Saturday’s inaugural Gravy Bowl against Phelps will be the 13th game of the season for McKinley, which in a scheduling rarity, was one of the few area high schools to play without a bye this fall. At one point in October, the Trainers played three games in 12 days — and they won all three, by a combined score of 172-0.
This will be a well-conditioned team by the time they step on the field for the DCIAA Stripes Division title game at Eastern, but that hasn’t stopped Coach Al Kallay from shuffling up his routine this week. In an effort to heal bodies and provide rest, there has been very little contact. The preparation for the Panthers has concentrated on weight lifting, film study and sleep.
“It’s been kind of more laid back. We’ve been playing football for the last four months basically,” quarterback Kenneth Matthews said. “If you don’t know what you’re doing now, it’s a problem.”
McKinley (8-4), winners of eight straight, is expecting a re-energized Phelps Saturday. The Trainers won this matchup three weeks ago, 38-0, and preparing to meet the same opponent again — in a championship game, nonetheless — requires more of a mental tune-up than a physical one, Matthews said.
Phelps (6-4) has won two straight, and is fresh off a 13-6 overtime win over Theodore Roosevelt. Running back Derrick Jones had two touchdowns in that game, and according to Kallay, “can really fly.” Containing him will be one of the keys Saturday, but even with a creative Phelps offense, McKinley still plans to bring the type of pressure that has helped set up six shutouts this season, Kallay said.
“[We] live and die with the blitz. It’s an aggressive style defense,” he said.
After opening the season with four consecutive losses to non-conference opponents, McKinley has cruised in DCIAA Stripes play, scoring nearly 400 points in the last eight games and blanking six opponents during that stretch. Matthews has been a key cog in those machine-like numbers. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns this year, a product of the talent and system in place, he said. But Matthews added that Kallay and the coaching staff have tried to “turn me loose,” encouraging the quarterback to take more chances with his feet and improvise, which has helped him make plays down the stretch.
“We got a team full of talent. I believe that we probably have the most talent around,” Matthews said. “And we just put it all together. We have a great system, we have great teamwork.”