Thanksgiving football fans attending the showdown between Archbishop Ryan and host George Washington will probably recognize the uniforms on the field during this 36th annual contest.
Washington will don its blue and gold with Ryan in red and black, as they each have for generations.
Yet, the teams may appear strange anyway.
Ryan actually looks and performs like a playoff team once again after years in the Catholic League basement. Meanwhile, Washington has evolved into somewhat of a prolific passing team, despite its long tradition of winning Public League championships via the ground game.
“It’s a bit different,” said Washington head coach Ron Cohen, whose Eagles went 8-2 this season and lost to Frankford in the Public League title game on Nov. 10.
The most productive member of Washington’s running back by committee set-up has been senior Marquis Edwards with 390 yards on 84 carries. Senior Alex Rivera is next with 56 for 268, while junior Ken Everage has 50 for 254 and senior Donald Smith has 47 for 232.
Not a single Washington runner has posted a 100-yard game this season, but the aforementioned foursome did have a knack for finding the end zone, posting 14 rushing scores among them.
“Both of our running backs, the guys we expected to carry the ball, got hurt during the season at different times,” Cohen said.
Everage missed three contests mid-season and hasn’t gotten back into the flow since, gaining just 86 yards in his last four games. Smith has missed the last four contests and had not been cleared medically to play as of last Thursday, Cohen said.
The Eagles have used quarterback Dave Gavrilov’s arm to compensate. The 6-foot senior has passed for 880 yards and seven touchdowns, including 483 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. Early in the season, he and senior Al Augustine split time under center, as they did throughout the 2011 campaign. But Cohen concluded that the platoon situation didn’t benefit the performance of either player.
“Last year we threw somewhat, but we had two quarterbacks. That didn’t work well, even though we won the  championship,” the coach said.
After Gavrilov became the full-time starter, “I saw more confidence in him and Al did a nice job defensively for us,” Cohen said.
Augustine plays alongside two All-Public selections in the defensive backfield: Edwards and senior Shaquon Allen. Defensive end Justin Moody and wide receiver Rene Villafane, both seniors, also made the All-Public team, as did senior kicker Jake Wright. Gavrilov and Augustine just missed out, as did linebackers Melvin “Macho” Gonzalez and Shawn Henderson and linemen Zaire Hollerway and Dwayne Young.
Even with all that talent, the Eagles know that beating Ryan this year will be a tough order. The Raiders went 5-5 overall, but lost to Roman Catholic and Cardinal O’Hara by a touchdown or less.
More important, the Raiders recorded their first Catholic League division victory in 23 games (a 32-31 overtime win over Father Judge on Oct. 13) and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Ryan lost to St. Joseph’s Prep, 29-6, on Nov. 2 in the Class AAAA semifinals.
“We’re making progress every year and we took another step forward this year,” said Ryan Head Coach Frank McArdle. “I felt we could’ve won the O’Hara game and we had a chance versus Roman and couldn’t pull it out. If you want to make a huge step as a program, you’ve got to win the close ones.”
A young Ryan team beat Washington last Thanksgiving, 19-0, despite losing their starting quarterback to injury in the first half. The Raiders viewed the result as a harbinger of things to come.
“There’s definitely a positive buzz about what’s going on. It’s definitely nice to hear ‘you’re doing well’ instead of ‘you suck,’” McArdle said. “There’s a buzz in the school, too. Kids are saying ‘you’re doing better’ and [our players] feel good.”
With first-year starters at both running back and quarterback, Ryan’s veteran offensive line deserves perhaps most of the credit for the team’s resurgence. Three of its members were All-Catholic selections including junior Joe Hansbury on the first team and seniors Ed Bier and Brian Robbins on the second team.
In addition, junior Sean Boylan was a first-team selection as a defensive lineman, while senior tackle Joe Ruskowski just missed out on All-Catholic recognition, according to his coach.
“He’s a run-stopper and a real tough kid that plays with a good motor,” McArdle said.
Senior linebackers Jesse Wireman and Connor Golden, along with senior running back Jeremiah Agrio, were second-team All-Catholic choices. Agrio racked up 979 rushing yards on 194 carries, including 246 yards in the pivotal Judge game that clinched Ryan’s postseason berth.
“The alumni, they expect us to be in the playoffs every year and I agree with them,” McArdle said. “If you’re alumni and you could pick any two games to win each year, it would be Father Judge and Washington.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org