MLK Cougars advance to Public League Class AAA title game
On Sept. 6, the MLK High Cougars football team fell a few yards short of a comeback victory over Mastery Charter North. It was the last time that the Cougars lost a game.
Next weekend, the Cougars (9-2) will have the chance to avenge that loss when it faces Mastery (9-1) in the Public League Class AAA championship game, courtesy of MLK's rollicking 48-26 win over the Benjamin Franklin High Electrons on Friday night.
"Full circle," Cougars Head Coach Ed Dunn said when asked about the looming rematch moments after defeating Franklin at the same field on which they lost their season opener one week before the Mastery game.
The first half
It took mere seconds after the 7 p.m. kickoff at Marcus Johnson Memorial Stadium, Germantown and Hunting Park aves., for the Cougars to get on the scoreboard courtesy of an 80-yard Tykeem Ford kickoff return for a touchdown.
After the Electrons quickly responded with a passing touchdown, MLK quarterback Joseph Walker hit receiver Delane Hart with a 50-yard pass which brought the Cougars within one yard of another score. Fumbles and a defensive stop kept them off the scoreboard, though.
By the end of the quarter, though, the Cougars built a 14-6 lead which a 12-yard quarterback-keeper run by Walker would extend with just over five minutes left before halftime.
Picking off a Franklin pass, MLK would build a 28-6 lead at intermission courtesy of a 15-yard Walker pass to Collier Sterling.
"The first half is over! Zero-zero score," Dunn implored on the sideline.
The second half
Despite the deficit, the Electrons did not give up. On the first possession of the second half, Franklin running back Edward Dennis scampered 31 yards for a touchdown, his cutback move leaving a few defenders befuddled.
MLK running back Aaron Watkins quickly responded with a 60-yard run to the Electrons one-yard line. However, the team would not be able to add to its 28-12 lead.
On a controversial play, the referees said Walker fumbled the ball though some sideline observers said he had the ball over the goal line prior to losing control.
With a defensive stand, however, the Cougars regained possession. On a 4th and 15 from the Electrons 16-yard line, Walker ran for a touchdown to build a 34-12 lead with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter.
A beautiful catch in the end zone by Electrons receiver Javier Buffalo cut the lead to 14 points in the waning seconds of the third, though. It was emblematic of a Franklin team that, despite trailing the entire game, never stopped fighting.
The Electrons were imploring the crowd to make some noise as they rallied their way back into the game; to that end, there was an ongoing squabble of sorts between the Cougars cheerleaders and a group of Franklin fans trying to outcheer them.
After the Franklin defense held the Cougars at bay, MLK's Delane Hart made a key interception which led to a 31-yard Ishmael Dargan touchdown run and 40-20 lead with 7:11 remaining in the game.
Franklin's Rafeal Rodriguez, a standout speedster, returned the kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
Dargan responded with a 50-yard run that led to a Watkins 14-yard touchdown with just over four minutes remaining.
As time elapsed, an Electrons drive ended with a turnover on downs after an unsuccessful 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line.
An MLK fumble led to a safety and the 46-28 final score.
After postgame handshakes, a dejected Electrons team gathered in the endzone closer to Germantown Avenue.
At the other end, the Cougars players went through their chants-and-pushups ritual before the cheerleaders lauded them and dozens of fans lined the front row of the stadium to slap hands on what Walker called a "victory lap."
"We're one step closer" to reaching our goal of a championship, Dunn told his players who are undefeated after starting the season with two consecutive losses. "We stepped up and balled out. Stepped up and balled out."
Walking off the field after the game, standout lineman Dontae Angus said he was "so excited" to have won a playoff game. Walker said he's seen a team come together over the course of the season.
"It feels great," he said. "It feels great to be playing with a team that wants to win, a team that doesn't want to give up until there are zeros on the clock."
Now, Dunn's full circle is halfway drawn.
With the win over Franklin, they won on the same field where they lost their season opener. And, with next Saturday's game against Mastery North, they have a chance to avenge their second, and only other loss, of the season.
Still, he said, it's not about drawing inspiration from previous games.
"You gotta be self motivated," Dunn said before walking off with his assistant coaches who'd already moved on to game planning for Mastery.
The Public League Class AAA championship game will be played at Northeast High. Details and times for that game will be added to the post when they become available. The common thread between the two teams is that both lost to Gratz High.
The winner of that game will advance to play the champs of the Philadelphia-suburbs division in the state playoffs.
Also in Northwest Philly...
The Imhotep Institute Charter High Panthers won the PIAA Class AA title on Saturday night at Benjamin L. Johnston Stadium with a 53-7 win over Prep Charter.
The team (8-1), which won its second consecutive title in a season that's seen them crush the opposition regularly, will face Springfield Twp. (5-4) on Saturday.
MLK and Imhotep will face off on Thanksgiving Day in a game that replaces the old MLK/Germantown High matchup.