The Father Judge Crusaders couldn’t understand why a lot of people thought this was the year they’d lose to Abraham Lincoln on Thanksgiving.
In fact, a bookie was taking bets before the game, with Lincoln as a 7.5-point favorite.
“We’re 100 percent way better than our record,” said Judge running back/wide receiver/linebacker Eric Smith. “We play one of the hardest schedules in PA.”
Judge finished 5-7, but looked pretty good on Thursday thanks to the running of Smith and quarterback Tyler Yerkov and a defense that allowed only one touchdown.
Judge won, 24-14, in a game that ended with 41 seconds to go with a fight following a kneel down. There were no postgame handshakes nor the traditional awards presentations at midfield.
“It was a good game up until that,” said Judge coach Frank McArdle. “It’s not who we are and I don’t think it’s who Lincoln is.”
Judge has now won 33 times in a row on Thanksgiving (no game in 2020) and leads the all-time series, 44-3-1. The Crusaders walked back to school on Rowland Avenue and posed for pictures on the front steps flexing, as Lincoln had done at the same spot a few months back.
Lincoln (7-7), which won the Public League Class 6A title, last won on Thanksgiving in 1989.
Smith, who suffered a collarbone injury late in the second half, was named Judge’s Most Valuable Player. Tommy Gonglik won Judge’s Sportsmanship Award.
Smith carried 18 times for 88 yards and a touchdown and caught six balls for 54 yards. A senior, he’d like to play in college, perhaps at Delaware, Monmouth or Robert Morris.
Yerkov carried 21 times for 151 yards and two touchdowns and completed 9-of-11 passes for 92 yards.
“It all starts in the trenches,” Yerkov said. “We were outnumbering them and getting 5, 10 yards a carry.”
Yerkov, a senior who also played safety much of the season, had a great Thanksgiving game for the second year in a row. Last year, he ran for three touchdowns and threw for a TD. Now, he will join the indoor track team and might play lacrosse. He’d like to play football in college, with possible destinations Widener, West Chester and Kutztown.
Rocco Westfield and Christian Haigh had interceptions for Judge, and Westfield – who’ll have big shoes to fill as Yerkov’s replacement at quarterback next year – ran a fake punt for a key first down.
Lincoln scored on an 81-yard punt return by Roling Davis and a 22-yard pass from Gabe Smalley to Elvin Beh (Smalley pass to Nathanael Rivera for 2-point conversion). Ziyyon Bredell had an interception.
Smalley completed 15-of-23 passes for 159 yards.
McArdle is now 4-0 on Thanksgiving as Judge’s coach. While the Crusaders lose a lot to graduation, the coach likes his returning talent. He hopes to continue to build a program that can rival the glory days of the teams coached by Whitey Sullivan, who was on the sideline on Thursday.
“Whitey’s very involved with the program. We love having him around,” McArdle said.
The Crusaders end the season with wins over rivals Lincoln and Archbishop Ryan. They lost close games to tough teams such as Central Bucks South, Spring-Ford and Roman Catholic and put up a good fight against St. Joe’s Prep.
“We’re a good team that played a monster schedule this year,” McArdle said. “We have a lot of seniors who are not household names, but are good players for this program.” ••