Now into his 30th season as George Washington’s head football coach, Ron Cohen understands the rhyme and reason for these challenging early-season non-league games.
And while the Eagles were on the wrong side of the scoreboard in week one’s 25-15 defeat to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, Cohen is thinking long term, and he realizes that these battles with formidable opponents in the season’s infancy stages have greatly contributed to his 12 Public League titles.
“I laugh now, because when I first started coaching we went everywhere, from New Jersey to Delaware trying to play the best teams we could,” Cohen said. “If you look at the scheduling now, a lot of Public League coaches are following in the footsteps of Washington in facing much tougher opponents. It’s good for the Public League and District 12, because better competition will only make the league better.”
In addition to the Eagles’ competitive bout with SCH Academy of the Inter-Ac League, Cohen pointed out Imhotep Charter’s 31-27 week one win over Cardinal Mooney of Ohio, Prep Charter’s 26-19 victory over Cardinal O’Hara and Simon Gratz’s 27-17 triumph over Lansdale Catholic. Win or lose, the Public League squads — often sporting laughably inferior personnel numbers than Catholic or suburban league counterparts — use these contests as measuring sticks for improvement when the division schedule comes calling a bit down the line.
Calling Blue Devils senior quarterback Paul Dooley (10-for-15, 135 yards; 19 carries, 70 yards, two TDs) “one of the best, if not the best we’ll face all season,” Cohen was impressed with his team’s effort, especially on the defensive side of the football. SCH Academy led just 12-0 at the half, which narrowed to 12-7 after Nigel Sealey’s 34-yard touchdown run on the second half’s opening drive. If not for two costly second-half fumbles, the Eagles may have had a chance to win this one.
“They won the first half and we won the second half,” Cohen said. “I’m looking at it in a positive way. We’re a young team at certain positions with a lot of kids who didn’t play last year. We also don’t have a lot of kids on our roster, so it’s always a slow process to make this into a good football team. I’m confident we will be one … it just takes time.”
Despite Washington’s youth, the Eagles certainly have playmakers on both sides of the ball. Sealey, a junior, amassed 85 yards on just six carries. Senior starter Bruce Smalley totaled 62 yards on 16 carries while adding a score, and junior QB Damir Mitchell, despite completing only two passes on five attempts, plays with confidence in the pocket and can use his feet to pick up a first down if the defense gives him space.
Defensively, Division-I recruit Shareef Miller had multiple sacks despite seeing double teams from a tall, beefy offensive line. Fellow defensive linemen Brandon Brown and Kevin Abrokwah also have the size and skills to get to the quarterback, which should benefit the team down the line in Public League play.
“We saw a lot of positives against a good football team,” Cohen said. “There’s nothing that we’d really do any differently, as far as game planning goes. We need more reps on offense and defense in practice. We’re going to get better when we tighten up on defense, as well as Damir continuing to mature and exude confidence from the quarterback position. I’m very optimistic, and I like our attitude … we kept playing and never gave up, even when the score was 25-7 going into the fourth quarter. I’m not discouraged at all.”
Up next for Washington is a Thursday night home matchup with Cardinal O’Hara (6 p.m. at Northeast), fresh off its loss to Public League opponent Prep Charter. The Eagles are likely to use the same brand of attack on offense against the Lions: running the football, which seemed to work for Prep Charter, which compiled 292 rushing yards on 38 carries. O’Hara, meanwhile, will use a balanced attack: Max Ferguson rushed 21 times for 80 yards, while quarterback Brandon Laughlin completed 21 of 33 passes for 164 yards and two scores.
“We think that we match up well with O’Hara in terms of talent,” Cohen said. “They’re a good football team and a good test for us, for sure. The last game is over with. We have to improve and cut down on our mistakes in order to get better. In addition to these two to open the season, we had two tough scrimmages against two other very good teams in Imhotep and Roman. We do that on purpose, so the kids can see how tough it is and how tough it’s going to be as the season goes on. We’re working harder every day in practice, and the attitude has been great.
“We’ll see what happens against O’Hara, because it’s going to be a real tough game for us. I’ve been real proud of our effort so far.” ••