POTTSTOWN >> It was a classic character game played out Saturday at The Hill School.
That classification was appropriate for both the Rams and visiting Episcopal Academy, the final outcome notwithstanding. In this instance, it was the Churchmen coming away with a 23-19 victory at Dell Field.
The character aspect for Episcopal (4-0 overall) was its comeback from being down by 10 points in the first minute of the fourth quarter. EA scored twice in a 2:50 span of the fourth, then had to weather the Rams’ last-ditch drive to the end zone over the final 3:04.
It ended up a case of the game not being over until it was over. The Hill moved 50 yards on 12 plays — getting considerable steam from a 15-yard penalty assessed to the Churchmen on fourth down — before seeing one final pass play intercepted by Episcopal in the end zone with time expired.
“I would say so, by far,” EA head coach Todd Fairlie said in regard to the game’s finish being the most nerve-wracking of his team’s outings thus far. “Being down by 10 points in the fourth quarter says a lot about the team. Sticking through it says a lot, too.
“We just have to make the endings easier on us,” he added with a laugh.
For the Rams, the character aspect was the determination to continue their own fast start to the 2016 season. The Hill (2-1) scored first, took a 13-7 lead into the halftime locker-room session and picked up some breathing room with a touchdown in the first minute of the fourth quarter, after the Churchmen shrunk the Rams’ lead with a safety at the start of the second half.
Along the way, the Rams’ defense distinguished itself by thwarting EA’s bid to score a tying touchdown at the end of the first half. The unit later stuffed the visitors’ drive to the Hill 13, where a 37-yard field goal attempt missed the uprights at the six-minute mark of the third quarter.
“I told our guys before the game, it was going to be a four-quarter battle,” Hill head coach Jeff Hollway said afterward. “They (EA) have 16 seniors, and we’re still learning each other. Our hats are off to them.”
The Rams got their boisterous home crowd going on their first possession. Facing a fourth-down situation at their own 29, a punt attempt was muffed by a bad snap.
But things went emphatically in the Hill’s favor. Jack Bowen recovered the loose ball and weaved his way 71 yards for a touchdown with 8:21 left in the first quarter.
“Just like we practiced it,” Hollway said with a laugh.
After Episcopal tied the game at 7-7 eight seconds before the end of the quarter, Connor Ringwalt hauling in a 24-yard pass from quarterback C.J. McAnally, the Rams went back in front with 47 seconds remaining in the half. Pete Boone (10 carries, 29 yards) burst through the center hole for a one-yard scoring run, the 13-7 lead holding up for the half when Boone recovered a fumble by Episcopal’s Kyle Verbitsky on what would have been a second scoring pass from McAnally.
The momentum from that defensive stand took a hit on the Hill’s second play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Pinned back on its one-yard line by a fumble, the Churchmen’s defense tackled Hill quarterback Syre Gruber in the end zone.
The Hill added some breathing room to its 13-9 lead at the start of the fourth, when Gernard Finney sprinted 38 yards around his right end for a touchdown a little more than 30 seconds in. Though the conversion run failed, the Rams had it back to a two-possession game.
The Churchmen’s response was to score about six minutes later off a 38-yard pass from McAnally (12-for-24, 155 yards) to Dee Wil Barlee, then go ahead after another three minutes with Kevin Daniel making a seven-yard run off-center. With that, the Hill found itself down by four points with little more than three minutes remaining.
“We were just trying to move the ball downfield … trying to put it in the end zone,” Hollway said of his team’s stretch-run strategy.
Gruber (9-for-16, 89 yards) made a key hookup to Daniel Adeboboye that got the Hill to EA’s 23-yard line with less than 10 seconds to go. A subsequent incomplete pass took the clock down to two seconds, and Gruber’s last toss ended up intercepted by Episcopal’s Adam Robinson.
“He got a starting job because of injury,” Fairlie said of the junior d-back. “He made a big play at the end.”
Adeboboye was very active in the Rams’ rushing game, with a game-high 125 yards on 18 carries. The Hill’s air game was spread around, though Wes Midy led with two catches for 23 yards.
“We have a lot of new guys, but they battled for four quarters,” Hollway said. “I’m lucky to be surrounded by good kids like these.”
NOTES >> The Hill had two other forays into Episcopal’s red zone on which it was unable to cash in. One was ended by a Chris Rushton interception in the second quarter, the other a turnover on downs near the end of the third. “Those are things we’ve got to get,” Hollway said.