When the Martin Luther King High School football team lost its opening game of the season to Gratz at Marcus Foster Memorial Stadium on Aug. 30, Head Coach Ed Dunn told his team, “This story ain’t over.”
When the Cougars left that same field Saturday afternoon after beating the Overbrook High Panthers 20-16, they’d proven Dunn right.
After a two-year span in which the Cougars won exactly two games by forfeit, the team which drew the attention of the New York Times and a documentary crew has now qualified for the Philadelphia Public League playoffs.
“This feels great,” said the Cougars’ highly-touted quarterback Joseph Walker after running to the bleachers to share high fives with fans postgame.
Asked whether it meant more that the playoffs were clinched on the same field where the Cougars opened the season with a loss, Walker said, “Turf is turf. Grass is grass. We try to take it to any team we play anywhere.
“I think what this does is open people’s eyes. Now, MLK can’t be taken for granted as a win on their schedule. They know they gotta get ready for us now.”
MLK Principal William Wade found symbolism is the turnaround, considering the team was offered up as a bridge between old and new students amid neighboring Germantown High’s closure.
“They’ve adjusted on the field and off the field. Today, we see the fruits of that labor,” Wade said. “It’s a long road we’re on for this turnaround, and we’re already seeing [the results here and] academically.”
For his part, Coach Ed Dunn wouldn’t get too caught up in the emotion, despite some hooting and hollering in lieu of the regular postgame speech.
Taking the field after MLK was the first place Ben Franklin High Electrons, who just happen to be the Cougars opponent at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“This is a really good team,” he said, gesturing to the Electrons as they emerged from the locker room. “We may see them twice in the next few weeks, so there’s no time to relax. We’ve only accomplished one of our goals here today.”