained the lead on a 32-yard field goal by Gormley.
With 34 seconds left in the third, the Eagles took possession on their own 23 and proceeded to embark on a 17-play, 77-yard scoring drive. Making the epic hike particularly memorable was that it involved a running-into-the-kicker penalty to turn a fourth-and-four into a first down, and a 15-yard completion from Wright to Black on a third and 12.
However, the coup de grace occurred when GW faced a fourth and two at the 18. With the game — and season — literally on the line, Akinyeli “Ken” Everage (14 carries, 81 yards) took a handoff, followed his blocker to the left, and raced 18 yards for the first conventional touchdown of the contest.
Then came Schlegel’s only mistake, an out-of-bounds kickoff with 3:18 on the clock that gave Northeast a first down at its own 35. From there, Vikings quarterback Johnathan Diaz summoned the ghost of Harry Houdini. Over the next three minutes, he was brilliant, making plays out of seemingly nothing — none more impressive than a 20-yard scramble on a fourth and 19.
Even his lone mistake — an interception by Brockman — didn’t end the game because Brockman returned the theft 40 yards to the Northeast 25 but fumbled the ball.
Diaz once again imitated Superman. He was able to march the Vikings all the way to the GW 33 before his final heave was emphatically slapped down by senior Carlito Wright at the 5-yard line.