Football Friday: Stinginess back in vogue at Interboro

GLENOLDEN >> There’s no getting around talking defense with Interboro players without mentioning a name synonymous with Delaware County football.

Longtime coordinator Mike D’Esposito is retro to the bone, but his mastery of high school football defense spans generations and has no expiration date.

“He’s old school,” senior running back/safety Chris Hummel said. “Every week he’ll come out with huge packets of all the teams’ plays. It’s all hand-written, too. He knows everything about any team we face.”

“He still has a flip phone,” said Danny Mea, senior quarterback/linebacker and co-captain. “They don’t come like him anymore. He knows every team’s offense better than he knows ours.”

Interboro is back to its mean and nasty ways, and D’Esposito is the kingpin. Tough, hard-nosed, winning football has returned to the South Avenue Athletic Complex, three years removed from the stunner in Sharon Hill, a District One semifinal win over Academy Park and the program’s first and only Class AAA district championship.

Six weeks into the season, the Bucs are 5-1 and riding a five-game winning streak. They’ve been good in all three facets. Hummel, Chris Thomas and Lamar Shaw are the three-headed monster at running back. The trio has combined for 1,072 yards and seven touchdowns.

Special teams is Hummel’s speciality. The Mount St. Mary’s lacrosse commit has broken off some big returns, including a 68-yard punt return for touchdown in a victory at Caravel (Del.) Academy.

But the Bucs’ calling card is stopping their opponents from finding the end zone. With D’Esposito still calling the shots, it should come as no surprise that the Bucs have returned to form.

“You don’t ever have to question Coach D,” said senior captain and defensive end Steve Royer. “Even if it doesn’t make sense right away, it will during the game.”

“He’s been doing defense so long, you have nothing but respect for him,” added Hummel.

After a 14-9 loss to Springfield, a game that Interboro could’ve won, Coach D’s defense has been impenetrable.

“That loss against Springfield really motivated us,” Royer said. “We thought we played (well enough to win).”

It’s been smooth sailing ever since. The Bucs rebounded from that Week 1 heartbreak by blanking Strath Haven, 20-0, and haven’t looked back. They are allowing just 7.2 points per game, which ranks second in the county behind Marple Newtown and Academy Park (5.5).

“After the first week against Springfield, we’ve come out with a totally different attitude,” Hummel said. “Losing to them woke us up a little bit. We just knew we had to come out and be better each week.”

“I think, as a team, we realized that we couldn’t take breaks,” Royer added.

The Bucs have a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy on defense. They are allowing less than 200 yards per game, but they take pride in their ability to limit points. Only twice they have permitted a team to score more than one touchdown. Last week, in their Del Val League opener, the defense had its finest game of the season in a 31-0 drubbing of Glen Mills. The Battlin’ Bulls managed just 102 yards of total offense and Interboro’s defense forced five fumbles.

“That’s the type of game we want to play every week,” said wide receiver/defensive end and co-captain Chase Pattinson.

“With us, it’s mainly about gap control and making sure we hold our position, and let our linebackers handle what they have to do,” Royer said. “Against good running backs, we have to let them change directions and see how fast they can do it before we can get someone else out there to track them down.”

The camaraderie and trust the defense shares plays a huge part in the unit’s success. The co-captains — Royer, Pattinson and Mea — have known each other for years. They’re all Prospect Park, Glenolden and Norwood kids, and grew up either playing against each other or on the same teams in the Bert Bell Memorial Football Conference. The tradition of Interboro football was drilled in their heads at an early age.

“That’s put in your mind when you’re a kid, and you want to carry that on when you get to high school,” Royer said. “I know that when I was younger, in Glenolden, my coaches would always tell me about what it means to play at Interboro and having an older brother that played here, you want to be that tough team.”

The Prospect Park kids would hear similar words spoken from the late Frank Witmer, who founded the Termites program. Last week the Bucs mourned the loss of Mr. Witmer’s wife, Peggy, who was a staunch supporter of the Termites and Bucs.

“She would come every Friday and watch us play,” Hummel said. “They were basically like your family growing up. When you played Termites, they were always there.”

In addition to his excellent play at linebacker, Mea has made strides under center managing the Bucs’ run-first offense. When called upon to air the ball out, Mea has thrown three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

“It’s a big difference from Week 1 to now,” he said of his development at quarterback. “In Week 1, I had happy feet and I was trying to throw the ball too much and I ended up overthrowing the wide receivers. Me, Chase and (Matt) DiSands (who caught a touchdown pass in the Glen Mills game) have good chemistry on the field.”

This week the Bucs celebrate homecoming and host Penn Wood, which has lost five straight decisions. While the Patriots have struggled, the Bucs know they have the talent to put points on the board with running back Tayvon Ruley (552 yards, four TDs) leading the way.

“It’s just another challenge,” Mea said, “that we have to be ready for.”

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