Two rebuilt teams will face each other in their 78th Thanksgiving Day clash.
“Records don’t mean much come Thanksgiving,” coach C.J. Szydlik said Nov. 14 as his football players from Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School, 1736 S. 10th St., practiced at McNichol Field, 26th and Moore streets. “Certain kids will rise to the occasion and will make the day memorable.”
The second-year leader hopes the holiday proves more bountiful for his Saints, as they will face the South Philadelphia High School Rams, 2101 S. Broad St., at 10 a.m. in the 78th annual Turkey Bowl at the super site, 10th and Bigler streets. A win would guarantee his East Passyunk Crossing program its first winning season since 2006 and would extend its dominance over its Lower Moyamensing adversary.
The parochial squad, which will enter with a 5-5 overall mark, has registered a 55-19-3 record in the series. Szydlik watched admirably as his athletes prepped to try to claim their seventh-straight battering of the Rams.
“Last year’s senior class really helped this year’s guys to mature,” he said of contributors who ended their careers by crafting a 35-7 Thanksgiving thumping. “We’ve come up short in some games, but playing against Southern will be another step in giving this school a boost and honoring alumni, guys who’ve come before us. The atmosphere should be fantastic.”
Szydlik credits Oct. 27’s 34-33 home loss to Conwell-Egan as the event that illuminated the team’s light bulb. The setback cost the Saints a playoff spot but inspired them to adopt a more confident demeanor, which they used to ravage host Chichester 39-6 Nov. 9.
“We’ve definitely grown,” senior Eric Holt, one of seven All-Catholic selections, said. “We’ve tried to stay at our peak from the first to the last whistle.”
One of four captains, the resident of Second Street and Snyder Avenue has caught 13 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns, which is good for third on the team, and is expecting to be a frequent target for sophomore quarterback Raymond Lenhart.
“Being a leader, I have wanted to lift up this team, and I think we’re more of a group now than at the start of the year,” Holt said. “I can’t think of a better way to end my career than by beating Southern.”
Jamal Custis, Lenhart’s favorite option with 29 grabs for 628 yards and nine scores, earned First-Team all-league honors on offense and Second-Team kudos on defense. With the double designation, he has reveled in being a constant pigskin pursuer and believes next season will feature a continuation of the Saints’ evolution. Before that, though, the junior hopes to push back the Rams.
“Nobody wants to lose a rivalry game,” the resident of the 1500 block of South 32nd Street said. “I’m going to contribute the best I can to make sure we leave the field happy.”
As the confident hosts, Scott Pitzner and his equally committed competitors will look to defile the Saints’ aspirations and score their sixth victory, which would be their program’s highest total in three years. That the Rams could clinch a .500 season with their first holiday triumph since ’04 delights Pitzner, who oversaw practice Nov. 15 at the super site.
“We’ve created a family here, and every guy feels it and believes in it,” the resident of the 1800 block of South Sartain Street said. “I expect nothing less from my players against Neumann-Goretti because of what beating them would mean to us. These guys are always hungry for a game against them.”
The second-year coach has witnessed a renaissance among his Public League AAAA Silver athletes, many of whom endured last year’s wretched results on the way to a 1-10 mark. The early part of this campaign began terribly, too, as the Rams dropped their first four games, scoring only 30 points in the process. They rebounded to post five wins in their next seven games, with the offensive line receiving the most praise from Pitzner.
“Those guys have made the difference,” he said. “We’ve also had more consistent personnel, so that has meant we could stop having so many guys play ironman football and give them rests.”
Wayne Brunson, one of five Rams to receive All-Public classification, has benefited from being able to focus more on his running back duties than on his linebacker chores. He has tallied 127 carries for 1,045 yards and has rushed for 13 touchdowns. He also has caught a scoring pass and returned a kickoff for a touchdown to lead his team in scoring.
“My line has been huge,” the resident of the 2100 block of McKean Street said. “Overall, I think more guys are focusing and letting stuff click. We’re more of a team, and we want more from ourselves.”
Brunson lost three games to injury, and Southern fell in all of them, offering proof of the need to have him at full speed. He figures to be so against Neumann-Goretti and has a couple wishes on his mind for his final game.
“A win,” he said. “I don’t care how we do it. I just want a win. Plus, I’m 236 yards from breaking the school’s single-season rushing record. I wouldn’t mind setting that against Neumann-Goretti.”
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.
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