The fumble that wasn’t dooms Episcopal

FT. WASHINGTON >> The margin of error in the Inter-Ac grows thinner every week. Episcopal Academy learned this hard lesson over its last two games, a tough loss to Malvern Prep eight days ago, a narrow, 27-24 defeat at Germantown Academy Saturday.

One play in particular will weigh heavily on the minds of the Churchmen and their faithful. With a little more than five minutes to play, the undefeated Patriots were driving up 24-17. On first-and-goal from the EA 37, though, quarterback Kyle McCloskey bobbled the snap. The ball fell to the turf where McCloskey attempted in vain to reel it in. The officials, inexplicably, blew the play dead as the Churchmen made a clear recovery.

It was ruled an inadvertent whistle, which resulted not only in GA keeping possession, but also a replay of first down. The Patriots kicked a field goal seven plays later to complete the drive and spot themselves an important two-score advantage EA couldn’t quite overcome.

And yet while Churchmen coach Todd Fairlie bemoaned the fumble that wasn’t, he understood his team hadn’t done enough to win.

“We want the ball at the end to determine the game,” Fairlie said. “We can’t put the game in the ref’s hands.”

The offense can look to two failed fourth-down conversions, one in the GA red zone, as reasons for defeat. The defense could point to an inability to get off the field. The Patriots, led by McCloskey who threw for 286 yards, converted nine of 13 third downs on the afternoon.

“They have a really talented qb,” said Episcopal signal-caller and defensive back CJ McAnally. “We just couldn’t stop them when we needed to. We couldn’t get off the field and we were playing from behind.”

McCloskey, fit with a cast on his non-throwing hand, came out dealing from the start. He marched GA down the field on each of its first two drives capped by touchdown strikes to Mike Gilmore and Jon Haynes.

McAnally and co. did their best to keep pace in a first half where the teams combined for just one punt. A Connor Ringwalt field goal put the Churchmen on the board. A McAnally 21-yard draw kept them close.

Episcopal went into the break down 17-10 before enduring a difficult third quarter. The Churchmen’s first three possessions resulted in two punts and a turnover on downs. Meanwhile, McCloskey hit Gilmore wide open in the end zone to give the Patriots a 24-10 advantage.

But the beleaguered EA pass defense redeemed itself late in the third. Chris Rushton intercepted McCloskey to give the visitors life. On the back of Dee Barlee, who accounted for 24 of the drive’s 34 yards including the final two for a touchdown, the Churchmen narrowed the margin to 24-17.

That play set up the controversial clincher from GA. Vince Capone nailed a 28-yarder to kick away all but a sliver of hope for EA.

“I’m proud of my team at times,” said a somber Barlee. “I feel like we haven’t put it all together yet.”

The Churchmen did put one last scare into the unscathed hosts. Barlee returned the kick to midfield then set about punishing the Patriots (7-0, 2-0) defenders. He took a screen pass 35 yards followed by runs of three, five and five yards to set up Episcopal first-and-goal from the four. McAnally, with a fake to Barlee, barreled in from there.

“I just followed our leader,” said McAnally of Barlee, who rushed for 115 yards in the loss. “He drew the defense away. I was able to follow his lead.”

EA (5-2, 0-2), however, would get no closer and must once again reflect on defeat in what was a promising season two weeks ago.

“It’s tough,” said Fairlie. “It’s frustrating.”

“In this league, you have to be together every week,” added Barlee. “We look to get better. We have to find ways to win.”

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