Raiders give thanks for turnaround season

Hand off: Giv­ing the ball to Jeremi­ah Ag­rio (cen­ter) worked won­ders for Ry­an this year. Ag­rio rushed for more than 1,100 yards and nine TDs. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

Don’t both­er to tell Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School seni­or Joe Ruskowski that Thanks­giv­ing foot­ball games don’t mean a heck of a lot in the grand scheme of things, be­cause he won’t be­lieve you.

Ruskowski didn’t quite risk his life to play in the 2012 ver­sion of Ry­an’s an­nu­al show­down with Far North­east rival George Wash­ing­ton last Thursday, but he did place one of his own limbs on the line. He suited up and played — a lot — des­pite tear­ing men­is­cus car­til­age in his right knee just sev­en days earli­er.

That his Raid­ers ended up on the win­ning end of a de­fens­ive struggle, 13-7, seemed sec­ond­ary to Ruskowski, who mainly reveled in the op­por­tun­ity to lace up his cleats one fi­nal time.

“Last Thursday in prac­tice, I don’t know what happened. I fell and got back up and my leg was locked up,” he said.  “I was in pain and I thought I was done.”

Ruskowski was crushed, but not be­cause Ry­an was vy­ing for an un­defeated sea­son or a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship. Both of those ships had sailed long ago without the Raid­ers on board.

“It’s hard to ex­plain. I just love foot­ball so much and be­ing with my team­mates, I couldn’t ima­gine not play­ing my last game with them,” the team co-cap­tain said.

Ruskowski car­ried that sad un­cer­tainty in­to a med­ic­al ex­am­in­a­tion and an MRI. Had the tests re­vealed a torn ten­don or two, there would’ve been no way for him to play. On the oth­er hand, with the torn car­til­age, he prob­ably wasn’t go­ing to hurt him­self worse by play­ing, al­though his mo­bil­ity was lim­ited. 

For­tu­nately, move­ment isn’t the most im­port­ant qual­i­fic­a­tion to play at nose tackle, where the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Ruskowski saw all of his snaps.

“The train­ers did a great job prep­ping me. They taped up my knee and got me a brace,” he said. “Throughout the game, I’d go in for two plays, then come back out and rest.”

The sys­tem worked as Ruskowski and the rest of the Raid­ers’ de­fense lim­ited the Eagles to their low­est of­fens­ive out­put of the sea­son. Ry­an fin­ished its im­press­ive bounce-back sea­son at 6-5 and ex­ten­ded its lead in the Thanks­giv­ing series with Wash­ing­ton to 26-9-1.

Wash­ing­ton (8-3), the Pub­lic League run­ner-up, scored its lone touch­down on a two-yard run by seni­or half­back Mar­quis Ed­wards with 4:36 to go in the second quarter.

Ry­an still led 13-7 at that point. Neither team would score over the re­main­ing 31-plus minutes of ac­tion.

The Raid­ers held Ed­wards to 69 yards rush­ing on 14 car­ries. All oth­er Wash­ing­ton run­ners com­bined to re­gister minus-12 yards.

Wash­ing­ton’s usu­ally pro­lif­ic quar­ter­back, Dave Gav­rilov, didn’t fare much bet­ter. He com­pleted nine of 25 passes for 102 yards and was in­ter­cep­ted by Ry­an’s Sean Boylan and Matt Graber.

Ry­an shut out Gav­rilov in the first quarter, be­fore the quar­ter­back had his only sus­tained spell of suc­cess in the second. The seni­or pass­er com­pleted sev­en of 11 throws in the frame, in­clud­ing three to Shaquon Al­len for 44 yards and three to Rene Vil­la­fane for 23 yards.

The Eagles threatened to score just twice more in the game, however. With 2:40 left in the second quarter, Wash­ing­ton had a first down at Ry­an’s 28-yard line. Boylan in­ter­cep­ted Gav­rilov, then re­turned the ball to Ry­an’s 40 be­fore fum­bling it back to the Eagles. Wash­ing­ton took a per­son­al foul pen­alty on the next play and even­tu­ally punted.

In the third quarter, the Eagles marched 60 yards in 11 plays be­fore sur­ren­der­ing the ball on downs at Ry­an’s 10-yard line with 3:25 to go.

Ry­an’s dom­in­ant de­fense early in the game set up both touch­downs for the Raid­ers.

Wash­ing­ton re­ceived the open­ing kick­off but got nowhere on its first pos­ses­sion. On Jake Wright’s en­su­ing punt, Ry­an sopho­more Tyler Bol­lard burst through the line and blocked the kick. The Raid­ers fell on the loose foot­ball at Wash­ing­ton’s 11.

The Raid­ers covered the re­main­ing dis­tance on an off­sides pen­alty against the Eagles and two runs by seni­or half­back Jeremi­ah Ag­rio, in­clud­ing his four-yard touch­down.

On Wash­ing­ton’s second pos­ses­sion, Ry­an’s de­fense again proved im­mov­able. After Wright’s suc­cess­ful punt, the Raid­ers got the ball at mid­field. Runs of 12, eight and 30 yards from Ag­rio ad­ded up to a 13-0 lead for the Raid­ers.

For the game, Ag­rio car­ried 27 times for 124 yards (he fin­ished the sea­son with 1,109 yards rush­ing to go with nine TDs) be­hind an of­fens­ive line that in­cluded Ed Bier, Bri­an Rob­bins, Fabi Hoxha, Joe Hans­bury and Billy Dykan, along with tight ends John Liguori and Boylan. The Raid­ers out-battled a tal­en­ted Wash­ing­ton line that saw star de­fens­ive end Justin Moody limp off the field in the first quarter and fel­low end Tyr­one McNeil limp off in the second quarter. Neither play­er re­turned to ac­tion.

Ruskowski didn’t have the same prob­lem.

“Joe, he’s really bought in­to this pro­gram. He’s a cap­tain and he really wanted to be a Ry­an foot­ball play­er,” said Ry­an head coach Frank McArdle. “It has to be a lift [to team­mates] when they see a kid who’s hurt­ing and he sucks it up and plays.”

“It wasn’t our best game, but all that mat­ters is we got the win,” Ruskowski said. “I’m thank­ful I got to play with such a great bunch of guys and coaches.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or

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