NEWTOWN SQUARE — Last Saturday, two days after a 43-14 season-opening loss to Germantown Academy, Hill School receiver/safety Grant Smith got together with his fellow seniors and captains and held a practice. No coaches. No excuses.
Six days later, that practice — as well as some more conditioning work — seemed to make a difference for the Rams, who hung around with powerful Episcopal Academy in a 29-9 loss that was closer than the score would indicate.
"When we played Germantown Academy, we got down 21-0 early and everyone just gave up. We were all out of breath and desperate for breaks,' said Smith, who had an absurd night Friday with 13 catches for 197 yards and a touchdown. "Leading up to tonight we conditioned and worked really hard and didn't give up. I'm really proud with how we played.'
While Hill showed drastic improvement from Week 1, it wasn't enough to prevent the Churchmen from moving to 4-0 and picking up their 14th straight win overall.
Episcopal running back Anthony Feliziani battered and bruised the Hill defense with 133 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Teammate Cody Russell did his part with nine carries for 47 yards and a score.
"There wouldn't be two other guys we would want to lean on,' said Episcopal coach Todd Fairlie of Felizini and Russell. "Guys with a lot of experience and just tough gritty kids who are very heady.'
Episcopal got things going early with an eight-play, 83-yard drive capped off by Russell's 11-yard touchdown run. Before Hill even touched the ball, it seemed like it could be a long night.
It looked even worse after Hill's first drive ended when quarterback Matt Foltz was intercepted by Jon'Avin Freeman near midfield.
But the Hill defense stepped up, and stopped Episcopal on fourth-and-5 at the Rams' 12 yard line to get the ball back.
Hill started the second quarter strong, going deep into EA territory before a botched snap on a field goal attempt cost them a chance at points.
Hill also beat itself on many occasions, committing 11 penalties for 62 yards, including numerous false start calls when Foltz was trying a hard snap count. They also began the third quarter with another long drive down inside the Episcopal 10, only to turn it over on downs once again.
On the positive side, the story of the night for Hill was the play of Foltz and Smith. Foltz finished the night 21-for-32 passing for 240 yards with a touchdown and the one interception.
Most of those yards were to Smith, who lined up all over the field in an attempt to get the ball in space, especially after being double-teamed by Germantown Academy in the opener.
In the end, the Churchmen were pretty balanced on offense — at least yardage-wise — with 28 carries for 180 yards and 12 passes for 188.
"Our running game keeps the clock moving and takes the pressure off the quarterback,' Feliziani said. "The line is consistently blocking well. And on defense we got those two huge stops inside the red zone. That was all heart. They stepped up big time and shut them down.'
Episcopal quarterback Ryan Whayland had a solid night, completing 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown toss to tight end Evan Butts.