Thanksgiving Preview: Raiders vs Eagles

Arch­bish­op Ry­an’s Mike Anusky passes the ball dur­ing a game against Ro­man Cath­ol­ic on Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 14, 2011. Ro­man won the game 28-26 at North­east High School. Kev­in Cook / for the Times

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

WHERE: George Wash­ing­ton High School

WHEN: Thursday, Nov. 24, at 10 a.m.

LAST YEAR: Wash­ing­ton won, 20-7


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