Last year, Zac Fernandez missed most of the Inter-Ac season for Malvern Prep because of a high ankle sprain.
This season, the senior running back headlined in the backfield after last season's leading rusher for the Friars, O'Shaan Allison, was hampered by injuries.
Last weekend, Fernandez helped Malvern (7-3, 4-1) earn a share of the Inter-Ac title by rushing for 136 yards on 16 carries in a 48-28 win against Springside Chestnut Hill. The Friars last won the championship in 2013, a year in which they also shared with Haverford School. This season they shared with Germantown Academy.
"It's been a hard season . . . but we never lost hope, though," Fernandez said. "It was cool to see our resilience show, and all our hard work paid off at the end."
In addition to losing Allison, a junior who appeared in only three games this season, the Friars lost the league opener to Episcopal Academy on a last-second field goal.
Fernandez praised his offensive linemen: seniors Jake Glavin, Sean Grady and Justin Titchenell, junior Joseph Basiura and sophomore Jake Hornibrook.
For his part, Fernandez finished the season with 1,079 yards and nine touchdowns on 147 carries and 387 receiving yards and six scores on 34 receptions.
"I'm just happy that I had my best season at Malvern in my senior season," he said. "I think as the season progressed, my team, myself included, just kept getting better."
Nahzir Wilson and his undefeated Northeast High teammates left the locker room draped in melancholy last season after losing in the Public League championship to Simon Gratz.
Tears were shed. Heads were lowered, and glum cast a pall over everything the Vikings had accomplished that season.
Last weekend, however, the Vikings (8-2) knocked off rival Central, 31-8, to claim the Public League's 6A championship.
"It was crazy," Wilson said. "Everybody was dancing. It took us at least an hour to leave the locker room. Before, everybody just left with their heads down, thinking about what they could have done better. But this year was a whole different story."
Northeast coach Phil Gormley said Wilson finished the game with three sacks and about 12 tackles.
Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound defensive lineman, said fellow seniors Jaquan Amos and Keith Moore were among those who inspired the team immediately after last season's loss.
"It feels great because that feeling of how we lost in the championship hurt a lot," said Wilson, whose brother, Travon Williams, is a freshman wide receiver at Temple. "Now, since we went back to the [championship], and we played one of our rivals, it just feels great."
Next up, the Vikings will host 6A Catholic League champion St. Joseph's Prep (10-0) on Saturday at 5 p.m.
In nearly every phase of the game, Amir Gillis helped Simon Gratz beat Frankford, 18-16, to win the Public League 5A championship last week.
Gillis, a 5-10, 192-pound quarterback for the Bulldogs (8-4) contributed with his arm and legs on offense and is also the team's starting safety on defense.
"He means a lot," said Gratz coach Erik Zipay. "He's a legit D-I football player, and we put him in positions to help us win football games. He's definitely a game-changer for us on both sides of the ball."
Gillis finished with 184 yards and a touchdown in the air. He also added 47 rushing yards and another score on the ground and even caught a pass for 8 yards.
Defensively, he added an interception and eight tackles. He also broke up two passes.
Zipay said Division I programs have made inquiries about Gillis and that he likely projects as a defensive back or an athlete in college.
The Bulldogs will play 5A Catholic League champion Archbishop Wood on Saturday at Northeast High at 1 p.m.