Philadelphia – Behind Malvern Prep’s potent offensive line, senior running back Zac Fernandez ran for 326 yards and four touchdowns as the Friars (6-3, 3-1) defeated host Penn Charter, 35-28, Friday afternoon at Maguire Field to remain in the Inter-Ac title race.
This contest featured seven touchdown drives of 65 yards or more (one of them 99 yards), touchdown plays of 66, 67, and 68 yards, and a winning TD run of 44 yards by Fernandez.
“Zac is a dynamic player, and today he put the team on his back,” said Malvern Prep head coach Aaron Brady. “He has worked really hard leading up to this season, and today his hard work paid off.”
Penn Charter head coach Tom Coyle said, “That No. 5 [Fernandez] is a tough kid. It often took more than one of our tacklers to bring him down today.”
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Fernandez, who carried the ball 36 times Friday, said, “Our offensive line did a great job. They were moving the line of scrimmage all game long.”
Opening holes for Fernandez were senior center Jake Glavin, junior left guard Joseph Basiura, senior left tackle Sean Grady, senior right guard Justin Titchenell and sophomore right tackle Jake Hornibrook.
“Our offensive line deserves a lot of credit for their effort today,” said Brady. “These young men pushed the opponent around all day.”
Malvern Prep and Penn Charter each entered Friday’s game with only one Inter-Ac loss, and in the hunt for the league title.
“This was an absoluate must-win game for us,” said Fernandez. “We want to win the Inter-Ac [title]. This was like a championship game for us.”
For the fans, this game was a great display of offense, with the two teams combining for 41 first downs.
For Penn Charter (6-2, 2-2), senior lefty quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky kept hitting wide-open receivers for short gains, and finished the day with 25 completions in 42 attempts for 315 yards. One of his receivers, senior Chris Tucker, grabbed 10 passes for 153 yards.
Malvern led at halftime, 21-7, fell behind 28-21 early in the final quarter, but regained momentum and rallied for two touchdowns late in the game to pull out the victory.
Fernandez said, “When we were losing 28-21, it was like a gut check. Our senior leadership helped to pull us through. Our defense made some late stops for victory. We are really a resilient team, like a family.”
Malvern got off to a fast start. On the opening play from scrimmage from the Friar 32-yard line, Fernandez took a handoff from sophomore quarterback Drew Gunther, found an opening, and broke free down the right sideline for a 68-yard touchdown that put the visitors ahead 7-0 only 21 seconds into the game.
Midway through the first quarter, a Penn Charter punt pinned Malvern back at its own 1-yard line. The Friars began a 99-yard touchdown drive that ended on an 8-yard run by Fernandez up the middle to make it 14-0 just before the end of the first quarter. Fernandez carried the ball six times for 67 yards on this drive.
Hnatkowsky bagen to hit his receivers for short, productive gains, and the Quakers scored on a 70-yard, seven-play touchdown drive to make it 14-7. Big plays on this drive were a 26-yard screen pass to sophomore running back Edward Saydee and a 16-yard swing pass to Saydee.
Coyle said, “Michael’s a very talented, polished quarterback who can read defenses well.”
Malvern bounced right back with a 73-yard, 13-play touchdown drive of its own, mixing short rushes by Fernandez with short pass completions by Gunther, and picking up five first downs on the drive (the two teams combined for 41 first downs Friday). The final play on this drive was a 10-yard touchdown by Gunther to tightly-covered sophomore wide receiver Quincy Watson, and the Friars took a 21-7 lead at halftime.
The Quakers took the second-half kickoff and engineered a 90-yard, 14-play TD drive, with Hnatkowsky completing six passes to five different receivers on the drive. Late in the third quarter, Hnatkowsky hit senior wide receiver Chris Tucker in full stride down the left sideline for a 67-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21.
The Quakers stopped Malvern on its next possession at the Penn Charter 34 yard line, and on the following play, Saydee found an opening up the middle and exploded for a 66-yard touchdown to put the hosts ahead for the first time, 28-21, with 10:16 to play.
Malvern Prep head coach Aaron Brady said, “I give a lot of credit to Penn Charter. Their quarterback [Hnatkowsky] is a very good football player. But our seniors just kept [plugging away].”
The Friars took the ensuing kickoff and marched 65 yards to paydirt to tie the score at 28-28, with the final play on the drive a 3-yard leap by Fernandez over a pile of tacklers for his third touchdown of the day. The big play on the drive was a swing pass by Gunther to Fernandez on third-and-3 from the Penn Charter 44. Fernandez took it all the way down to the Quakers 16-yard line for a 28-yard gain.
The ensuing Penn Charter possession stalled at midfield, and a Quaker punt put the ball at the Malvern 25 yard line, from where the Friars began a 75-yard touchdown march. On the sixth play from scrimmage, on third-and-3 from the Penn Charter 44, Fernandez got the ball again, and he found an opening up the middle for a 44-yard touchdown.
“It was our bread-and-butter play – we’ve used it before,” said Fernandez. “I saw an opening when I got the ball, I hit it, and the rest is a blur.”
Fernandez and Brady both paid tribute to the homily by Rev. James R. Flynn, O.S.A., the school’s president since 2012, during the customary Mass for the team several hours before the game.
“He told us to focus on the task at hand this afternoon, and it was because of his talk that we didn’t panic when we fell behind in the fourth quarter,” said Brady.
Over on the Penn Charter sideline, the mood was a little more somber.
Coyle said, “We made some mistakes today that hurt us, but I’m proud of our kids and what they’ve accomplished this season. When we were ahead 28-21, Coach Brady really got his team amped up, and give credit to them. We’re now looking forward to our 130th [annual] game against Germantown Academy next week.”
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