Panthers pleased after second half surge vs. Penn Charter

Fels QB Aasim Camp­bell (left) helped lead his team to a second-half surge in a 54-26 loss. KEV­IN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

In his sev­enth sea­son as the Samuel Fels head foot­ball coach, Bill Har­rigan un­der­stands as well as any­body that foot­ball is a num­bers game.

In Fri­day morn­ing’s sea­son open­er against Penn Charter, the Pan­thers suited up just 23 play­ers. The num­ber is ex­pec­ted to rise as late phys­ic­al forms con­tin­ue to pour in, but need­less to say Har­rigan’s team faced an up­hill battle, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the Quakers brought 45 uni­formed play­ers to the tilt at North­east High School.

The res­ult was nearly every Fels play­er need­ing to play on both sides of the ball in what turned out to be a 54-26 Penn Charter vic­tory. The Quakers led 26-0 after one and 47-6 at half­time, and the wide score­board chasm il­lus­trated how Pub­lic League squads struggle with per­son­nel num­bers when stacked up against Cath­ol­ic, Inter-Ac or sub­urb­an op­pon­ents.

“The first half of the first game of the sea­son is al­ways tough with guys deal­ing with jit­ters,” Har­rigan said after the game. “The ad­ded thing this year is our num­bers were a little lower than usu­al, mainly due to the late de­cision on wheth­er the dis­trict was go­ing to open the schools on time. We still have guys we’re wait­ing on, so our roster isn’t com­plete.”

Play­ers are still work­ing on get­ting in­to game shape, which cer­tainly presen­ted a chal­lenge con­sid­er­ing al­most every­one played two ways.

“I think the first half showed our guys the im­port­ance of con­di­tion­ing,” Har­rigan said. “We had some tired guys, but not as tired as ex­pec­ted when you con­sider we had 23 kids to fill 11 spots.”

With that be­ing said, Har­rigan was cer­tainly pleased with his team’s second-half ef­fort. Des­pite be­ing down by 41 at the break, Fels didn’t pack it in and roll over. Quite the op­pos­ite, in fact: the Pan­thers won the second half, 19-7, to the point where frus­trated Penn Charter head coach Tommy Coyle (formerly the boss at Fath­er Judge) had to put his start­ing unit back in when Fels trimmed the lead to 21.

Faced with the ti­tan­ic task of re­pla­cing last year’s di­vi­sion MVP Jy­lil Reed­er on of­fense, Har­rigan liked what he saw from ju­ni­or quar­ter­back Aasim Camp­bell, who com­pleted 7 of 15 passes for 85 yards and a score and ad­ded a touch­down on the ground. Seni­or Wes­ley White racked up 85 yards of total of­fense him­self, while seni­or Kor­dell Robin­son (two catches, 24 yards, TD) and seni­or Samir Coe (sev­en car­ries, 53 yards, TD, as well as a 45-yard fumble re­turn for a score) also con­trib­uted.

Reed­er ac­coun­ted for 1,730 of­fens­ive yards in 2013 as a wideout, run­ning back and quar­ter­back. He scored 29 total touch­downs — 10 rush­ing, 14 re­ceiv­ing, two passing, two on kick­offs and one in­ter­cep­tion re­turn — so Har­rigan knew it would take a vil­lage to come close to equal­ing Reed­er’s im­mense pro­duc­tion across the board.

“Listen, we know we can’t re­place a Jy­lil Reed­er with just one play­er,” Har­rigan said. “But Wes­ley and Kor­dell and Samir all did a really nice job. And we have an op­por­tun­ity we see with Aasim to spread the ball around a bit more, which he did today. We’re hop­ing to con­tin­ue to get all three units im­prov­ing as our num­bers get bet­ter. Once that hap­pens, we’re really con­fid­ent the of­fense can really pick up and go.”

Fol­low­ing the game, Har­rigan told his team a story about the 2010 sea­son open­er. In that game, Fels was blown out by Si­mon Gratz, 66-36, in a non-league con­test; the Pan­thers fol­lowed up with an 8-4 over­all re­cord (6-0 in di­vi­sion) and handed John Bartram a 50-8 an­ni­hil­a­tion in the play­offs.

The mes­sage was simple: it’s not about how you start, but how you fin­ish.

“In the second half, we elim­in­ated a lot of mis­takes and the big plays we were giv­ing up,” Har­rigan said. “We kept it a lot more com­pet­it­ive. It gives us something pos­it­ive to build on, and play­ing against their second unit in the second half, I think that’s a little more in­dic­at­ive of the com­pet­i­tion we’ll see in the Pub­lic League on a daily basis.”

In a tale of two halves, Har­rigan is hop­ing he sees more of the second-half fight in his boys as the sea­son moves for­ward. Fels will have an­oth­er stiff chal­lenge this Fri­day night when the Pan­thers travel to take on Wil­li­am Tennent (7 p.m.).

“The second-half ef­fort is something we’re ec­stat­ic about,” Har­rigan said. “They con­tin­ued to battle. We’ve been in po­s­i­tions in years past when guys just gave up, but we stayed to­geth­er and kept play­ing. It seems like we have a real good group of kids who are friendly, want to help one an­oth­er out and see each oth­er do well. That will be the dif­fer­ence as the sea­son pro­gresses, but I think that we have a team in the truest sense of the word.” ••

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