Episcopal Academy gets tough, gets first Inter-Ac win

PHILADELPHIA >> Recent weeks of football hadn’t been kind to Episcopal Academy.

The proposed solution for the week leading up to an Inter-Ac League meeting Saturday with Springside Chestnut Hill?

Start hitting each other.

“We were in full pads for one of the first times this whole year,” junior lineman Kyle Virbitsky said. “(EA’s coaches) like to take it easy just to keep us healthy, but they realized that we had to kind of tackle and do some work.

“I think it showed.”

It took until the game’s final play for the Churchmen to pull out a 17-12 triumph.

Once Springside Chestnut Hill quarterback Matt Rahill took the shotgun snap, dropped back a few steps and scanned his opposing end zone with the final ticks winding away, a makeshift Episcopal secondary forced a throw into triple coverage in an attempt at a last-second victory.

Instead, Jake Martelucci helped visiting Episcopal survive a scare when he snared an already deflected pass in the back of the end zone for EA’s third and final interception of the afternoon.

“That was a crazy play,” Martelucci said. “We knew we had to make a play right there. All week we were practicing staying on top of plays and that’s what my teammates did, and they tipped it to me.”

Simple, no?

For most of the contest, containing Springside Chestnut Hill’s passing attack was far from it as the Blue Devils did what they could to exploit a Churchmen secondary depleted from injury.

While the Blue Devils’ Jack Cucinotta and Matt Hoffman hauled in a combined nine passes for 174 yards, the Churchmen did enough on the game’s final play to secure their first Inter-Ac win of the fall.

“This might have been one of the better games our secondary had,” Virbitsky said. “There were a few little mishaps, but a lot of our sacks come from them. If they’re holding coverage for a good three or four seconds, that’s enough time for us to get there. I think that’s what the lull was for these last three games.”

Those last three games — respective losses to Malvern Prep, Germantown Academy and Penn Charter — had Episcopal (6-3, 1-3) in need of a confidence-boosting win.

And after two first-quarter scores, it looked like the Churchmen could cruise-control their way to a win. Christian Feliziani weaved his way to a 51-yard score on a screen play with 3 minutes, 40 seconds left in the opening period, while Dee Barlee soon plunged for a goal-line score on after freshman brother Dee Wil Barlee took a 27-yard run down the left sideline to the 1-yard line.

But after Cucinotta’s 33-yard touchdown grab late in the second quarter pulled the Blue Devils (4-5, 0-4) within a single possession, the Churchmen couldn’t manage more than a third-quarter field goal. Less than three minutes later, Rahill scored on a 1-yard keeper that ultimately capped the scoring.

Earlier interceptions for Dan Baker and Dee Wil Barlee each ended threatening Blue Devils possessions, while Rahill was forced to fumble the ball away on EA’s 5-yard line in the fourth quarter after he was taken down in the backfield.

Before the younger Barlee was forced to exit the game with a hamstring injury suffered while returning his interception into Blue Devils territory, he complemented his pick with 38 yards on five rushes. Dee Barlee paced EA with 62 yards on 19 carries.

As EA perhaps found a little luck by recovering three of its four fumbles, Saturday’s win wasn’t necessarily pretty, nor was it easy.

But as coach Todd Fairlie and company attested, a win’s a win. They’ll take it.

“We had opportunities to get ahead and maybe put it away, and we didn’t take advantage of them,” Fairlie said. “But we found a way to win and in the end, that’s the important thing.”

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