HAVERFORD — It seemed unlikely that The Haverford School would find itself in this position when the Fords dropped their first three games this year by an average of three touchdowns, and it didn't look good when Haverford was bludgeoned by Cardinal O'Hara in its final tuneup before league play.
But next Saturday, when the Fords and rival Episcopal Academy renew hostilities in Newtown Square, there will be at least a share of the Inter-Ac League championship on the line. Haverford School made sure of it by outlasting Penn Charter, 48-38, Saturday afternoon on Sabol Field, and because of it, the Fords stayed in a tie with EA and Malvern Prep for first place.
If the Friars lose to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy next week, the winner of EA-Haverford would win the league outright. If Malvern wins, the Friars and the Churchmen-Fords winner would share the championship. The comeback begs the question, did the Fords even think they could do this after their slow start?
"Not at the beginning of the year after the first couple of games,' quarterback/safety/punter Brendan Burke said. "We were a little down, but once the Inter-Ac started, we stepped up starting with (a 34-31 overtime win over) Malvern. Right now, we control our own destiny next week against Episcopal. ... I just think it's the attitude of the team (that led to the change). I just think we came together as a family. It's been a hell of a ride so far, so we're just trying to keep it going.'
Burke made sure of it against the Quakers (4-5, 1-3) by doing a little bit of everything. He connected on 13 of his 17 attempts for 174 yards and scoring strikes to Derek Mountain and Micah Sims, but he also did damage on the ground by racking up 90 yards and a pair of scores. The most important of his runs came with Haverford (5-5, 3-1) trying to fend off a Penn Charter comeback attempt.
Burke correctly read the option and pulled the ball away from running back Phil Poquie (17 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown) and zipped through a gaping hole with nothing but green in front of him, but he wasn't so sure that his ticket to the end zone had been punched yet.
"They brought the house,' Burke said. "I just saw (a defender) come off the edge and chase Poquie around the edge and just ran. I thought I was going to be stopped at the five. Coaches were joking with me that I should have taken a knee at the five and run out the clock.'
Burke's jaunt to paydirt was set up by back-to-back sacks of Penn Charter freshman quarterback Michael Hnatkowsky by Frank Cresta and Joseph Raymond. For Raymond, it marked a bittersweet ending to his last game as a Ford on Sabol Field.
"Nothing better than winning your last game on this field as a senior,' Raymond said. "It feels good. It's bittersweet. I'll never be able to play on this field again in front of all these Haverford fans. It's a good feeling and a bad feeling.'
It'll be only good feelings if the Fords can knock off the Churchmen next week and for the second straight year, a fitting end to the season if one of the two fierce rivals can grab at least part of the league crown.