Public League rivals Imhotep and Gratz set to tussle

Imhotep’s Isheem Young (left) runs with the football past Northeast’s Deshawn McCarthy.

Imhotep Charter and Simon Gratz both have rebounded nicely from season-opening losses to formidable opponents.

Imhotep followed a 33-14 loss to Harrisburg and its five-star recruit Micah Parsons with victories over Ben Franklin (55-12), Northeast (27-6), and Central (53-0).

After being dealt a 34-13 setback by high-powered Coatesville, Gratz produced wins over Germantown Academy (31-7), West Philadelphia (41-0), and Frankford (36-26).

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Now, in a highly anticipated Public League Independence Division contest, the Panthers and host Bulldogs will square off at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Marcus Foster Memorial Stadium.

Imhotep (3-1 overall, 2-0 league) is looking for its third straight win over Gratz (3-1, 2-0). The Panthers triumphed, 36-6, in 2015 and prevailed, 44-6, last year.

Imhotep has a new head coach in Nick Lincoln, who guided Penn Wood for the last three seasons and was previously a Panthers assistant.

“They’re still a quality team,” Gratz coach Erik Zipay said. “Coach Lincoln is doing a good job.”

Of the Bulldogs, Lincoln said, “They have a lot of terrific athletes. I think Amir Gillis is one of the top quarterbacks in the city.”

Gillis, a Temple recruit who doubles as a free safety, has completed 50 of 74 passes for 887 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder has rushed 23 times for 168 yards and four scores.

Imhotep’s quick-strike offense is sparked by running backs Isheem Young, Carl Jones, Kristian Marche, and Khadarius Sampson. Zipay said Young, a Penn State recruit, is “probably their most explosive guy.”

Panthers QB Jalen Sutton-Christian, a first-year starter, spreads the ball among receivers Yusuf Terry, Melvin Chappell, Terrence Street, and Tykee Smith.

Lincoln said Sutton-Christian, who played Pop Warner football the last two years, has steadily improved since a shaky start vs. Harrisburg.

Imhotep’s powerful offensive line is made up of center Marlon Westcott (6-2, 300), guards Arick Lochetto (5-11, 250) and Darien Hilliard (6-1, 280), tackles Michael Statham (6-6, 300) and John Whitehead (6-5, 290), and tight end Jayden Williams (6-3, 225).

“We’re starting to click a little bit as a team,” Lincoln said. “We’re playing with all-out effort every play.”

Gillis is supported by running backs Azyear Sutton-Walker and Maurice Mazzccua and wideout Jordan Mariney. The charge up front is headed by Benjamin Twiggs (6-0, 225), Nafeei Minor (6-4, 265), and Desmond Johnson (5-11, 205).

In addition to safeties Young and Smith, the Panthers defense is spearheaded by end Omar Speights, tackles Zymir Cobbs and Marquise Greenwood, and middle linebacker Symear Williams.

Gratz’s defensive stalwarts are Gillis, end Steve Reynolds, tackle Avian Curbinson, middle linebacker Nasir Nixon, cornerback Tarell Stewart, and strong safety Jevan Edwards.

With all the speedy playmakers on the field, does Zipay expect a high-scoring affair? “I think it will be a defensive struggle until the feeling-out process ends,” he said.

The Game at a Glance

Guest from the sky. Temple head coach Geoff Collins is scheduled to arrive via helicopter before the contest.

Dynamic performers. Imhotep Charter’s Isheem Young and Simon Gratz’s Amir Gillis regularly make highlight-reel plays on both side of the ball.

Questionable. Gratz’s Steve Reynolds, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound defensive end with eight scholarship offers, may not play due to a hand injury.

On the rise. Imhotep coach Nick Lincoln is excited about the potential of a pair of freshmen defenders: outside linebacker Saint McLeod and cornerback Shafeek Smith.

Unavailable. Gratz’s Troy Brown, a running back and linebacker, and Jawan Rodriguez, a wide receiver and defensive back, are sidelined by knee injuries.

Pick. Imhotep, 38-20.