For years, Archbishop Ryan’s football team has been near the bottom of the Catholic League standings. The Raiders haven’t finished with a winning record since 1998.
Meanwhile, George Washington High has become something of a gold standard for the Public League, winning 12 championships in the past 22 seasons.
But that apparent disparity in quality between the one-time heated Far Northeast rivals has played out in reverse fashion on Thanksgiving Day. Ryan leads the all-time series, 24-9-1, and has won three of the last four contests between the schools.
Ryan loyalists often argue that those head-to-head results highlight an overall gulf in quality between the Catholic and Public leagues as a whole. Washington folks hastily counter that playing Ryan is the least of the Eagles’ concerns during their typically long playoff runs.
After withdrawing from the Ryan game in 2008 and ’09 due to playoff schedule conflicts, Washington has recommitted itself to the series despite more potential schedule conflicts this year, according to legendary head coach Ron Cohen. (The Eagles defeated Frankford High, 20-13, for the Public League Class AAAA title on Saturday and are slated to play La Salle in the City Title game this weekend.)
Ryan, meanwhile, no longer looks at the Washington game as a consolation prize following their demanding Catholic League season. Rather, head coach Frank McArdle says, a Raiders win over a strong Washington team could serve as a launching pad for a new, successful era of Ryan football.
ldquo;It’s serious. For twenty years, it was like a city title game and we have to get ourselves back into that position again,” McArdle said. “Next to Father Judge, it’s probably our biggest game. … If you beat Washington, it definitely gives you credibility.”
Under McArdle, who is in his third season as head coach, Ryan has been making slow but steady progress in the wins column. The Raiders went 0-10 in 2008, the year before he arrived. They went 1-10 in 2009 and 2-9 last season. The Raiders are now 4-6 this season.
Ryan was 3-1 early on before facing defending state Class AA champion West Catholic, then four Catholic League Class AAAA foes in successive weeks.
“It’s been up and down, then we ran into probably the five best teams in the (Philadelphia) area. We had a brutal run,” McArdle said.
Senior quarterback Mike Anusky passed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns through ten games this season. Junior Dylan Rowan has been the top rusher with 633 yards and six touchdowns.
Seniors like Anusky and cornerback/wide receiver Mike Palmer know that time is almost out for them to make their mark on the program before a talented crop of underclassmen take over leadership roles.
“I think we accomplished a lot (this season), especially compared to the (previous) three years,” Palmer said. “I don’t think any senior class put out as much effort as us. We lost some disappointing games. But we have a lot of sophomore starters and they look bright.”
Palmer has caught 14 passes for 388 yards this season, while senior Nick LeVan had caught 28 passes for 388 yards.
“The underclassmen have a lot of talent, more than our class did when we were freshmen and sophomores,” Anusky added. “I want to build a bridge for them (into next season) to make them work harder.”
Perhaps they should take a page from Washington’s playbook. By the Eagles’ own account, they overachieved this season, claiming an overall 8-2 record en route to the Public League title crown.
“We didn’t think we were going to be this kind of team,” said running back Hakeem Sillman, who had rushed for 1,695 yards and 27 touchdowns through ten games. “We thought we’d be OK, but we’re very young. We had team chemistry. Everybody came together and became a family.”
According to Cohen, 18 seniors from last year’s Washington team earned college scholarships, while just two seniors now start on defense.
“We were a very young, inexperienced football team. It’s been a long process,” Cohen said. “We started on August 15, took our lumps early in two scrimmages and didn’t do well.”
The Eagles have been able to hang their hat on the running game.
“The offensive line, I thought they were going to be good and they have been,” Cohen said. “We have three excellent running backs and our quarterbacks are very strong.”
David Gavrilrov had passed for 464 yards and Alfonso Augustine 381 yards through ten games. They had combined for seven touchdown tosses. Ken Everage was the team’s second-top rusher with 416 yards, including a pair of 100-plus games.
Against Ryan, the Eagles will have to rely on their bread-and-butter game once again in the possible absence of preparation time. In contrast to the high-pressure Public League and playoff environment, the Ryan game is where the Eagles can let loose, take some risks and not worry about the aftermath.
“It’s a fun thing and a pride thing,” Cohen said. “For some of (our players) it’s their parents’ only chance to come see them play.”
Sillman is thrilled with the opportunity.
“I’ll be thankful for my family and just having the ability to play a game of football,” he said. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or email@example.com
WHERE: George Washington High School
WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 24, at 10 a.m.
LAST YEAR: Washington won, 20-7
RYAN LEADS SERIES: 24-9-1