NEWTOWN SQUARE >> When Mike Murphy took the helm at The Haverford School more than a decade ago, he heard the questions.
What is he thinking? How in the world is he going to compete in the Inter-Ac League with a program that was in need of a massive rebuild?
Murphy accepted the challenge. He was mindful of the fact that it would take a long time, but someday, the Fords would be a league dynasty under his watch.
That moment was realized Saturday afternoon at Episcopal Academy’s E. Newbold Smith Field. Murphy coached the Fords to a 21-0 blanking of the Churchmen to complete a perfect 10-0 season. The Fords captured their third straight Inter-Ac League title and won their 19th straight game.
It’s amazing to think the Fords could reach this point after losing All-Delco quarterback Kevin Carter in the third
week of the season. And it’s a testament to Murphy and his coaching staff that the Fords were able to change their defensive scheme mid-season and become one of the most fierce units in the county.
“When you step back and look at it, you’ve had a lot of good football teams here that haven’t been able to accomplish what this team has, and then say you’re going to do it without having one of the top quarterbacks in the state in my opinion, it’s just an amazing thing and it’s a testament to everyone in our program,” Murphy said. “A big thing about our program is guys stepping up and playing their roles. Everyone did exactly that.”
The senior class was especially strong. Led by linebackers Mickey Kober and Frank Cresta, All-Delco lineman Brian Denoncour, running back Malik Twyman and uber-talented All-Delco athlete Dox Aitken, the Fords of 2015 put a stamp on their legacy. They survived a scare against Penn Charter in the opening week of Inter-Ac League play, winning 41-40, then proceeded to dominate the competition the rest of the way.
Saturday’s performance was the icing on the cake as the Fords wanted desperately to pitch a shutout in their final game. Mission accomplished.
“We’ve had defensive touchdowns and caused turnovers … but we haven’t had a shutout,” said Kober, who was an unstoppable freight train at middle linebacker. “That’s what we were aiming to do today. Our underclassmen stepped up and helped send the seniors out on a right note.”
The Fords held the still-developing Churchmen (6-4) to just 116 yards of total offense. They limited EA’s all-time leading rusher, All-Delco Dee Barlee, to 41 yards on 18 carries. And they consistently pressured the quarterback combo of junior C.J. McAnally (13-of-22, 85 yards, one interception) and Jon’avin Freeman (3-of-3, 31 yards).
Defensively, the Fords were simply relentless.
“We know the threats that they have. I’ve grown up playing against Christian Feliziani and Dee Barlee and Bobby Gibson, kids along those lines who are really good players,” Kober said. “We knew their record in the league didn’t really represent what a good football team they are and how potent their offense really is, but we completely shut them out. Going into this we didn’t want anyone to take EA lightly because it’s a rivalry game and anything can happen. We played with a motive to go out the right way.”
On the other side of the field, junior quarterback Tommy Toal, who was spectacular in place of Carter this year, was 13-of-19 with 203 yards, including a 56-yard scoring strike to Keyveat Postell early in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. Toal ended the year with 1,627 yards and 18 touchdowns in just seven starts.
Toal is one reason to be excited for Haverford School, which is a growing beast of a football program. The same could be said about sophomore two-way lineman Colin Hurlbrink and freshman linebacker Asim Richards, who were outstanding in their first full years on the varsity squad.
“This is just the beginning. We’re just getting started,” Hurlbrink said. “Hopefully we can mimic what we did this year and translate it over to next year. All the young guys got experience this year, so it should be fun.”
Haverford School was in control from the outset. An 11-play opening drive resulted in the first of two touchdown runs by Malik Twyman, who amassed 153 yards on 26 totes. EA answered with a nice drive of its own, but stumbled on fourth-and-1 at the Haverford School 5-yard line as junior linebacker Chris Kober stuffed Barlee at the line of scrimmage. The Churchmen would reach the red zone only one more time the rest of the game.
Todd Fairlie, who guided EA to a perfect season just three years ago, knows what it takes to reach the top of the Inter-Ac League. While the Churchmen lose their all-time leading rusher (Barlee) and all-time leading receiver (Feliziani, who had six catches for 51 yards Saturday), Fairlie is overseeing a program that is only getting better.
“It’s a sad day to say bye to (his seniors), but there’s a lot to look forward to. We’re young at a lot of positions and we return a lot of guys,” Fairlie said. “Credit to (Haverford School). One of the hardest things about being at the top is staying at the top. They’ve figured out.”
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