PHILADELPHIA — Rubber pellets from the turf at Northeast High’s Charles Martin Stadium clung to Maurcus McDaniel’s face. The Episcopal Academy quarterback had just been ground into the 25-yard line by a defensive end on a crunching tackle.
It made no difference to McDaniel, who secured enough yardage to get the game-clinching first down. McDaniel brushed off his face, and then smiled.
“All game,” the senior said, “I felt like I was in the zone.”
McDaniel scored four touchdowns, his defense forced four turnovers, and Episcopal Academy emerged Friday night with an impressive 26-13 win over Northeast. Churchmen coach Todd Fairlie called it “a character win,” one that required Episcopal Academy to snap a lengthy scoreless streak by Northeast’s imposing defense.
McDaniel’s first touchdown of the night was perhaps his finest. He got a little help from teammate Malcolm Folk in the process. Facing fourth-and-four from the Northeast 15-yard line, McDaniel curled out of the pocket to his left.
“I had to sidearm the ball to get it around that big D-end they have,” he said.
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That’s where the quarterback found Folk, who contorted his body for a jaw-dropping, one-handed grab. Folk used his right hand to bring down McDaniel’s pass, then switched the ball to his left hand and dropped his right shoulder to bull into the end zone.
“That was all instinct,” Folk said of the catch. “I don’t know how I got it.”
The 13-play drive took nearly seven minutes and featured two fourth-down conversions, Brian Virbitsky’s 24-yard, fake-punt carry off a direct snap and Folk’s aforementioned slick grab for the touchdown.
The game-opening score by the Churchmen (3-0) ended Northeast’s shutout streak at 11 quarters, which spanned its first three games of the season. It also sent a message that Episcopal Academy might present Northeast’s stiffest competition to date.
Northeast (3-1) responded with a score only seven plays later. Quarterback Zahir Wheeler tracked down Tyreek Chappell for a 51-yard catch-and-run along the left sideline, knotting the game at 7-all.
McDaniel tacked on two more scores in the first half, a 29-yard connection with Billy Adams on a wheel route, and a one-yard lunge as time expired. The latter sent Episcopal Academy into halftime with a 20-7 lead.
The Churchmen, for the game, were 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions.
“The play before that, when Malcolm didn’t get in, I said, ‘We have a play for it; let’s do it,’” Fairlie said. “We were playing to win. We weren’t playing not to lose. It wasn’t even a question. We weren’t going for a field goal there.”
McDaniel efficiently finished 11-for-13 for 123 yards and the two touchdowns. He also logged 86 yards and two rushing touchdowns on the ground.
The senior turned in one of his signature plays when Episcopal Academy needed it most. The Churchmen, on a third-and-two at the Northeast 33, called for a designed run play for McDaniel. He tucked the ball, darted through the B gap on the left side, and lowered his shoulder to extend the play for a 22-yard run. That helped set up his two-yard rushing touchdown with 3:17 remaining.
“Maurcus was out here running guys over, which is crazy for a quarterback,” Folk said.
Not to McDaniel, who said he improved his confidence and skill set during offseason 7-on-7 drills.
“That all helped with my reads and my timing,” he said. “Honestly, my guys were getting open. They were being consistent and being athletes in space, getting into spots where I could get them the ball.”
Outside of their first-quarter touchdown, the Vikings managed only two plays of at least 10 yards.
“From watching film, we knew the key to winning was to just stop their big plays,” said Folk, who also lines up at strong safety. “They’re very explosive. And you have to get turnovers. You have to.”
Nick Bates picked off a first-half pass by Wheeler, and Ben Kovacs recovered a second-quarter fumble by Northeast’s Shoes Brinkley. Aiden Chavis and Matt Bush intercepted Wheeler’s final two passes of the game.
“They ran that seam route a lot,” Chavis said. “I knew their guy (Chappell) was going to try to get into space, so I just went up and got it. We needed to play aggressive, play downhill, take them out of the run and force them to throw the ball.”
It worked. McDaniel and the Churchmen have a win to show for it.