The 100th football meeting between Episcopal Academy and Haverford School Saturday will feature two teams that have experienced wildly different fortunes in 2009.
Haverford School (7-3 overall, 3-1 Inter-Ac) can earn a share of its first Inter-Ac title since 1971 if the Fords beat EA and if Malvern Prep knocks off Chestnut Hill earlier in the day (that game starts at 1:30 p.m.). The Fords would then finish in a three-way tie with Malvern Prep and Chestnut Hill.
Episcopal Academy (2-7 overall, 0-4 Inter-Ac), which will host the 3:30 p.m. contest, will be playing for pride after a rash of early-season injuries doomed the Churchmens’ Inter-Ac title chances.
“We feel that this is a huge game for us,” said Haverford head coach Mike Murphy. “We want to finish what has been a solid season on a special note, and we still have a chance for a share of an Inter-Ac championship. I have no doubt that this team will be fully focused on the task at hand.”
The game will be telecast live on Comcast, and for a game of this magnitude, there are many potential distractions.
“I think that the leadership of this senior group will come into play a lot this week,” said Murphy. “This group will not let the team lose focus. ... [With] what it means to them to close out the season with a win, I don’t think that the distractions will be a problem.”
Under Murphy, Haverford posted a 7-3 record last fall for their first winning season since 2000. This fall, the Fords opened the season with a 13-7 win against Valley Forge Military Academy and defeated Malvern Prep for the first time since 1992.
Two of the Fords’ main weapons are junior running back Carl Walrath (137 carries for 967 yards and eight touchdowns) and Temple recruit Wyatt Benson, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound fullback who has scored 10 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver A.J. Jones (6-3, 205) has grabbed 17 receptions for 358 yards. Senior quarterback Matt Lengel (6-4, 215) has thrown for 1,143 yards and 10 touchdowns. Senior Max Silver (6-4, 275) has been a dominating tackle.
Defensively, Haverford has held four opponents to seven points or less this fall, posting two shutouts. The Fords feature a strong front line in seniors Sam Shea and Kieran Avis and sophomore Grant Jamgochian. Benson and senior Stephen Aitken head a stalwart linebacking corps. The secondary is led by Jones (four interceptions), Walrath (four interceptions) and senior Joe Nassib (who re-broke his collarbone and will not play Saturday).
“It is an honor for me to be able to coach in this game,” said Murphy, who was formerly an assistant coach at EA. “The rivalry has great history involved for both programs. To have had the opportunity to coach on both sides is unique, and I am now excited to lead Haverford School in the 100th game.”
Incidentally, the Haverford-EA rivalry is the second-oldest in the Inter-Ac, behind Penn Charter-Germantown Academy. Ironically, Episcopal head coach Bill Gallagher coached in the 100th Penn Charter-GA football game 23 years ago (his Penn Charter teams won five Inter-Ac titles during his reign).
Gallagher said, “To me, the most important coaching point [in a game of this magnitude] is to have the players focus on the important things that we must do to be successful, and block out all the hoopla that the surrounds the important game itself. Sounds simple? Not at all!”
The fall, EA got off to a promising start (2-0), but then was hit was a rash of injuries and lost seven in a row.
Gallagher said, “I am proud of so many of our players. [Senior] Brian Taylor is still limping from his broken foot, yet insists he can run the ball, block, tackle or do whatever he has to in order to help the team.
“[Senior] Jake Butts is playing on a knee that would have ended most high school players’ season. He makes a play, drags he knee up off the field and gets back to leading the huddle.
“[Junior running back] Brian Ruditys played with a bad shoulder. Last week at GA, he broke his wrist in the first quarter, and hasn’t missed a down since. He played against Penn Charter with a cast and a large pad and still caught a long touchdown pass and carried the ball without a fumble.
“[Senior] Evan Marks has been playing with two bad ankles and a bad knee that finally has worn him down. While he is out of the [EA/Haverford School] game, he stayed around because we needed him, and now he will miss his last game as a senior.
“I have never experienced a season of injuries like this. Luckily for me, I got to experience it with a dedicated, tough, team oriented group! I will remember them much longer than the 100th game.”
There will be four Haverford-EA events at Episcopal Saturday — football, soccer, cross-country and water polo. The school that takes the day wins bragging rights and year-long possession of the Split Sweater, made up of half a sweater from each school that tracks the wins in embroidered dates. The Split Sweater dates back to 1980. The Sweater Ceremony ends the day-long athletic contest.
Last year, Haverford School won the Sweater. If EA and Haverford each win two events Saturday, the Fords get to keep the Sweater.
In recent years, the Student Service Boards from each school have organized a food donation campaign, called the Can Drive. Students from both schools compete to collect as much canned food for the homeless as they can for the annual Can Drive. The day ends on Saturday evening with the Can Dance that brings both schools together, allowing rivals to get together as friends after the competition is concluded.
Saturday, the EA-Haverford cross-country match will begin at noon on the Smith Field track; the water polo contest will start at 12:30 p.m. at the Burke Natatorium in the Dixon Athletic Center; the soccer game will commence at 1:30 p.m. at Alumni Field (Field D); and the football contest will kick off at 3:30 p.m.
Haverford’s honorary football captains for the pre-game coin toss will be John Haldeman ’72 and Michael Mayock Jr. ’76. EA’s honorary football captain will be Chris Flynn ’84.
Haverford School leads the overall football rivalry, 53-44 (with two ties). Included in these totals are three forfeits. There were also four years when Episcopal had no team, and 16 years when Haverford had no team.
The first football game was played in 1889, with EA winning, 8-6. Soccer was added in 1910, cross-country in 1965 and water polo in 2002.