Defense wins championships ... just ask Frankford
— Wanting to erase painful memories of last year’s title game, Frankford’s defense made a statement.
Most of the packed house at Northeast High School’s Charles Martin Memorial Stadium had long since filed out.
Inside, numerous Frankford High School players and coaches were celebrating, talking with reporters, or simply chilling, basking in the glow of the school’s first football title in six long years.
Or, perhaps, doing all three at the same time.
“Take your time,” said junior Marquis Poston with a smile. “No hurry. We got all (night).”
On an unseasonably warm Saturday evening, Poston and his Pioneer teammates had captured the Public League AAAA football title by defeating defending champ George Washington High School, 30-16.
When Frankford (8-2 overall, 7-0 league) scores 30 points, one might figure the offense was dominant, which it usually is. This time, not exactly.
Of the Pioneers’ four touchdowns, two were scored by their defense. Combining that with a 32-yard touchdown pass from senior Tim DiGiorgio to junior Brandon Jack, a 64-yard scoring run by junior Damion Samuels (his 13th touchdown of the season), a two-point conversion run by junior Quinton Ellis, two extra point kicks by senior Kenny Appiot, and a special teams safety, Frankford had more than enough to defeat Washington for the second time this season. The defense forced five turnovers in all — four interceptions and one fumble.
“We had to come out and play right from the first play,” said Poston. “We knew that going in.”
An outside linebacker but a multi-purpose performer (as the backup quarterback, he completed 10 of 15 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns this season), Poston was all over the field. His physical play helped squash any GW momentum until it was too late. Poston’s most important contribution was arguably his 12-yard fumble return for a touchdown that gave Frankford a 23-0 lead in the second quarter.
“It was a matter of being there at the right time,” said Frankford defensive coordinator Juan Namnun, who inherited head coaching duties for the night because head coach Will Doggett was in Louisiana to be with his seriously ill mother. “That’s really what you want to see — players being in position to make plays.”
That theme continued in the fourth quarter.
After a hustling Poston pinned Washington (8-2 overall, 5-2 in league — both losses being to Frankford) at its own 1 following a beautiful downed punt off the foot of Prince Cooper, the Eagles needed to go 99 yards with 8:02 remaining. After two short run plays, the Eagles faced a critical third and seven at the four-yard line.
Washington senior quarterback Dave Gavrilov (two touchdown passes, both to senior Shaquon Allen) attempted to throw a short pass to senior Rene Villafane, but Poston intercepted the pass … or did he?
Poston, who jumped in front of Gavrilov’s short throw to Villafane, collided with the receiver as he corralled the pick, causing the ball to squirt free onto the turf. If Poston had lost the ball before he established possession on the pick, the result would have been an incomplete pass; given Villafane’s slow reaction to the interception, this is undoubtedly what he thought had occurred.
But with no whistle blown, trailing teammate Anthony Wright-Downing scooped up the loose change at the 6 and trotted into the end zone with 6:31 remaining.
GW’s players vehemently protested the linesman’s call.
“That wasn’t a touchdown because it wasn’t even a catch, and everyone knows it,” said an emotional Villafane. “After playing our hearts out, we feel like we were robbed of a chance to come back.”
Asked for his opinion, Wright-Downing said he agreed with the officials’ decision. However, he understood GW’s incredulous reaction.
“I would have been upset, too,” he said. “Sometimes calls go for you and sometimes they go against you. Maybe we got a break.”
Break or no break, the fact that Wright-Downing was perfectly stationed to recover the fumbled interception — or fumbled non-interception — supported what Namnun and the rest of the coaches have preached since practices commenced in the fall.
“You never stop playing until the whistle,” Wright-Downing said. “You never assume a play is over. That is the way our defense has played all year long and it has made a very big impact.”
The rest of the Public League wholeheartedly agrees. ••
Reporter John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com