Rise of the Raiders

"I think our goal has been to make a state­ment each week, that we aren’t the old Ry­an any­more. I think we did that." —Ry­an QB Mike Anusky

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

Make no mis­take about it, Mike Anusky is not one to cham­pi­on mor­al vic­tor­ies. 

At the end of the day, a loss is still a loss. 

That said, a grow­ing sil­ver lin­ing is slowly patch­ing a tattered Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School foot­ball pro­gram. 

And it has been pretty tattered. The Raid­ers have not won a Cath­ol­ic League game since 2007. Their next league con­test could end as their 19th loss in a row. From 2008 through ’10, Ry­an pos­ted an over­all re­cord of 3-29, in­clud­ing a win­less sea­son in 2008. 

Luck­ily for the Raid­ers, feel­ing the weight of such a pun­ish­ing streak of fu­til­ity has one up­side: The only way to go is up.

Little by little, Ry­an is start­ing to pick up the pieces, and Anusky — a seni­or quar­ter­back in his second full sea­son as the primary sig­nal-caller — is a ma­jor reas­on why. In the sea­son open­er, the Raid­ers lost a 24-21 nail-biter to Car­din­al O’Hara, a team that shut them out the year be­fore. But Anusky and com­pany then reeled off three straight wins for the first time since 1998. 

Though they have re­cently stumbled to three straight losses — in­clud­ing last Fri­day’s 28-26 de­feat by league rival Ro­man Cath­ol­ic at North­east High School — pro­gress is be­ing made over on Academy Road. Ro­man, one of the city’s top teams, whipped Ry­an last sea­son, 36-0, and a sim­il­ar thump­ing had been widely pre­dicted this time around. 

But a funny thing happened: Not only did the feisty Raid­ers (3-4 over­all, 0-2 Cath­ol­ic League) show up, but they gave the Cahil­lites one heck of a scare. First, seni­or re­ceiv­er and de­fens­ive back Mike Palmer re­turned the open­ing kick­off 85 yards for a touch­down. After sopho­more Mark Os­taszewski re­covered a fumble, Anusky fin­ished a four-play drive with a 37-yard touch­down run to give the Raid­ers a 14-0 lead after one quarter.

“We wanted to come out and jump on them,” said the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Anusky. “That’s a great team, and we knew if we let them get ahead then they’d prob­ably run all over us. The kick­off gave us a ton of mo­mentum, and our de­fense made stops and forced a turnover. All of a sud­den we were up by two scores, but it was still early. I think that’s why this one hurts so bad, be­cause we did put ourselves in a po­s­i­tion to win that game.”

Ro­man (5-2 over­all, 2-1 league) chipped away, cut­ting the de­fi­cit to 20-14 at half­time. Paced by seni­or run­ning back Mar­cus Kelly’s (22 car­ries, 188 yards) two third-quarter touch­down scampers and ju­ni­or Mi­chael Keir’s 208 yards passing and two touch­downs, the Cahil­lites built an 8-point fourth-quarter lead. After a pair of in­ter­cep­tions tossed by Anusky (255 total yards, two touch­downs), Ro­man seemed ready to step on Ry­an’s throat.

However, after a gritty goal-line stand that kept the Cahil­lites from scor­ing, Anusky hit a streak­ing Palmer (four catches, 190 yards) over the middle of the field for a thrill­ing 95-yard touch­down with 1:41 re­main­ing. But a low snap on the con­ver­sion try forced Anusky to rush his throw, and the sub­sequent in­com­ple­tion meant the Raid­ers were headed for league loss No. 18 in a row. 

“At this point of the sea­son, it’s really hard to take a mor­al vic­tory,” a vis­ibly de­jec­ted Anusky said after the game. “At the same time, I think our goal has been to make a state­ment each week, that we aren’t the old Ry­an any­more. I think we did that.”

While seni­ors like Anusky and Palmer may not be around to com­plete the Ry­an re­viv­al, they’ve done plenty to help point the pro­gram in that dir­ec­tion. After Anusky’s failed two-point try, a palp­able wave of dis­ap­point­ment washed over the Raid­ers. The re­ac­tion was a bit of a sur­prise; un­like past Ry­an teams, this one ex­pects to win.

“I’m hurt too, but I couldn’t have asked for you to play harder than you did,” third-year Ry­an coach Frank McArdle told his team after the game. “You played your guts out. I know you’re get­ting tired of the same old speech, but this game to­night showed that we’re back. We played as hard as we could and let the chips fall where they may. I’m real proud of this group.”

Things won’t get easi­er any time soon. If the Raid­ers don’t want to see their league los­ing streak reach 20 games, they’ll have to knock off La Salle and Fath­er Judge, two of the city’s most tal­en­ted teams.

“Last year, teams like O’Hara and Ro­man crushed us,” Anusky said. “We had no con­fid­ence, and I think we al­most ex­pec­ted to lose. It hurts to lose to them the way we have this year, but now the con­fid­ence we have is car­ry­ing us for­ward.

“We put in so much hard work over the off­season,” he con­tin­ued. “We were tired from fight­ing Ro­man all game to­night, but we still had enough left in us to get a 95-yard touch­down at the end. We want to win, and I think we will.”

Even if Anusky is gone be­fore the Raid­ers end their streak, he has worked hard to ment­or a young team that will be battle-tested in 2012 and bey­ond. After slog­ging up a muddy hill of losses over the past few sea­sons, Ry­an can fi­nally en­vi­sion vic­tor­ies that await at the top of their climb.

“Every­body’s com­mit­ted now,” Anusky said. “I love the seni­ors of the past couple of years, but be­cause we lost so many games, it didn’t seem like they were al­ways com­mit­ted out there. We have a lot of un­der­class­men on this team, and it’s my job and the rest of the seni­ors’ jobs to lead these guys and put in the ef­fort to show them how to play foot­ball the right way. By do­ing so, we can show them how to com­pete in these big games, and hope­fully they’ll be ready to keep turn­ing this thing around down the line.” ••

Re­port­er Ed Mor­rone can be reached at Ed­ward.mor­rone@gmail.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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