At 0-3, the sky wasn’t necessarily falling for the George Washington football team. After all, the losses were all at the hands of formidable non-league opponents, and the rest of the Eagles’ division hadn’t fared much better through the first three weeks.
That said, with the final score reading Washington 42, Furness 8, as the Eagles opened up Public League AAAA Gold Division play on Saturday in South Philadelphia, head coach Ron Cohen didn’t mince words.
“Let’s put it this way: we needed it,” said Cohen, who in his 29 years as Washington’s head coach has seen just about everything. “The team needed it, the coaches needed it and the program needed it. The kids came through. They went out there and played football.”
In the Gold Division, the only team that won a game through the first three weeks was Central. Washington, Frankford, Northeast, Fels and Furness went a combined 0-15, and not many of those were close. According to Cohen, the 0-9 start for the big three of Frankford, Washington and Northeast to open the season is a first. Thus, while outsiders may have thought the Eagles were cooked, those inside the program knew never to panic.
With division play arriving, it was business as usual for Washington against Furness. Receiver Hassan Brockman returned the opening kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown and hauled in a 48-yard touchdown pass, and quarterback Cedric Wright had three 1-yard rushing scores in a game that was a blowout from the start. According to Wright, a transfer from the now-shuttered Germantown High School, the Eagles just needed to come together and get their swagger back.
“I think in the beginning, we weren’t very disciplined and basically everyone was about themselves,” Wright said. “Personally, I realized I had to be more of a leader. I talked to my team and said we can’t play one versus eleven. That’s impossible. We needed to come together and play more disciplined. You saw the result. We just balled out.”
Washington, up 35-0 at halftime, even instituted the mercy rule on Furness, with the clock running constantly during the second half. In addition to finally moving the ball on offense, the Eagles’ front four of Kevin Abrokwah, Dawayne Young, Tyrone McNeil and Zaire Hollerway were spectacular in smothering anything Furness threw their way. With the defense keeping Furness from doing anything, in turn the offense, led by Wright, running backs Akinyeli “Ken” Everage (11 carries, 78 yards) and Bruce Smalley (four carries, 70 yards), and the dual threat of Brockman (three catches, 69 yards, TD) and Rasheed Black (one catch, 39 yards) at wideout ran free all afternoon. Even Hollerway — all 280 pounds of him — barreled for a 7-yard run down to Washington’s goal line, just barely missing out on a touchdown.
Wright, who threw for 1,149 yards and nine TDs for Germantown last season, passed just four times on Saturday, but he made smart decisions whenever the ball was in his hands. In fact, Wright played a pretty perfect game, completing all four of his passes for 107 yards and a TD while running three times for three yards, all of them scores. Pairing him with senior John Santos, another QB who was out against Furness with a concussion, has the Eagles feeling confident with whoever lines up under center.
“This game was us letting the Public League know that we’re coming,” said Wright, who also considered enrolling at Frankford and Imhotep following Germantown’s closure. “Coach always tells us you need to set the tone at the beginning of the game and carry it through until the end. After Hassan returned that kick, we just felt unstoppable.”
Cohen likened Washington’s bust-out performance to “a snowball coming down a mountain,” and it was hard to argue. Aside from some silly penalties late in the game, the Eagles were a well-oiled machine, one they hope to unveil to Central at home on Friday afternoon (3 p.m. kickoff). The Lancers, surprised by Fels last weekend in a 26-13 defeat, will certainly be ready.
“They’re a good football team, and they’ll certainly be in the mix,” Cohen said of Central. “The Public League is a strange one. On any given day, someone can surprise you. I think it’s up in the air for anyone to grab.”
Cohen is hoping that doesn’t happen at home on Friday. Washington’s offense, which is now run by former Frankford offensive coordinator Rasheed Muhammad, seems tailor made to fit the style of the players installed in the system. If Wright receives strong blocking up front, it can open up holes for Everage, or buy the quarterback more time to find an open receiver.
And despite being the new kid on the block, Wright has not shied away from stepping up as a leader. As a quarterback, he realizes that the team will go wherever it is that he leads them, so he is trying to set a strong example. At practices, he’s the one who is always bellowing, “On the hop,” urging his teammates to hustle on every play and whistle.
“I think that’s every quarterback’s responsibility, to be a leader,” he said. “If I do something wrong, the rest of the team will follow that, and the same goes for doing the right thing. I’m new here, so they might not have expected me to step up, but I’ve been on them to make sure we have this thing down pat.
“Coach always tells us, ‘Practice how you play.’ It pays off and shows during a game. If you don’t play hard in practice, then you won’t be prepared in the game. If we clean up the mental mistakes we sometimes make, we think we can be a very good team. We want to fight for that number one spot (in the division).”
Luckily for the Eagles, those three losses by a combined 56 points mean little in the grand scheme of things. Frankly, they can be discarded right out the window. As Cohen noted, “We started 3-0 last year and we didn’t win (a championship).”
“First thing’s first, we can’t take this win for granted,” Wright said. “Just like against Furness, we want to set the tone early as soon as we step on that field on Friday. It’s going to be a good game. I think everyone is looking forward to seeing what we’re made of, and we’re going to let them know.” ••