Taylor makes the big stop as Episcopal holds on

NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Dallas Taylor insisted that Hill School didn’t give anything away when it lined up on second down, less than three yards away from a game-winning touchdown Friday night.

AJ Bates had changed the momentum of the game two plays earlier when he hauled in a slant and took it 24 yards to the Episcopal Academy three-yard line. Hakim Coles barreled into the line to gain half a yard on the ensuing play, setting up Taylor’s big moment.

On third down, Taylor, a junior defensive tackle roared through the line to stop Coles dead in his tracks at the five-yard line. It was the biggest stop of the night for EA, and on back-to-back plays, Hill freshman quarterback Syre Gruber mishandled a snap and was then chased down on a scramble by Bobby Gibson to secure a 23-18 EA win.

“Luckily, the coaches put me in position in goal line to make a play,” Taylor said. “We made it as a team. I just tried to get off the ball as fast as I could and I saw that the guard really wasn’t moving too much. I blew by him and tried to make it past the fullback and I did, and I was lucky enough to make the play.”

Gibson, a three-sport athlete at EA who also plays hockey and lacrosse, hawked Gruber down to start the celebration that looked unlikely less than a minute before. The stop helped the Churchmen (4-0) stay perfect and it also allowed CJ McAnally to win his first start at quarterback. McAnally and fellow junior Jon’avin Freeman battled all summer and fall to see who’d get the job, a competition that Freeman won. When he was unavailable to go against the Blues, though, it was McAnally’s turn to run the offense.

It didn’t start well, either. Hill linebacker Henrique Custodio, who might have been the best player on the field, stepped in front of McAnally’s first passing attempt and took it back 44 yards for a touchdown.

“I think it was Cover 3 and I knew there was going to be a dig or something behind me,” Custodio said. “I knew to get flatter and I knew that (McAnally) throws the ball relatively low, so I just got wider. I saw nobody around me and I just ran as fast as I could.”

McAnally got things turned around, though. The Maryland lacrosse commit turned in some highlights, too. After Dee Barlee scored a 10-yard touchdown to give the Churchmen a lead, McAnally got to work in the two-minute drill. He pulled a Houdini act to escape multiple sack attempts before flipping a 21-yard touchdown to a wide-open Dan Baker. Later, McAnally lost a fumble on an option read, but made up for it by showcasing his speed and agility by leaving a trail of broken ankles in the open field on a 68-yard touchdown gallop.

“I have a great support system starting with my coaches and the players around me,” said McAnally, who finished 6-for-11 for 29 yards in the air and 112 yards on 12 carries on the ground. “They’re awesome. It’s awesome when you can shake off a play like that and your teammates are behind you and telling you, ‘let’s get them on this drive.’ I can’t thank them enough. They’re great supporters. I definitely had my ups and downs. Two turnovers is too much, but at the end of the day, we gutted it out. I’m so happy for my team.”

Both teams were without their starting quarterbacks as touted Hill signal caller Clayton Oliver was sidelined with an injury. Gruber filled in admirably, throwing for 121 yards and rushing for 55 more. His favorite target was Rich Tabarrini, who hauled in four passes for 63 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown that brought Hill to within 23-18. That came moments after Connor Ringwalt had extended the Churchmen’s lead with a 23-yard field goal. The Blues (0-2) couldn’t reach the end zone on the 2-point conversion, which made them have to go for the touchdown later on.

The night might have also marked the emergence of EA freshman cornerback Dee Will Barlee. Barlee’s older brother, All-Delco Dee, smashed his way to 130 yards and the score on 30 carries to batter the Hill defense. Dee Will might have been just as good on the perimeter. The Blues tested him early and often, but found out that it was an exercise in futility after they completed two passes on six attempts for 16 yards. Barlee also raked away a pass on fourth down to turn back Hill. Another older brother, Cyrus, was an All-Delco cornerback at Upper Darby, and Dee Will looks like he could follow that lineage.

“I definitely look forward to getting tested,” Barlee said. “I do a good job of accepting the challenge when they throw the ball my way. Coaches tell me all week to be aware of down and distance and, ‘do what you have to do and get off the field.’ As the game progresses, I feel more and more comfortable. Cyrus was busting my chops all summer about, ‘you need to be better. If you want to start on varsity as a freshman, these kids aren’t CYO eighth-graders. They’re not little anymore. If you want to be in the big boy leagues, you’ve got to man up.’”

Consider that lesson learned.

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