2020 Knights rank as one of Ike’s best
The Eisenhower Knights had a football season few will forget.
They were the undefeated Region 5 champions, capturing a thrilling, 21-20, double-overtime victory over West Middlesex before before falling to Reynolds, 27-0, in the District 10 championship game.
“We had an outstanding group of seniors this year and they said from the first day of workouts that they wanted to play in the D-10 Championship game,” head coach Jim Penley said. “They worked and led the underclassmen from day one.”
The Knights were truly in a better place than most high school programs as they returned 21 of 22 starters, an enviable position for any coach, but it was during the spring workouts that they would realize what their toughest opponent would be.
Its name was COVID-19.
As a promising group of young men and coaches began their new season of uncertainty, it was a situation that required the seniors to really step up into leadership roles.
“Once the gravity of the situation hit, these seniors took over and organized the team into groups of players each was responsible for,” Penley said. “They made sure they were working out, attending zoom sessions on the playbook and just holding people accountable. It was really incredible seeing them each step up.”
As the summer began to wind down, everyone’s attention was focused on whether or not there would be a season at all or, if there was one, how would it look and how long would it last? The Knights’ schedule came out in July, which gave everyone hope that there would be a season, but that would only last a short period before Gov. Tom Wolf would recommend that there be no interscholastic sports played in person until 2021 at the earliest.
For a few days it did not look promising for this talented group until the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association made the unprecedented move of putting themselves on the side of the athletes when it announced, “We can do this, the student athletes can compete and we can have games.”
The PIAA asked for, and received, a two-week reprieve for the start of season, resulting in the cancellation of the first two games. A new schedule and a whole new way of practice protocols were put in place.
Temperatures would have to be taken before practice, masks would have to be worn when not participating in a drill and the coaches had to coach while masked and practice safe social distance requirements.
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Meanwhile, the Knights would welcome a squad of 37 players to the 2021 squad.
“We had to approach things differently,” Penley said. “I told the coaches and then the team that this season would look different. We didn’t know how long it would last, so we literally told the kids that they should play every practice like it might be their last one. We didn’t know when it might get canceled, but we wanted the players to give 100 percent every day, and the kids bought in and worked extremely hard.”
The Knights would look very sharp in their lone scrimmage against Corry and that is when the coaches began to realize just what a special team this might be.
“I began to look at who we might play in the District Championship game,” Penley said. “If there was one, it was Reynolds. I penciled them in and began to prepare for them in anticipation of playing in that game.”
The District 10 teams were placed into “hubs,” meaning a six -game schedule facing each opponent twice. The Knights would go through that portion of their season with ease, getting better and better as the weeks wore on. The team would average an incredible 49 points per game while yielding less than 6. As the season went on, the individual players began to add their names to the program record book.
¯ Dillon Benson would become the career reception yardage leader, and by season’s end he would also hold the career receptions, season receptions, and individual game receptions with an incredible 14 in one game.
¯ Owen Trumbull would throw six touchdowns in one game, finish the season with 18 on the season and compile a quarterback passing rating of 125.49.
The individual records were a testament to just some of the skill on the team in 2020 but the surprise of the season, according to Penley, was the play of the sophomores.
“Those six guys who started for us and the ones who got regular reps just made it so easy,” he said. “Once they established themselves as being able to handle their responsibilities it made the coaches lives a lot easier.”
The Knights would earn the top seed in the District 10 playoffs, would host a home playoff game for the first time and they did not disappoint the crowd by defeating West Middlesex in a double-OT thriller 21-20 to earn the right to host the championship game against undefeated Reynolds, the No. 6 team in the state.
Although they would enter the fourth quarter only down 14-0, they would eventually fall to the Raiders 27-0. The game was a testament to the Knights defense, which played outstanding all season.
“I was so proud of these young men,” Penley said. The loss may be hard for them now, but there will come a time when they will be able to look back at this season and smile and realize just how special it truly was.”
As the players received their second-place medals on Wednesday, talk turned to the 2021 season, and the cupboard is hardly bare for the knights as they return six starters on both offense and defense; one of the top rushing backfields in District 10 and a junior varsity team that played an awful lot of football on Friday nights along with six games of their own.
The Knights have always played better teams on their schedule in order to improve their program.
“We want to play the best competition we can in order to prepare us to play for District 10 titles every year,” Penley said. “It’s my hope that the attitude of the players and their will to prepare to win carries over in the future.”
For nine weeks this fall, fans had an opportunity to cheer for a team that was fun to watch and allowed them to take our minds off of our own obstacles and just feel a sense of normalcy, and for that we thank you. The 2020 Knights will certainly be remembered as one of the best teams in Eisenhower football history and surely stirred some echoes of previous teams at the “Pasture of Pain.”