NEWTOWN SQUARE — Last Saturday, two days after a 43-14 season-opening loss to Germantown Academy, Hill School receiver and 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,' aid Smith, who had an absurd night on 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 all night 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.
"We always want to win, that's our number one goal,' said Hill head coach Grey Simpson. "But early in the season — that's their fourth game of the year, and our second — I thought we did some really good things, I thought we got better from last week and that's our goal. We play for the MAPL (Mid-Atlantic Prep League) championship and that starts in three weeks.'
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.
"We've got to finish in the red zone,' Simpson said. "The scoreboard does not indicate how close that game was. We were missing our long snapper, so on that field goal we snapped it across the ground.'
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 inside the Episcopal 10-yard line, 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.
"He is a dynamic guy, we just have to get the ball in his hands and he can do a lot of different things,' Simpson said. "We changed our schemes to get the ball out quicker, and whether it's short or down the field he's a heck of a player. We have to keep being creative and find ways to get him the ball.'
Of course, Smith seemed happier with his play on the defensive side of the ball, where much of his focus was on trying to bring down Feliziani and Russell.
"I really tried to focus on coming up and making plays instead of sitting back and watching,' said Smith, a Royersford native. "The hardest part was bringing them down. They tried to beat us deep a few times but we had it covered. Coming in tonight we knew they had two big backs so we knew we had to come up and play the run.'
In the end, the Churchmen were actually 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 Evan Butts. ... For Hill, Richie Tabarrini had four catches for 32 yards, while Trey Humes had 14 carries for 51 yards. ... Hill school hosts Springside-Chestnut Hill next Saturday before a bye week to get ready for the MAPL schedule. ... Episcopal travels to Chichester on Friday night.
Follow Steven Moore on Twitter @smoore1117.
Episcopal Academy 29
Hill School 9
Hill School 0 3 0 6 — 9
Episcopal Ac. 7 15 0 7 — 29
EA-Russell 11 run (Ringwalt kick)
EA-Feliziani 30 run (Russell run)
EA-Butts 10 pass from Whayland (Ringwalt kick)
HS-Wright 24 FG
EA-Feliziani 1 run (Ringwalt kick)
HS-Smith 1 pass from Foltz (kick failed)
First Downs 17 21
Rushing yards 56 180
Passing yards 240 188
Total yards 296 368
Passes C-A-I 21-33-1 12-17-0
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties-Yards 11-62 8-62
Hill School: Humes, 14-51; Smith, 1-7; Foltz, 7-(-2).
Episcopal Academy: Feliziani, 14-133, 2 TDs; Russell, 9-47, 1 TD; Caviston, 3-6; Whayland, 2-(-6).
Hill School: Foltz, 21-32-240, 1 TD, 1 INT.
Episcopal Academy: Whayland 12-17-188, 1 TD.
Hill School: Smith, 13-197, 1 TD; Tabarrini, 4-32; Bamberger, 1-10; Humes, 3-1.
Episcopal Academy: Joloaso, 3-78; Butts, 6-59, 1 TD; Caviston, 1-36; Martillotti, 1-12; Baker, 1-3.
Sacks: Hill—Golobokov. Episcopal—Martillotti.