While most football programs scrambled to find as many opponents as possible during a pandemic-shortened football schedule last fall, Father Judge instead elected to participate in an unprecedented six-game spring schedule from early March through mid-April, winning four.
Five months later, the Crusaders continue to succeed.
“It was still football, definitely not as hot in March and April as it is in August heat,” said senior middle linebacker Mike Conway, who leads the Crusaders in tackles. “But we adjusted like nothing happened and didn’t miss a beat when we started off the season with a win against Lansdale Catholic.”
After overpowering William Tennent, 38-0, on Sept. 24, the Crusaders lifted their record to 4-1. They have already eclipsed their three wins in both 2019 and 2018 and matched their four in 2017.
The Crusaders’ ground game has separated them from their foes.
In a 21-7 win over Lansdale Catholic on Aug. 27, senior quarterback Mike Van Horn accrued 104 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries while junior Jake Marquis rushed for 79 yards and a score on seven hauls. Conway and junior Liam Newhouse both nabbed interceptions.
The following week, Van Horn (88 yards rushing, two touchdowns; 8 for 10 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown) and sophomore Eric Smith (66 yards and two touchdowns) carried Judge to a 42-7 win over Cardinal O’Hara.
After Van Horn’s career-high 185 yards rushing and two TD runs went for naught in an ultra-physical 21-14 loss to neighborhood rival Archbishop Ryan, the Crusaders bounced back by blitzing Boys’ Latin, 49-24.
Along with two touchdown runs by both Van Horn and senior Billy Whiteley, junior linebacker Brayden McLaughlin blocked a punt that gave Judge a first and goal at the one, and Van Horn promptly punched it home.
“Coach (Frank) McArdle always stresses how important special teams is and how it wins games,” said McLaughlin. “A blocked punt can change the momentum of a game, so every time I’m out there I try my hardest to block it for my team.”
McArdle thoroughly agreed.
“Blocked punts are huge,” said McArdle. “There was a stat like 10 years ago that said if you blocked a punt, you won something like 93% of the time.”
A stifling defensive effort helped produce a 24-0 halftime lead against Tennent. In the second half, the Crusaders didn’t let up.
“We ran to the ball and played physical all game,” said senior defensive end Shane Hartman. “That’s what got us that shutout.”
As for Van Horn, who scored his 10th rushing touchdown behind the blocking of senior linemen Jake Mulgrave, Zach Bayer, Braedon Hart and sophomores Chris Coulter and Sean Broderick, Father Judge’s offensive success is not surprising.
“Our backfield is really good. We have three running backs that would start on any team in the area,” said Van Horn, referring to the aforementioned Marquis, Smith, and Whiteley. “But the quarterback run game has been really successful, so we keep going back to it.”
After a non-league tilt against Penn Charter next week, the Crusaders will compete against Archbishop Wood, Roman Catholic, La Salle and St. Joseph’s Prep in the herculean Catholic League Red Division.
Despite being heavy underdogs in three of those meetings, Conway looks forward to the challenge.
“I like playing big-name teams because it helps me and my teammates grow as players because they are very good.
“This team we have this year is so close off the field, making the chemistry on the field so much stronger,” Conway added. “Everyone has the same drive and determination to make this season memorable since we were stripped of a PCL season last year.”
Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.
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