Taking care of the football and making good on sustained drives were two things on the minds of the Harry S Truman football players coming into Friday's game against Philly Public League rival Samuel S. Fels.
The Tigers did both — and forced the Panthers to surrender possession on several key occasions including the opponent's first three possessions — on their way to an overwhelming 52-22 victory Friday, Sept. 13 at Northeast High's Charlie Martin Memorial Stadium.
Truman senior DB Dwayne Ellis set the defensive tone for Truman in this one from the outset, intercepting Fels QB Aasim Campbell's first pass and returning it to the Panthers' 18 yard line. On third down, Tigers QB Jake Zolna kept the ball and was piled into the end zone by the rest of the Truman team. A pass to senior RB Jordan Livingston — who had a monster game carrying the football against Fels — was good for the 2-point conversion and the Tigers had themselves an early 8-point lead.
Surprising everyone on the Panthers side of the field, Truman opted for an on-sides kick on the next play and even more surprisingly covered the ball on the kick. A big 23-yard run by senior Bobby Hill and a 5-yard pass to sophomore Corey McCloud put the Tigers back on the scoreboard again.
"Bobby is one of our more dynamic players,' said HST head coach Ed Cubbage. "We need the ball in his hands as much as possible.'
Fels then fumbled the ball right back to Truman on the ensuing kickoff, returning possession at their own 40. This Truman TD drive stalled but still resulted in points as it culminated in a 39-yard field goal by Tim Kenny.
On the Panthers' next possession, it took the Tigers three plays to get the ball back with senior safety Ty Walker grabbing a third down aerial offered by Campbell and taking it back to the Fels 27 yard line.
Two first down runs by Livingston and a touchdown run by the same player put Truman on the scoreboard again.
"Jordan was a beast today,' said Ed Cubbage. "To get him running really well is something. Anytime he has the ball in his hands, he's a pretty tough kid to bring down.'
This was getting fun. It was only minutes into the second quarter and the Tigers were on top, 24-0.
Someone seemed to breathe life into the Panthers as the opponent drove the ball inside Truman 25 yard line — that is until junior LB Brandon Hill picked up the first of his two fumbles in the game.
After the Tigers fumbled the ball right back on their only turnover of the game and offsetting 3-and-outs by each team, Fels finally found the end zone when senior RB Jylil Reeder rushed 27 yards into the end zone, all the while dodging Truman tacklers.
The Tigers began the second half much like the first, hungry to put points on the board — and they did.
Ellis returned the opening kick to the Panthers 23 yard line and a few plays later, Bobby Hill was taking the ball to the house on a 7-yard touchdown scamper.
While Truman failed to convert the next Fels turnover — Tim Kenny recovered a fumble near midfield — into points, they didn't miss on the following opportunity. This time, senior LB Ulusse swarmed all over Campbell and stripped him of the ball while Brandon Hill gathered it up and took it all the way back for a 37-yard fumble return for a TD.
"Dudley is turning into a beast for us; he's just unbelievable. He just creates havoc,' explained Cubbage. "Brandon was at the right place at the right time — hustling. He picked it up and was just, gone.'
Now, it's 38-8 with 6:03 to go in the third quarter — good times for Tigers fans.
That is until Reeder picked up a loose ball on the ensuing kickoff and took that to the promised land. But even the 2-point conversion only brought Fels within 38-16.
No worries. Truman took the next kickoff back to its own 40 and a half-dozen plays later, Zolna scored his second touchdown of the day on a 7-yard keeper.
While the Tigers allowed Reeder yet another long kickoff return, they stopped him at the 10 and the defense took over from there with LB Trysten Hunt and Connor McAdams combining to stop Campbell on fourth-and goal from the three.
"That's what we want; that's what we expect out of our defense,' the coach said. "When you have a return like that, we stiffen up, get a stop and keep them out of the end zone.'
On the next drive by Truman, Bobby Hill had a couple of nice runs including a nice pickup on a busted play that saw the snap elude Zolna at the line of scrimmage. Then, running between the tackles, Zolna scored his third touchdown of the afternoon, not including the one he tossed to McCloud.
The win pushes the Tigers to 2-1 overall a week before hosting Pennsbury Sept. 20 at Henry Morgan then traveling to Harry Franks Stadium Sept. 27: to face Neshaminy.
"We're taking on the big boys right away; we're jumping right into the fire,' said Cubbage.
The question remains is Truman ready? The coach thinks so.
"We're a tough, battle-tested team,' he said. "My guys have been through the wars of the Suburban One for three years now. Most of these guys have played for me as freshmen and sophomores at the varsity level.'
NOTES: Ellis had a 65-yard interception return for a touchdown in a Tigers' win over the Panthers last year. "Dwayne loves this field,' said Cubbage. "Something about playing here — he just lights it up.' ... Fels turned the ball over six times and Truman turned all but two of the gaffes into points.
Harry S Truman 52, Samuel S. Fels 22
(Sept. 13 at Northeast HS)
TRUMAN: 18 6 21 7 — 52
FELS: 0 8 8 6 — 22
T: Zolna 7-yd run (2-pt. conv.)
T: McCloud 5-yd. pass from Zolna (Kenny kick)
T: Kenny 39-yd. FG
T: Livingston 4-yd. run (conv. failed)
F: Reeder 27-yard run (2-pt. conv.)
T: Bobby Hill 7-yd. run (Kenny kick)
T: Brandon Hill 37-yd. fumble return
F: Reeder 95-yd. KO return (2-pt. conv.)
T: Zolna 7-yd. run (Kenny kick)
T: Zolna 40-yd. run (Kenny kick)
F: Reeder 4-yd. pass from Campbell (conv. failed)