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Episcopal Academy Plans On Breaking Malvern Prep’s Magical Night

Episcopal Coach Todd Fairlie (credit: Michael Leslie/Episcopal Academy)

Episcopal Coach Todd Fairlie (credit: Michael Leslie/Episcopal Academy)

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Top 10

Week of Oct. 26, 2012

1. St. Joseph’s Prep (Record: 7-0. Previous Week: 1. Weeks Rated: 6.)

2. La Salle (Record: 7-1. Previous Week: 2. Weeks Rated: 8.)

3. Downingtown East (Record: 8-0. Previous Week: 3. Weeks Rated: 8.)

4. Archbishop Wood (Record: 6-2. Previous Week: 4. Weeks Rated: 8.)

5. Imhotep Charter (Record: 8-0. Previous Week: 5. Weeks Rated: 8.)

6. Ridley (Record: 8-0. Previous Week: 6. Weeks Rated: 3.)

7. Coatesville (Record: 6-2. Previous Week: 7. Weeks Rated: 3.)

8. Episcopal Academy (Record: 7-0. Previous Week: 8. Weeks Rated: 4.)

9. Pennridge (Record: 7-1. Previous Week: 9. Weeks Rated: 2.)

10. Central Bucks South (Record: 7-1. Previous Week: 10. Weeks Rated: 8.)

By Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — When Todd Fairlie first arrived at Episcopal Academy a few years ago, it was like a daily ritual. He would be accused of stealing by the women working in the school cafeteria. They thought he was a student sneaking into the teacher’s section and eating for free.

So Fairlie was often approached and asked what he was doing there. The problem was Fairlie’s boyish looks belied his actual age. He was a teacher.

It’s safe to say everyone at Episcopal recognizes the 28-year old Churchmen’s football coach by now. It’s been a slow, gradual process, but eyebrows are finally being raised throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania over the job Fairlie has done at Episcopal Academy this season.

For years an Inter-Academic League doormat, the Churchmen are 7-0 overall, and 2-0 in the Inter-Ac. This Friday night at 7 p.m., Episcopal will be looking to continue this storybook season by spoiling Malvern Prep’s first-ever home game under the lights.

Teams don’t schedule world beaters for special events. Homecoming games are winnable matchups set up to beat cupcakes, and when you consider what Episcopal has done the three previous years, it’s easy to understand why Malvern Prep would schedule the lowly Churchmen for their first night game.

Consider Episcopal’s previous three years: 1-14 against the Inter-Ac, 7-23 overall. Go back further and you’ll find Episcopal hasn’t beaten Malvern Prep since a 28-7 victory on October 29, 2004. In 2004, the Churchmen split the Inter-Ac title with Germantown Academy and Penn Charter. The Churchmen haven’t been undefeated since 1982, the last time they won the Inter-Ac outright by going 9-0.

Now consider the turnaround Fairlie and his staff accomplished this season: The Churchmen’s seven victories equals the total number of victories for the previous three years. Episcopal has outscored its seven opponents by a combined 274-14 this season, with five shutouts.

The 2012 Churchmen aren’t mud-stained doormats anymore. Beating a traditional powerhouse like 5-2 Malvern Prep will legitimize it.

Fairlie, the architect of this resurgence, doesn’t want to talk about himself. He prefers to dole out the accolades to his staff, and his players. “They’re the ones that have done this,” he said. He also knows what’s ahead in defeating a team like Malvern Prep, coached by Kevin Pellegrini, the son of long-time legendary Malvern coach Gamp Pellegrini.

“We didn’t allow any talk about Malvern Prep before this week,” said Fairlie, who wasn’t born the last time Episcopal won an outright Inter-Ac title. “If you’re going to win the Inter-Ac, you have to go through Malvern Prep. This is their first-ever night game and we know they’re doing it for us.

“I would agree they picked us for a reason, and it wasn’t for a reason they thought it was against a team that they expected to lose to. Their mentality is that they’re going to beat Episcopal every year, that’s not a question. Our kids are pretty aware of that. It’s pretty clear how the kids at Malvern think about them. We just haven’t been thought of as a threat. Malvern is a good team. The difference is they’re used to winning, they’re used to playing big games like this; this is new to us.”

Episcopal’s players know the history. They know what their record has been like, and are well versed about the last time Episcopal was undefeated this late into the season, in 2008, when the Churchmen were throttled by Malvern Prep, 50-8.

Episcopal four-year starter Jack Florio remembers the dismal years. It’s why games like Friday night will mean a little more to him.

“I want to drink this all in,” said Florio, a nose guard and left tackle. “I think you want your first-ever night game to be a guaranteed win, which is something we’ve said collectively as a team. Malvern is walking into a team that they didn’t expect, no one expected it. We’re the only ones that knew it. They may think, from what they’ve heard, we haven’t played a tough schedule. So we absolutely believe we have to prove ourselves. We’re still trying to earn the respect from all of our opponents and prove that EA football is back. Coach Fairlie has had everything to do with it.”

A victory places Episcopal in strong position to do something that it hasn’t done in 30 years, sit alone atop the Inter-Ac with an undefeated record.

“We have 18 seniors and all of the hard work we put into this is showing,” Episcopal punter-wide receiver Quinn Hager said.

“Coach Fairlie since Day One was telling us this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s been a 180-degree turn, and I would say coach Fairlie is the main reason. We’re all still kind of confused why Malvern Prep scheduled this game against us. They’re a lot of guys pretty angry about that. I think Malvern may be in for a rude awakening.”

Game of the Week

Episcopal Academy (7-0) at Malvern Prep (5-2), 7 p.m. Friday: This game could determine the Inter-Academic League champion, and you better get there early, since it is a game that actually means something now—other than just Malvern’s first-ever night game at home. Episcopal is actually very good this year, and it will be up to seniors Adam Strouss, the Churchmen’s quarterback and a Penn commit, running back/defensive back Ian Strain and lineman Jack Florio to keep Episcopal’s bubbling anger over being handpicked for this historic night game in check. Here’s to Episcopal taking a lead and staving off a late Malvern charge in beating the Friars for the first time since 2004.

“I’m pretty confident these kids will have the self-control and backbone in dealing with something like this,” Episcopal coach Todd Fairlie said. “It’s been a long time since Episcopal has played in a meaningful game this late in the year. We need to stay in control. We put a lot into discipline; it’s a top priority. Our kids are ready. This is what they’ve prepared for. So far they’ve answered every test.”

Prediction: Episcopal Academy 21, Malvern Prep 14

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.

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