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Episcopal Academy holds off Penn Charter as Rayborn comes of age

PHILADELPHIA — You couldn’t have scripted a better ending for a first varsity start for Narome Rayborn Saturday. It had all the cinematic elements: The early struggles, the adversity in the fourth-quarter act, the heroic ending on the final drive … right  down to the rainbow shooting through clearing skies at Penn Charter that framed the smiling sophomore quarterback after his live-the-dream first varsity victory.

Stepping in for the injured Jake Fant, Rayborn came up with big throws at the end of both halves, including the winner to TJ Cadden with 1:18 left in a 26-20 win for the Churchmen over Penn Charter.

The game was won on a third-and-10 connection for 22 yards that broke a 20-all tie. True to the hero script, the play wasn’t designed to go to Cadden, but Rayborn made the read when his first option was covered. With a man in his face and Cadden calling for the ball, he found the junior slot receiver at the 5-yard line, and Cadden shed a tackler before clearing the goal line.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better play and a better scheme and a better play call,” Rayborn said.

It wasn’t a one-man show, however, so Rayborn got a little help from the supporting cast to finish it off. Penn Charter had one last shot, but a fumbled kickoff backed the Quakers to the 10. They were set back again when Andrew McMeekin hurled quarterback Colin Schumm for a loss at the 1.

Still, the Quakers made a go at it, with Schumm getting a defensive pass interference call and hitting Isaiah Grimes for 32 yards to midfield. But a final heave as the horn sounded was batted down to keep EA (5-2, 2-0) out in front of the Inter-Ac League pack.

The name of the game for Rayborn early was game management. Stepping in for Fant, who was injured last week, Rayborn worked mostly underneath in the first half. It led to a 13-play drive on the first series, capped by Cadden diving in from the three. The big play came from Rayborn finding junior TJ Lamb for 22 yards to get first and goal, and it answered Schumm’s one-yard score to tie the game at 7.

Rayborn went into the break at 7-for-13 for just 60 yards, but he came up with the biggest throw of the half with six seconds left, tossing up a four-yard fade that the 6-2 Lamb skied to haul in, giving EA a 13-7 lead at the break.

“I saw the mismatch,” Rayborn said. “… I knew that TJ Lamb is huge, and he’s one of my biggest targets. So my whole plan was just to get him the ball under any circumstance.”

Ultimately, adversity would find the sophomore. A 42-yard kick return by Bryce Cooper set EA up at the 25 to start the second half with a golden opportunity to stretch the lead to two scores. Instead, Penn Charter (2-4, 0-2) stood EA up on a frustrating 11-play sequence, the biggest coming when Grimes tossed Cadden for a loss on third and goal at the 1. Rayborn’s pass on fourth sailed out of the end zone.

Schumm (5-for-12, 133 yards) promptly made them pay by marching the Quakers 98 yards. He hit Colin Michener for 41 yards, then tossed a deep corner route that Davin Barnett snared for a 28-yard score to tie the game at 13.

Chandler Turner then appeared to turn the game on its head when Rayborn didn’t pull an option handoff quick enough, leading to a fumble that Turner scooped up and dashed 30 yards to a score with 11:51 left.

“Obviously not ideal, but we like to keep our heads out, we like to grind those things out,” McMeekin said. “It’s not always going to be perfect. Once we saw that, we knew we needed to kick into the next gear and grind and get this one.”

Rayborn got the Churchmen moving again, twice connecting with Lamb. McMeekin, who bulled his way to 61 yards on 14 carries, took a punishing sweep into the house from the 3. For a third time, the game was tied, this time at 20 with 7:20 left.

EA’s defense held, thanks in part to another McMeekin sack, giving Rayborn a chance to win the game. That he did. Rayborn found Lamb (seven catches, 82 yards) for 32 yards, then eventually hit Cadden with the winning play.  It capped a 15-for-23 outing for Rayborn, for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “As a sophomore, I get the opportunity to come out and in such a competitive league get the start for such a prestigious team and on such a big stage and be able to come out and lead my team to a win.”

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