Archbishop Ryan faces a herculean task on Saturday afternoon.
The Raiders will travel to Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School to take on Archbishop Wood at 2 p.m. in the Catholic League Division AAA championship. Just about everyone figures the Raiders have no shot at dethroning the perennial division champ which last year captured the PIAA state title in Hershey.
“People can think what they want to think,” said Ryan senior All-Catholic linebacker Bobby McDevitt. “I understand. I think we all do. Right now, though, we are not thinking about Archbishop Wood.”
For good reason.
Minutes earlier, the Our Lady of Calvary product had helped the Raiders dispatch Bonner-Prendergast, 27-14, in the AAA semifinals. This was a game that led many observers to later surmise that that if these two teams met 10 times, they would probably split the proceeds 50-50.
The first time they met during the regular season, Bonner-Prendergast handed Ryan a bitter 21-20 loss by scoring a touchdown and adding a two-point conversion with no time remaining in regulation. In the championship, the two squads were deadlocked 14-14 at halftime.
They got that way by imitating two young, smart, aggressive boxers smashing each other all over the ring without falling down for the count.
On Archbishop Ryan’s third play from scrimmage while stationed at its own 20-yard line, Catholic League Division AAA Most Valuable Player Samir Bullock took a handoff and cut right. Following his blockers, the senior tailback galloped for an 80-yard touchdown. The Friars would score two touchdowns to forge a 14-7 lead before the Raiders tied it late in the second quarter.
Taking over at the 40-yard line to begin the half, Ryan sophomore quarterback Matt Romano (11 for 16 passing, 144 yards, two touchdowns, zero turnovers) dropped back and fired a perfect, over-the-shoulder spiral to senior Seneca Williams, who was racing down the left sideline while being draped by a Friar cornerback. Williams caught the pass near the 15 and, despite being tripped, maintained his balance for a 60-yard touchdown.
The Raiders’ defense did the rest.
After B-P had amassed 216 yards of offense and two touchdowns by halftime, the Raiders surrendered a miserly 38 yards in the third quarter and negative eight yards in the fourth.
Still, the Friars were but one play away from tying the game. But Bullock had other plans.
Taking over at its own 22-yard line late in the fourth, Ryan smartly relied on the legs of Bullock to deliver the final blow. Bullock chugged for 17 yards, and then five more. Now at the 44, Bullock sent Bonner-Prendergast’s fans to the parking lot when he raced 56 yards for his second TD of the game. Bullock finished with 252 yards on 28 carries and now needs 195 yards to reach 2,000 for the season; with 112 yards receiving, he’s only 83 away from 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
He will have a minimum of two tries to achieve such a rare feat; against Archbishop Wood, and then against George Washington on Thanksgiving.
If Bullock reaches the pinnacle, he will undoubtedly give major props to his underclassmen-laden offensive line of junior center Sean Devine (he missed the B-P game with an injury but will return to play against Wood), guards Kevin Schaeffer (senior) and Ryan Kidwell (junior), and sophomore tackles Brendan Ruskowski and Drew Obuchowicz, and the aforementioned McDevitt at fullback.
When the game was officially over, Ryan reacted like a team that had just won a mini-title, and taking into consideration of what they had been carrying for an entire year, such an emotional display seemed appropriate. Last year, Ryan had finished 8-3 overall and had toppled two eventual state champions in St. Joseph’s Prep (AAAA) and Archbishop Wood (AAA), yet the Raiders did not make the AAA playoffs.
“Knowing that we had such a good team last year and not having a chance to do anything with it was definitely part of our motivation this year and especially tonight,” said McDevitt, caked in dirt and sweat literally from forehead to toe. “This win means a lot to us, and it means a lot to the guys who graduated last year. This is partly for them.”
Rock solid in his 5-feet 11-inch, 210-pound frame, McDevitt prides himself in never taking a play off.
“Bobby is the kind of kid who gives you everything he has,” said Ryan coach Frank McArdle. “He’s the poster boy for what we want this program to be about. He works really hard. He’s a great student. He’s unselfish and always dependable.”
Although the oldest of four siblings appreciated McArdle’s sincere compliments, they would not have mattered nearly as much had the Raiders not discovered a way to win their first playoff game since defeating La Salle, 21-7, in the 2004 quarterfinals.
And that is why Archbishop Ryan didn’t want to talk about Archbishop Wood quite yet.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.