By Don Seeley
POTTSTOWN – When Grey Simpson joined The Hill School football staff nine years ago, he admittedly wasn’t too happy, actually disappointed, to hear there were no playoffs … absolutely nothing after the final fall fling with
. Lawrenceville School
By the end of that first season, though, Simpson realized there really was no need for a postseason.
“After I went through my first Hill-Lawrenceville week, I realized this was bigger than any championship game I had ever played in or coached in,” Simpson explained. “We’re all familiar with rivalry games, either as players or coaches, but I had never experienced anything quite like this before. For me it’s become an honor to be a part of such an incredible tradition and rivalry.”
It is, without question, one of the oldest and most storied football rivalries in the entire country.
And Saturday afternoon, when they line up against one another for the 94th consecutive year – and celebrate the 125th anniversary of their very first meeting way back in 1887 – the host Rams will be looking to upset the visiting Larries and deny them a Mid-Atlantic Prep League title.
“When you get to meet some of the Hill football alums who come back to campus and share their memories of this experience, it becomes even more evident how important the tradition is,” Simpson said. “When you realize how many people remember the result of this game over any other game, or even over any season record … it’s just unbelievable.
“If all that isn’t enough, there’s also a championship on the line this time. Both teams would love to have a MAPL championship on the line, but if you cannot play for the championship you play to prevent the other team from winning a championship. We do not want to ever watch Lawrenceville celebrate a victory on our field, so we certainly do not want to watch them celebrate a MAPL championship on our field, either.”
Lawrenceville is 3-1 (4-3 overall) and atop the standings alongside Blair Academy and Peddie – who, incidentally, play one another for the 109th time Saturday afternoon over in Hightstown, N.J. The Hill is 1-3 (1-6) and geared up for the spoiler role.
To do it, the Rams will have to play better than they have the entire season – a season that has been marred by major injury after major injury after major injury, a string of mistakes and breakdowns and, until two weeks ago, loss after loss after loss.
They have struggled finding the end zone. Much of their offensive woes could be attributed to the injuries, specifically the loss of a few linemen, fullback A.J. Garcia, and wideout Adam Regensburg – a Mercury All-Area selection last year and a legitimate Player of the Year candidate this year – during the season-opener.
It didn’t help three more starters went down during Hill’s last game. But the week off – thanks to the effects of
postponing the showdown – should help offensive lineman Will Rich, wideout Jack
Barry and safety Zach Garland be ready to go Saturday. Sandy
That last game, a 17-13 win at
, was the Rams’ first and put
some oomph back into their game. Mercersburg Academy
“I think (the win) gave the kids some confidence, confidence that they can make the plays to win a game,” Simpson explained. “That, along with the added motivation of spoiling Lawrenceville’s chance to win the league title, will have our kids ready to play.”
Simpson said he and his staff challenged the offensive line prior to the Mercersburg game and the response was all they could’ve asked for. With seniors Chris Argenti, Dom Lucchesi, Austin Black and Tommy Nelson leading the way, post-grad Johnny Cherneskie ran for a season-high 140 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Grant Smith threw for another.
“If we feel confident running behind this group and grinding out tough yardage to keep the chains moving, it only helps the rest of the offense,” Simpson said. “It allows our quarterback to be free to make plays with his arm and his legs, and take some chances down the field. He has connected with Seth Regensburg for a big pass play downfield every game, and those opportunities become more prevalent if we are successful in the run game.”
Hill’s big challenge Saturday, though, will be putting pressure on Lawrenceville quarterback Randall West, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior who throws, throws a lot, and throws quite well. In just seven games, West is 123 of 226 for 1,919 yards and 19 touchdowns.
West, also the team’s leading rusher (310 yards, 5 TDs) and one of only two ballcarriers with 100 or more yards on the season, has benefited from a very protective front line anchored by 6-6, 265-pound tackle Grant Newsome and 6-1, 265-pound guard Sam Wilson. West has three different receivers who’ve caught five touchdowns each – John Salemi (30 receptions, 478 yards), Alex Waugh (15-250) and Joe McGinnis (14-304).
“Lawrenceville throws the ball about as much as any high school team I have seen,” Simpson said. “We will have to be great in our coverage and try to prevent the big play downfield by keeping their receivers in front of us and making tackles when they dump the ball short.
“(West) seems to get more comfortable and confident each week, so he will be tough to stop. When he does not have anything, he is capable of getting out of the pocket and picking up big yardage running as well. We will do our best to confuse him and try to get in his face to prevent giving him the time to find the open receiver. If we can sustain drives on offense it will keep Lawrenceville’s offense off the field.”
And possibly get the opportunity to celebrate on their own field.
“This is the game everyone remembers,” Simpson said.
To get an idea of just how long ago it was when the Hill and Lawrenceville first met: Football was in its infancy – touchdowns were four points, field goals were five points, and all conversions were two points; at the neighborhood market a pound of coffee was 16 cents and a gallon of molasses was 13 cents; parts of the country were still recovering from the Civil War that ended 22 years earlier; and Grover Cleveland was the President of the U.S. … Hill and Lawrenceville have played one another every year since 1919, less than 12 months after the end of World War I.
Arguably two of the most well-known football participants in the series have been Hill’s Lamar Hunt (Class of 1951) and Lawrenceville’s Clint Frank (Class of 1934). Hunt became the founder and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs and is credited for coining the NFL championship game as the “Super Bowl.” Frank went on to play for Yale, where he was an All-American and the recipient of both the Philadelphia Maxwell Football Club Award and the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 1937.
Lawrenceville leads the series, 61-38-10. … The Larries have won the last two meetings. Hill won seven of the previous 12. … Unofficially, only six other series in the country that span 100 years or more began before the Hill-Lawrenceville debut in 1887. The oldest was
series that started in 1875. … Philadelphia-area rivals Penn Charter and New London High School celebrated the 125th anniversary
of their series last season. Germantown Academy