Haverford School caps historic season with Inter-Ac title in 21-19 win over Episcopal Academy
Haverford School couldn’t practice on Friday afternoon because of the rain, so the Fords took their final season walkthrough indoors in their gym.
It’s when coach Brian Martin pointed something out to his team. Up there, adorned on the gym wall hung a gold banner with maroon numbers on it under the heading Inter-Ac Football Champions. The last year was 2015, the last time the Fords won the Inter-Ac, and the last time they went undefeated.
Martin swore another year needed to be added.
On Saturday, it was, when the Fords got by Episcopal Academy in a classic, 21-19, at EA, for Haverford School’s first Inter-Ac title since 2015.
The Fords matched that by going undefeated for the first time since 2015, landing at 10-0. The loss ended EA’s season at 9-1.
The last time Haverford School and Episcopal Academy met undefeated came in 1970. The Fords won that game, too.
Haverford School got a career-best three-touchdown performance by Chase Knox, a crucial fourth-quarter interception in the end zone by senior cornerback Wills Burt and a truckload of memories that will last for decades.
Knox’s performance offset the huge game by EA’s TJ Cadden, who scored three touchdowns himself, two on plays of 90 yards or more, with one coming on a 98-yard touchdown reception and another on a 90-yard kickoff return that gave the Churchmen new life when they were seemingly out of the contest.
“We knew we were the better team all the way around,” said Knox, who is getting looks from the Navy and Delaware, and what promises to be a growing number after they see his EA game film. “It was a crazy environment. It was big for our school and our team, and we really wanted to do this for each other, especially our group of seniors.
“To be honest, TJ was a big problem for us. His speed took over. We started to get a little comfortable after we went 21-7, but TJ wasn’t satisfied and he took off. Our defense played well, but we got hurt by big plays, and we made some big plays ourselves.”
Haverford noticed Episcopal played a lot of man-to-man defense. The Churchmen kept playing man and never adjusted, and it’s something the Fords took advantage of.
Two of Church’s three touchdowns came on the same play, his other receptions came underneath on slants.
“Coach Martin pushed on us the history all week long and we were playing for our alumni and everyone who wore the maroon and gold before us,” Knox said. “On Friday during practice inside the gym, coach Knox let us know that we were going to put another year up on that banner.”
But Cadden kept getting in the way.
The game was seemingly put away when Knox scored for the third time, on a 9-yard scoring strike from Gavin Wright with 10:47 to play, which put Haverford up, 21-7. But Cadden took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards and it was a game again.
The Churchmen were driving to tie the score with the inside of eight minutes to play when Fords’ linebacker Lou Atkinson tipped a pass from EA quarterback Na’Rome Rayborn. Burt made a diving interception off the deflection in the end zone.
It was a bittersweet ending for Burt, who played his last football game. He went out a winner.
“I had my guy covered when I saw Rayborn roll right,” said Burt, a lacrosse commit for national powerhouse Virginia. “I saw TJ Lamb open free behind me, so I faded back. When Rayborn threw it, I closed on my guy. Lou tipped it and I dove for it.
“It’s the last football game that I’ll ever play in my life. I dreamed about playing at EA under the lights growing up as a kid. I live within walking distance of EA and went to EA until third grade when I transferred to Haverford School. I had an image in my head of everyone storming the field after the game, and it’s something I’m going to be telling my kids about someday.”
Once again, as the game closed within four minutes, Episcopal Academy came charging back again, this time behind senior backup quarterback Nick Wolff, playing for the injured Rayburn.
With 1:15 left, Wolff hit Cadden for a 9-yard score, but since the Churchmen missed the extra point on their previous touchdown, they were forced to go for a two-point conversion to tie the game.
Wolff faked a pitch and tried to run it in, but was stopped inches short of the goal line.
“We always talk about brotherhood and these guys were definitely an example of that,” said Martin, who’s been teaching at Haverford School for 20 years, been coaching at the school for 18, and finished his third year as head coach. “To be honest, I thought we would be successful. I didn’t think that we would go undefeated, but this senior group was special. The kids fed off how special they were.
“They were a close-knit group and they’re great kids all around. They’re a special group. They wanted to do it the right way. I’m so proud to be their coach.”
Burt said everyone counted out the Fords the whole season. The seniors believed an Inter-Ac was going to happen because they believed in themselves.
“I’ve never been part of a team like this,” he said. “It’s a team that’s been so close through the years. We all knew the goal that we wanted. We’re all brothers. Remembering how close we were is what I’ll remember most.”
Haverford School (10-0) 0 7 7 7-21
Episcopal Academy (9-1) 0 7 0 12-19
EA – TJ Cadden 98 pass from Na’Rome Rayborn (Christian Bush kick), 5:05
HS – Chase Knox 15 pass from Gavin Wright (Ivan Harlamov kick), 1:30
HS – Knox 32 pass from Wright (Harlamov kick), 4:48
HS – Knox 9 pass from Wright (Harlamov kick), 10:47
EA – TJ Cadden 90 kickoff return (kick failed), 10:35
EA – TJ Cadden 9 pass from Nick Wolff (run failed), 1:15
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter @JSantoliquito. Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball.
Follow EasternPAFootball.com on Twitter @EPAFootball
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