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Football Friday: Penn Wood’s road to respectability goes through Interboro

LANSDOWNE >> At practice Wednesday, members of the Penn Wood football team passed around a gold towel.

It was an Interboro rally towel.

Several Patriots attended last week’s much-talked-about Del Val League showdown between Academy Park and the host Bucs, who won in come-from-behind fashion. The Patriots have been carrying the towel at practice as another reminder of what lies ahead: the biggest game of their lives.

After practice, defensive standouts Ed Fields III and Brandon Raymond, both linebackers, and hard-hitting safety Fatin Copper discussed what’s at stake Friday night under the lights at Kerr Field

“It’s just another game,” Copper said.

Well, okay then… that’s one way to underplay it.

It’s obvious the Patriots are a loose bunch headed into the final game of the regular season. On paper, yes, this a big game, but the Patriots don’t consider this their Super Bowl.

“It’s just an accolade,” said Raymond, nicknamed “Brick”. “We just want to go out and do what we have to do. We have to show everybody that we’re not the same team.”

Perceptions. It’s the stigma that Penn Wood’s been trying to shake since 2010, when the Patriots defeated Interboro on a sunny October Saturday for the first of five straight Del Val wins. That year, the Pats captured the league championship and qualified for the district playoffs.

But ever since 2010, it’s been a long road back to respectability. Coach Nick Lincoln came on board in 2014 and said that his goal was to win state championships. He has rebuilt a team that had one won game in two years and is a Del Val contender, sitting pretty at 7-2 with Interboro on deck. A victory Friday night would give the Pats a share of the league crown.

“The Del Val is a small accomplishment,” said Fields III, whose nickname, appropriately, is “e3”. “We’re looking at districts and states.”

That think-big mindset is what Lincoln has been trying to drill into his players’ heads for three years. Penn Wood has losses to a pair of quality opponents in Haverford School and Academy Park, and it has passed every other test its faced.

Fields and Copper have had interesting journeys. Fields was a quarterback two years ago. He even started a few games on varsity as a raw sophomore in 2014. Copper played for the North Philly Aztecs until his junior year, when he joined Penn Wood and made the team as a starting linebacker. He’s since becoming a talented free safety for the Pats.

Fields remembers the early obstacles, going from potential full-time quarterback to one of the best — if not, the very best — linebackers in the Del Val.

“I was an athlete. Luckily I was able to go to defense,” he said. “Javon (Lindsey-Terrell) did a better job (playing quarterback) so I moved over to defense. It took some time getting the technique down and all, but I’m an athlete, I can play both sides of the ball.”

Penn Wood prides itself on creating turnovers. Copper has four interceptions, which is good for the team lead.

“Touchdowns are going to get scored, things are going to happen,” said Fields, who is tied for the team lead in tackles with 62. “Whoever watches the game and knows football, they watch the game to see how many times we stop offenses than (how often) they scored. It takes offenses a long time to put drives together. Even against Haverford (School), our defense stopped them and we scored an 80-yard touchdown right off the bat. It takes a couple times but we’re better.”

“The d-line has to get a push and the linebackers have to clean up,” Raymond added. “You know what (Interboro is) going to do, they’re going to run the ball.”

Chris Thomas, Interboro’s tremendous senior running back, has a county-leading 1,193 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“We know what they’re going to bring,” Raymond said.

Don’t underestimate the fact that Penn Wood is feeding off the home crowd and is geared up to play its second-ever game under the lights. Penn Wood is renting out portable lights thanks to a $3,000 grant from the National Football League Foundation. The Patriots defeated Glen Mills in their nighttime debut Sept. 30.

“Big crowd. We’re going to be hyped,” Fields said. “Glen Mills was simply energy, intensity. Our chemistry was crazy.”

The Patriots know what’s coming. Interboro is riding high after last week and it has one of the toughest offensive line units in the county. It’s up to Penn Wood’s defense to rise to the occasion.

Don’t bet against them.

“We have no choice but to respect them,” Raymond said of the Bucs.

“We’re studying heavily,” Copper said. “We know we got to come out ready.”

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