By John Knebels
Special to The C Pilgrims Unit Study S&T
Sometimes a team loses a game and still manages to make a good impression.
That’s precisely what North Catholic did last Saturday afternoon at Frankford High School.
Facing a Cardinal O’Hara team that was physically bigger and healthier, North Catholic remained more than respectable in a 23-6 defeat.
It was the kind of loss that leaves coaches both pleased and disappointed, but in this case, it was more of the former than the latter.
“I said to the kids that this was probably the first time I ever lost a game but didn’t feel like I had just gotten kicked in the stomach,” said sixth-year coach Chalie Szydlik. “O’Hara is a very strong football team. They’re a force to handle. They are excellent on both sides of the ball. We knew coming in we would have our hands full, and we did.”
That’s mostly because the Lions possess arguably the most explosive offensive player in the Catholic League. Senior Corey Brown, who has already committed to play running back at Ohio State University next fall, usually leaves his opponents battered, bruised and sometimes, thanks to his penchant for escaping tackles, embarrassed.
That didn’t happen against the Falcons.
After gouging the Lions’ first two foes for a composite 271 yards and five touchdowns on 38 carries, Brown managed “only” 101 yards rushing. He also added five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.
But at halftime, Brown was sitting on 30 yards rushing – his lowest output in two seasons. North’s ability to prevent Brown from appearing superhuman was reflected in a 10-0 deficit heading into the third quarter.
“You have to give North credit,” said Brown. “They’re a good football team. In order to come out on top, we wanted to wear them down.”
O’Hara (3-0 record overall) did precisely that. Because of injuries to star senior tailback Eugene Byrd and maturing sophomore backfield mate Taishan Tucker, North Catholic (1-2) was unable to sustain any consistent ball control. Adding to the Falcons’ struggle to execute key receptions that would have provided long gains, the domino effect proved lethal, as it allowed more opportunities for Brown and his offensive line to physically wear down the willing-but-fatigued Falcons.
By the time North Catholic had severed O’Hara’s shutout bid in style – a magnificent 87-yard scoring strike from junior quarterback Anthony Reid to classmate Dave Sherman with 10:45 left in regulation – the Lions had already built a commanding 17-0 lead.
“We were still in the game at that point, and I know that every player still believed we would find a way to win,” said Szydlik. “We have a good group of kids who love to compete.”
Down 17-6, the Falcons were unable to pry away a turnover despite their defensive effort. When O’Hara’s increasingly impressive junior quarterback Ryan Laughlin answered North’s touchdown with a 23-yard scoring strike to Brown with 5:27 remaining, it was evident that the Class AAA Falcons would have to be satisfied with the knowledge that they gained respect from one of the Class AAAA’s elite squads.
“We wanted to win the game,” said North wide receiver/defensive back Julian Huggins, a team captain along with Rob Butler, Stephan Singleton and Ray Reusher. “We had some plays that we could have made. We played hard, but we weren’t happy just because of that. We expected more.”
Szydlik is not surprised that Huggins hadn’t been looking for a moral victory.
“He’s a very steady player and gives a great effort on both sides of the ball,” said Szydlik. “When we need to shut somebody down, he’s the guy we put on him.”
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.