Haverford School puts exclamation point on season

Haverford — As time expired on Haverford-EA Day, Episcopal Academy wide receiver Christian Feliziani ran from everyone in the stadium. The 11 Fords defenders chased him into the end zone for what went down as a 55-yard touchdown. Feliziani’s teammates chased him. The entire Haverford School student section chased him. The Churchman crossed the goal line and quickly vacated the end zone. After all, it was Haverford School’s day to celebrate.

The Fords, students and all, congregated near the 10-yard-line with their arms and helmets raised. Their 40-12 victory Saturday clinched their second-straight Inter-Ac League title.

“It’s pretty surreal,’ said senior captain Jack Doran. “Most of us have been playing since second grade. We always saw the seniors walk out in tears, and we never thought it’d be us. But here we are.’

The emotional moment culminated a dominant season for Haverford (8-1, 5-0 Inter-Ac). Saturday’s affair was no different. The Fords led Episcopal Academy, 30-0, at halftime. Brendan O’Neill blocked a punt in the end zone to spot Haverford a 2-0 advantage. Philip Poquie pushed it to 9-0 on the ensuing drive. The defense continued to get stops, and Kevin Carter guided the home team down the field in quick strikes.

The junior quarterback took off for 62 yards to set up the play that let everyone know it was the Fords’ championship to lose. Carter hit Niles Easley on the left sideline game for a 12-yard gain. Easley fumbled the ball only to see Micah Sims pick it up and run untouched for a touchdown.

There was nothing fluky about Haverford’s next score. Carter found Dox Aitken on the right side and the lanky receiver dragged, skipped, and duped the EA defenders for a 30-yard touchdown.

“We have so many seniors on this team and I was in a position to lead this team,’ said Carter. He rushed for 95 yards and a second-half touchdown on eight carries, and completed nine of 14 passes for 165 yards and two scores. “I had to help them because I know they always had my back.’

Derek Mountain caught a 35-yard touchdown pass late in the half to break the game open. He slammed the ball over the crossbar in celebration to draw flags from the officials and ire from his coaches. The punishment did little to dim the mood that started to engulf the Fords. They beat the Churchmen all over the field in typical fashion.

“That’s the one thing about this team,’ said head coach Mike Murphy. “We’re so good in all three phases of the game.’

Down 37-0 after Carter’s rushing touchdown, Episcopal Academy mustered a response through Dee Barlee. He finished with 84 tough yards on 23 carries and put the Churchmen on the board with 8:56 remaining.

“They’re really good,’ Barlee said of the stout opponent. “They have talent all over the field and so many seniors. They knew their assignments and executed. But we played our hearts out.’

Haverford didn’t let the Episcopal offense breathe from the opening whistle. The Fords accumulated seven tackles for loss including two sacks of EA quarterback Ryan Whayland.

“We knew that we could get to them,’ said Doran, who played with a bruised knee for much of the game. “We’d get into the backfield and they’re not going to be able to do stuff.’

It wasn’t for lack of trying on the Churchmen’s side. They ran a fake field goal and a flea-flicker in the first half, and lateraled across the field on a kick return in the second. None of the trick plays, however, resulted in points.

Haverford School’s emphatic victory was an important statement for a team that has no postseason.

“It shows our dominance. We turned this program around,’ said Doran. “Back-to-back Inter-Ac titles — if that doesn’t say something about how good we are, I don’t know what does.’

“Our seniors have led us all season, both in talent and in leadership,’ Murphy said. “These guys were ready to go. I told them in rivalries it’s not about emotion or who wants it more. It’s about execution. And we executed.’

That execution lacked in the postgame festivities. The Fords attempted to drench their coach with water per championship tradition, but most of the contents of the cooler fell harmlessly to the turf.

“They didn’t fully get me,’ said Murphy, laughing among a crowd of maroon and gold that lingered some 30 minutes after the final buzzer. “I’ve been sick all week, too.’

The 40 degree temperatures only made matters worse for the coach.

“We had to get him once this season,’ said Doran, oblivious to Murphy’s well-being. The moment simply called for the shower.

It was a fitting end — a splash for a team that made one all year.

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