The Father Judge High School football team appears to possess an uncommon collective maturity for people who are still teenagers.
In their first two games of the season, the Crusaders have experienced a myriad of emotions. It began with a 30-22 loss to Episcopal Academy, a game in which a nightmare start – a 30-8 halftime deficit – came within whiskers of a dramatic comeback worth glaring headlines before time ran out in the fourth quarter.
Undaunted, the Crusaders bounced back this past Saturday with a decisive 31-0 shutout over Bucks County’s Council Rock South at Northeast High School.
“Very proud,” said first-year coach Mike McKay. “I’m very proud of how they handled themselves from the beginning to the end. I can’t say enough about their approach and their poise.
“We obviously would have loved to get that first one the week before. Being able to get that close after the way it began, and hold a team like that without any points in the second half, says a whole lot for our kids.”
Though “relieved” and “obviously happy” that he was able to notch his first coaching victory, McKay focused his analysis on what he saw from his players.
He lauded the offensive and defensive lines for their non-stop energy, and although Council Rock South was able to make some decent-sized pass completions, McKay pointed out that Judge’s secondary clamped down when necessary.
Therefore, Judge’s defense will bring a six-quarter scoreless streak into its contest today (Sept. 13) against Northeast High School.
“It’s so important to have unselfish players, and we have a lot of those,” said McKay, a 1976 Judge graduate who quarterbacked the Crusaders to the Catholic and city championships as a senior. “They’re willing to do whatever it takes for the good of the team.”
Among those are Judge’s tri-captains, seniors Tom Bayer, Joe Nigro and Marquis Seamon. Against Rock, Bayer anchored an experienced line on both offense and defense, helping his mates turn a 7-0 lead at halftime into a stunning stampede.
Three long touchdown runs from 63, 51, and 61 yards – the first two by senior Yeedee Thaenrat (216 yards on only eight carries) and the third was by Seamon (74 on 12) – and a 26-yard field goal by senior Connor Foley comprised the rest of the scoring.
“That was definitely something that we’ll always remember,” said Bayer, who started at center on offense and at tackle on defense. “It’s not easy getting a shutout. The closer you get, the more you don’t want to mess it up.”
McKay lauded his upperclassmen for their leadership. It also doesn’t hurt that those solid citizens can play some inspired football.
“It starts with them, and they take their roles very seriously,” McKay said. “It’s good modeling for the younger guys.”
Now that he is in charge of a program that is in one of the area’s most challenging divisions – the Catholic League AAAA – McKay has preached that developing young men into talented leaders is a priority.
In other words, it’s more than just what occurs between the lines or what appears on a score sheet.
Take, for instance, the aforementioned Nigro, like Bayer a graduate of Mayfair’s St. Matthew’s grade school. A significant cog on defense, Nigro has remained unable to participate because of a knee injury suffered in an early-season scrimmage. However, he still rooted for his teammates as much as possible from the sideline, even though he “desperately wanted” to be frolicking on the turf field with his peers on a gorgeous fall evening.
“It was hard not to be a part of things, but I was really proud of my teammates,” Nigro said. “They played great. They were aggressive on their blocks and they didn’t let anyone penetrate the line. Everyone contributed, and that’s the best way to win a football game.”
Good leaders? Absolutely.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.