Episcopal can’t rein in Tucker in loss to Penn Charter

PHILADELPHIA >> Chris Tucker received the game ball from his coaches after Saturday afternoon’s 42-35 victory over Episcopal Academy.

The Penn Charter junior caught six passes from quarterback Mike Hnatkowsky for 164 yards and four touchdowns.

And it was just the type of performance Tucker needed as he played with a heavy heart following the passing of his grandfather.

“It was very tough,” Tucker said. “I was focusing on what I could do and I played for him today. I miss him.”

Tucker’s grandfather would be proud. The 6-0, 160-pound wide receiver gashed Episcopal Academy’s secondary and was a walking highlight reel. He made an acrobatic catch on the winning drive late in the fourth quarter, a 46-yard haul that put the Quakers at the Episcopal 3-yard line. Moments later, on fourth down from the 1-yard line, Hnatkowsky lowered his head and pushed through the pile to give Penn Charter a 40-35 advantage with 1:48 to play.

“I know what I can do and I try my best to help my football team,” Tucker said.

Tucker transferred in the summer from Bodine High School in North Philadelphia, which didn’t have a football program. He had been used only sparingly in the passing game before Saturday’s breakout performance.

“I think he came here the first week of actual workouts, during training camp, and he worked hard,” said Hnatkowsky, who was 27 of 30 for 329 yards and five TD passes. “He was a little behind, but he’s catching up.”

Tucker is a big-time target for Hnatkowsky, who enjoyed a career day against the Churchmen (5-3, 0-3 Inter-Ac League).

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hnatkowsky said of throwing to Tucker. “It’s the first time in a couple years that we’ve had a guy with his caliber of speed. It’s tough to overthrow him. I just throw it out there and let him make plays.”

Penn Charter, which dropped a 19-17 decision to Interboro and suffered a heartbreaking, 41-40 defeat to Daily Times Super 7 No. 1 Haverford School, handed Episcopal its third consecutive loss. The Churchmen had a tough time covering the Quakers’ skill players and with hard-nosed running back Jake McCain, who churned out 105 bruising yards on 18 carries.

One EA player who tried to do it all was senior Christian Feliziani, who accounted for three touchdowns and 183 yards of total offense. Feliziani took the game’s opening kick 90 yards to the end zone and snared a pair of TD passes from C.J. McAnally. The Ohio State lacrosse recruit finished with 137 yards receiving on three catches. He showed great concentration, eluding double-team coverage, on his second scoring catch late in the second half to tie the score at 21-21 after Penn Charter (4-5, 2-1) had rattled off 21 consecutive points.

“You have to give credit to them. They’re a good team and played their butts off,” Feliziani said of Penn Charter. “We just didn’t execute when we had to. When we had that big lead early, we let them come back. We’ve got to do a better job at putting the game away.”

Feliziani was sidelined in last week’s loss at Germantown Academy and was looking forward to giving his teammates a boost on special teams and offense.

“I’ve been itching, waiting to get back,” he said. “My guys did a great job on kick returns. I have the easiest job, just catching the ball and running. All the other guys do most of the work. C.J. had a great game throwing beautiful balls. I was doing the easy job catching and running.”

McAnally was 10-of-15 for 252 yards through the air. Jon’avin Freeman completed two pass attempts for 41 yards, including a flea flicker to Dan Baker that led to running back Dee Barlee scoring his first touchdown of the day midway through the third quarter. The All-Delco Barlee posted 53 yards on 12 totes.

Hnatkowsky’s fourth scoring connection to Tucker in the fourth quarter put Penn Charter in front, 34-28. But the Churchmen answered back with an impressive 13-play drive capped by Barlee’s 10-yard scoring scamper. Hnatkowsky and Co. came back and scored what proved to be the deciding touchdown late in regulation.

Saturday’s loss was another bitter pill for the Churchmen to swallow, but Feliziani and the seniors vow to keep moving forward.

“Right now we obviously can’t win the league. I have two games left in my lifetime, and the same with these seniors,” he said. “Any time you can end a season 7-3, which we have a chance to do, I still think that’s a successful season.”

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