One of the most anticipated matchups in high school football is finally upon us. On Saturday at 4 p.m., Archbishop Wood and Imhotep Charter, both undefeated, will play for the District 12 AAA championship at Northeast High.
Last week, Anthony Russo led Wood (11-0, 4-0) to its eighth consecutive Catholic League championship, while Mike Waters led Imhotep (11-0, 6-0) to its fourth straight Public League title.
Both also etched their names into their respective leagues' record books.
Russo, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior quarterback, set a new Catholic League single-season mark for touchdown passes with 34 when Wood beat Archbishop Ryan, 35-7, in the AAA championship. La Salle's Brett Gordon had 33 in 1997, according to TedSilary.com.
"It wasn't something I knew about, but it was really cool to find out," said Russo, who has committed to Rutgers. "Just knowing the history of the Catholic League and some of the great players that have come out, to be able to hold a record like that is pretty awesome."
Waters, a 5-foot-10, 192-pound running back, set single-season records for rushing and total touchdowns during the Panthers' 64-0 thrashing of West Philadelphia in the Public League AAA final.
He has collected 30 rushing touchdowns and 32 scores overall this season. Frankford's Eddie Gaskins finished with 29 and 31, respectively, in 1997.
"It just feels like a blessing," Waters said. "It feels like I did everything right in the offseason, working hard. And my offensive line is the best in the state. It's just been a blessing."
Neither record-setting season has come without its share of challenges.
Russo, who often played human turnstile last year, handing the ball off to Wood's all-time leading rusher Jarrett McClenton (now at Villanova), has shouldered much of the offensive load this season.
Russo even said coach Steve Devlin sometimes sends him to the line with a few run-pass options, which Russo is free to choose from after he deciphers the defense.
"Kind of having that freedom to run the offense a little more is really something that I love to have," Russo said. "And, with the playmakers we have: Mark Webb, Raheem Blackshear, James Gillespie, etc., that just helps us air it out even more because of the threats we have on the outside."
Waters, who started the season splitting carries with Tyliek Raynor, was thrust into a bigger role when Raynor was injured in Week 2.
Raynor, an Arizona recruit and the Panthers' top returning rusher from last season, has since returned. Waters credited head coach Albie Crosby for the opportunity to shine.
"Everything happened for a reason and I was just patient and it all came to me the right way," said Waters, who recently received an offer from Monmouth, his first. "When Tyliek got hurt, I was upset because that's my guy. And when my coach called my name I was ready to play."
Both Russo and Waters will likely figure prominently when their teams meet in what will be a rematch of last year's AAA city title game.
Wood outlasted Imhotep, 42-34, last season, en route to its third Class AAA state title in four years.
"Last year, we were looking at the bigger picture [too much] and it hurt us bad," Waters said.
"We've taken it one week at a time," Russo said. "I know it's a big, anticipated game, and they're a real good team so we're looking forward to matching up with them on Saturday."