Public League Class AAAA football quarterfinal previews

This weekend, while Philadelphia Catholic League football all get a bye before the postseason begins, their Public League counterparts will hit the gridiron on Friday and Saturday. Here’s a closer look at the quarterfinals matchups for our area teams:

Friday, October 31: Class AAAA Quarterfinals

Who: George Washington Eagles (5–4 overall, Independence Division Seed №3) vs. John Bartram Braves (6–3 overall, Liberty Division Seed №2)

When/where: 6 p.m., South Philadelphia Super Site (11th & Bigler streets)

What to expect: Washington is coming off a disappointing 28–14 loss to King, but head coach Ron Cohen, now in his 30th season, is not accustomed to losing early on in the playoffs. The defeat dropped the Eagles to 4–2 in the division, the same mark as King, giving the latter the №2 seed and a more favorable matchup with a very inexperienced Frankford team. Bartram also went 4–2 on the other side in the Liberty Division, losing only to division-winning Gratz, 33–28, and to Southern, 16–14, two weeks ago. For Washington, as always, success will come if the Eagles can run the ball on offense and use their defense (the team’s biggest strength) to shut down Bartram’s offensive rhythm. Junior Quadir Cobbs has been the recent standout in the backfield, averaging better than 121 yards per game on the ground the last four contests, scoring five touchdowns in that time. However, Washington can also throw power seniors Bruce Smalley and Shawn Henderson back there, as well as junior Nigel Sealey, the team’s leading rusher with 503 yards. On the defensive side, Washington is led by senior defensive end Shareef Miller, who won Public League AAAA titles each of the last two years as a member of the Frankford Pioneers. Miller is one of the top players in the country at his position, and will be playing major college football for one lucky school next fall; he will be tasked with putting pressure on Bartram QB Ernest Mulbah, who has thrown 13 touchdown passes this season, seven of which have come the last three weeks. Senior Makai Sheed (597 yards, eight touchdowns) and freshman Answered Gleplay (622 yards, nine touchdowns) share ball-carrying duties for the Braves. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2011, when Washington beat Bartram 38–28. In fact, Washington has never lost to Bartram, leading the all-time series 12–0–1.

Prediction: Washington 20, Bartram 14

Who: Northeast Vikings (4–5 overall, Independence Division Seed №4) vs. Simon Gratz Bulldogs (8–1 overall, Liberty Division Seed №1)

When/Where: 6 p.m., Gratz Super Site (Germantown & Hunting Park avenues)

What to expect: The weekend’s best matchup features two teams playing white-hot football right now. After losing its first four games and four of its first five (three by a combined four points), Northeast has won three straight and four of five and have looked good doing so. The Vikings were picked by many as a Public League AAAA favorite this year, and the hype appears to be warranted even if head coach Phil Gormley’s team did stumble out of the gate. Gormley is blessed with a stable of talented athletes in the backfield, and Northeast is averaging 276 yards as a team on the ground in its last four games. Senior Rushawn Grange (777 yards, 10 TDs) leads the way, having racked up 100-yard games in four straight; Grange is complemented by senior quarterback/converted running back Asa Manley (460 yards, 6 TDs), senior Rasaan Moore (253 yards, three TDs) and sophomore Keith Moore (254 yards, four TDs). In last week’s 36–6 win over Olney (which amounted to a play-in game for the division’s final playoff spot), Gormley dexterously rotated the quartet in a Wildcat formation, completely throwing the defense for a loop on what would be coming next. Manley has also passed for 619 and eight scores, and senior wideout Travon Williams has been responsible for 358 of those yards and five TD catches. On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings are led by defensive end and University of Virginia commit Gladimir Paul, who seems to be playing with a renewed sense of purpose and intensity in recent weeks (Northeast is allowing just eight points per game in its last three games, all wins). Meanwhile, on the other side, Gratz has won seven straight by an average margin of more than 28 points. On offense, the bulldogs are led by QB Musa Al-Sulaimani (1,005 passing yards, 15 TDs) and running backs Ahmir Lewis (541 yards, seven total TDs) and Luke White (484 yards, 10 total TDs). The schools last met in the 2007 quarterfinals, with Northeast scoring a 27–0 win. Northeast leads the all-time series, 28–7–2.

Prediction: Northeast 34, Gratz 28

Who: Frankford Pioneers (4–5 overall, Liberty Division Seed №3) vs. Martin Luther King Cougars (4–5 overall, Independence Division Seed №2)

When/Where: 6 p.m., Northwest Super Site (1100 E. Sedgwick Street)

What to expect: Two-time defending Class AAAA champ Frankford is back in the postseason, but it was an uneven season this year for the Pioneers. Head coach Will Doggett’s team is extremely young, with not too many holdovers from his championship winners. Senior Nizir Graham is the team’s leading rusher with 318 yards and four touchdowns, and he’s the only running back who has posted a 100-yard game on the ground this season for Frankford (111 yards on just four carries last week). At quarterback, Doggett has used three players at the position: senior Randell Solis, junior Naim Franklin and sophomore Mikey Morell, and the trio has accounted for 14 total touchdowns. Senior leader Devontae Lee has been the team’s top target at wideout, hauling in 10 catches for 365 yards and five scores. King is coming off a big 28–14 win over Washington that gave the Cougars the №2 seed in the division. King runs a pass-heavy offense, with quarterback Nasir Boykin completing almost 60 percent of his passes for 1,837 yards and 19 touchdowns. Boykin’s top targets are Dominque McNeil (34 catches, 619 yards, seven TDs), Mark McCray (24/355/3) and Jayni Harris (19/325/5). Boykin has also eight rushing scores, while tailback Paul Sanchez leads the team in rushing yards (383) and interceptions (four). It’s the first meeting between the two school since 2004, a 16–14 Frankford triumph. Frankford leads the all-time series, 20–3.

Prediction: King 24, Frankford 13

Saturday, November 1: Class AAAA quarterfinals

Who: Samuel Fels Panthers (3–6 overall, Liberty Division Seed №4) vs. Ben Franklin Electrons (7–0 overall, Independence Division Seed №1)

When/where: 6 p.m., Gratz Super Site (Germantown & Hunting Park avenues)

What to expect: A monumental mountain to climb for Fels, who draws the unblemished Electrons in one of the most dominant seasons the school has had in some time. Only one of Franklin’s seven wins have been close, a 20–14 double overtime nailbiter a few weeks ago over Washington that the Electrons know they were lucky to escape with. As a whole, Franklin is outscoring its opponents by an average margin of almost 35 points per game. Jymere Toney leads the Electrons with 389 yards rushing, but Franklin clearly lives and dies with the pass. Quarterback Kevin Caldwell has completed an astonishing 67 percent of his passes for 1,733 yards and 25 touchdowns; his top targets are Rapheal Rodriguez (26 catches, 551 yards, 11 TDs), Rasheem James (25/401/6) and Javier Buffalo (20/429/5). For Fels, senior ATH Wesley White (863 yards from scrimmage, eight total TDs) and junior QB Aasim Campbell (775 yards passing/rushing, 12 total TDs) are the offensive headliners. The teams last met in 2010, a 56–46 shootout win for Fels.

Prediction: Franklin 54, Fels 8