By John Knebels
UPPER DARBY – Refrain from saying things like “It’s about time.” Don’t mention that the margin was only one point.
In fact, unless you have something positive to say about Monsignor Bonner’s 7-6 non-league victory over Interboro on Friday night, don’t say anything at all.
“Sweet,” said Bonner senior quarterback/wide receiver Brendan Gutierrez, asked to summarize the Friars’ victory. “It took a while, but it feels really great right now for all of us.”
When your team’s 24-game losing streak comes to an end, there is little to feel except elation. Judged by the way the student body rushed onto the field at Upper Darby High to celebrate the Friars’ first win since late in the 2005 season, the players and coaches weren’t the only ones experiencing deep jubilation.
When head coach Tom Oropeza (a member of the 1994 Bonner team that captured the Catholic League championship) and his staff took over the Bonner program at the beginning of the season last year, they had little time to implement their own philosophy about how to play football.
According to Gutierrez, even though Bonner wasn’t successful on the scoreboard last year, there was an intangible sense that the program was heading in the right direction.
“Our coaches are positive and you could tell we were getting better and better,” said Gutierrez. “Last week, we lost to Upper Darby in our opener but we were 7-7 at halftime. We just didn’t come out the way we needed to come out in the second half.”
In the Friars’ win over Interboro, a team that had defeated Upper Darby in an earlier scrimmage, Bonner led 7-6 at halftime.
“It was strange being ahead at that point of the game,” said Gutierrez. “It felt good.”
After Interboro scored the game’s first touchdown to go ahead 6-0, senior James Wilent made what turned out to be a game-saving play when he blocked the extra-point attempt.
Bonner’s special teams came up huge again when Interboro’s return man fumbled a punt by junior Dan Vanderslice and senior Dave Smith recovered the ball at the Interboro 10-yard line.
On the next play, Gutierrez was in a shotgun formation, took the snap, moved a bit to his right and headed straight through the middle of the pack before landing in the end zone. Vanderslice booted the extra point, and the Friars had their first lead of the 2008 season.
Smith, a defensive back who also plays some offense, finished with 10 tackles and arguably the best defensive play of the game. Early in the fourth quarter, after several athletic plays by sophomore defensive back Anthony Jackson kept Interboro out of the end zone, the Buccaneers faced a fourth-and-goal at the two-yard line. On the 16th play of the drive, Smith sacked the Buccaneer rusher at the line of scrimmage to keep the Friars ahead.
But with more than eight minutes remaining in regulation, Bonner still had to continue to make smart, aggressive plays to keep the lead. One Interboro journey finished at the Bonner 35-yard line thanks to a key interception by Wilent. Terrific punting by Vanderslice also made a comeback tough on Bonner’s foe.
Finally, a last-second desperation heave by Interboro was knocked away by the ubiquitous Jackson, and finally, the Friars could celebrate a triumph.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Smith. “We worked so hard for this, and the coaches did a great job. They were thrown into a tough situation last year, but starting Jan. 1, we were all working in the weight room and getting ready for a good season.
“Winning early in the season is key. We can build on the momentum. We’re moving forward.”
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.