NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Penn Charter quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky’s muted celebration suggested happiness takes many forms. He pumped his fist subtly even as teammate Denarii Beard crossed the goal line to put the finishing touches on a 28-21 Quakers victory over Episcopal Academy with 14 seconds to play. Hnatkowsky accepted a few congratulatory shoves from teammates, then signaled for the extra-point.
“I was happy,” he insisted. “I was extremely happy. I just don’t like to show it too much on the football field.”
Maybe he could sense the ending. After all, this was the type of conclusion we’ve come to expect from the Inter-Ac, especially when the Churchmen are involved. Episcopal tied the game at 21 with 5:08 on the clock when Jon’avin Freeman, after hooking up with Cole Johnson for a 29-yard score, found Shane Conlin in the end zone for a wild two-point conversion.
Freeman called for the snap too early. The ball hit a man in motion and bounced toward the sideline.
“It’s a two-point conversion so they can’t score,” said Freeman, who filled in admirably at quarterback for the concussed CJ McAnally. “I’m just like I’m going to make a play on it. I see big Shane, he’s like 6-5 or whatever, and the corner bit. I flicked it over the top.”
The play hinted that the fortune was in the home team’s favor. The ensuing kickoff confirmed it: Penn Charter bobbled the ball inside its own 10, leaving Hnatkowsky with 93 yards to traverse. No matter. He was confident.
“To be honest with you, I thought we were going to score the football,” said Hnatkowsky, who went 13-23 for 171 yards and a touchdown. “I knew we needed a field goal. We practiced that all week. We felt pretty comfortable.”
With 38 yards on the ground from Edward Saydee and a 10-yard completion to Terence Thompson, the Quakers moved into Churchmen territory. The first big play of the drive came on a third-and-15, the result of a bad snap. Hnatkowsky got the conversion with a dart over the middle to Luke Stansfield.
But Episcopal responded with a strong defensive stand, which left Penn Charter with a fourth-and-five at the opponent’s 30. The two teams traded timeouts to assess the situation. Then, the Churchmen committed a mortal sin: They went offside.
“(We tried to) run the play,” said Hnatkowsky. “It wasn’t a hard count at all. He jumped.”
Freeman, anticipating a pass rush, partially blamed himself in the aftermath, although he wasn’t the offending party.
“I screamed, ‘Get after the quarterback,”’ he admitted. “I screamed it, so I don’t know. Maybe that threw him off.”
The Quakers had a crucial first down. Two plays later, they had a win. Hnatkowsky, a southpaw, escaped the pocket and hit Beard on the left sideline. Beard shook off a tackler and waltzed into the end zone.
Episcopal ran one more offensive play, only to see the magic run out with the clock.
“Obviously, you’re just enjoying it,” said Penn Charter coach Tom Coyle of the propensity for Inter-Ac drama. “I hope people come out to watch these teams play football, really high level, high school football.”
“It’s tough when you’re on the losing end, but it’s also exciting to be in those games,” said Freeman. “Every football player dreams of getting the last-second touchdown, game-winning tackle, game-winning interception, whatever.”
The Churchmen were close to a dream finish, due in large part to their signal-caller. Freeman led EA on consecutive scoring drives to start the game. DeeWil Barlee converted a fourth-and-goal from the one to spot the hosts a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Then Freeman connected with Kyle Virbitsky for a 21-yard scoring play in the second. The latter was a perfectly executed play-action pass, where Freeman’s ball-fake left his big tight end wide open.
But the Quakers answered both touchdowns with scores of their own: Saydee had runs of one and eight yards to spot the visitors a 14-13 lead at halftime.
After the break, Penn Charter (6-1, 2-1 Inter-Ac) broke a defensive struggle with a 56-yard scoring drive in the third quarter. A 17-yard catch-and-run from Saydee on fourth-and-five from the Churchmen’s 23 made the difference. The sophomore back, who finished with 156 total yards, added his third touchdown of the night with 1:32 on the clock to spot the Quakers a 21-13 advantage.
On the other side, Freeman’s offense sputtered—three punts and an interception quelled hopes of a second-half comeback. But a strong pass rush kept EA in the game. Milton Mamula dropped Hnatkowsky for a 17-yard loss, batted a pass down and smothered Saydee in the backfield on another play.
The Churchmen (6-2, 1-2) had life, a feeling reinforced when they tied the score.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. For the third consecutive week—a last-second win against Malvern Prep was followed by a last-second loss to Germantown Academy—Episcopal found itself in a game decided in the dying moments.
“We’re a really good team,” said Freeman, who completed 13 of 19 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns. “We just had some last-second plays that didn’t go our way.”
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