— After five long years without a Catholic League win, Archbishop Ryan football finally broke through last Saturday.
In the grand scheme of things, the result wasn’t really a big deal. Nobody won a championship, and no one clinched a playoff berth.
But in the short term? That’s a different story.
In one of the most exciting Catholic League regular-season tilts in recent memory, Archbishop Ryan stunned Father Judge, 32-31, in overtime on Saturday evening at Northeast High’s Charles Martin Stadium.
Raider fans enjoyed a collective sigh of relief as they celebrated a victory over a Catholic League division opponent for the first time since 2007. Other than beating non-division foe Archbishop Carroll last year, the Raiders had been 0-34 against the Catholic League during that stretch and 0-22 against division opponents.
Making matters even more joyous was severing the losing streak against their longtime neighborhood rival, whom they had not defeated since a 26-21 decision in 2005.
“This is huge,” said Ryan junior quarterback Mark Ostaszewski. “It feels so good. It’s been a long time coming.”
Although he and his teammates weren’t even teenagers five years ago, they have felt some of the burden that goes along with winless ignominy.
Sometimes ruthless with their commentary, albeit usually in the context of simply “kidding around,” Ryan students have occasionally communicated their angst about losing to many of the players.
“It hasn’t always been easy,” said Ostaszewski, whose father, also named Mark, was a member of Ryan’s 1990 Catholic League championship squad, the first of four consecutive Raider titles. “They can be like, ‘You guys stink.’ But this year, they were more like, ‘Will you guys be any better?’ Then we got killed by LaSalle (31-0, ending a three-game, non-league winning streak), and they were like, ‘Nope, you still stink.’”
From the reaction of the Ryan faithful who literally climbed over the fence to join their victorious peers on the field at the conclusion of the contest, all appears to be forgiven.
“I feel great for these guys,” said fourth-year Ryan Coach Frank McArdle, cited by several players as the person for whom they most wanted to win. “They work hard in practice and they really battled. The way they won shows how far they’ve come.”
The back-and-forth, seesaw-type atmosphere came down to overtime, during which the ball is placed on the opponent’s 10-yard line. With the score tied at 24, Judge (2-4 overall, 0-2 in league play) got the first crack and didn’t disappoint, taking a 31-24 lead on its second play, courtesy of a Dennis Boice touchdown run.
Ryan (4-3, 1-2) took over and proceeded to lose yardage on a rush attempt. Undaunted, Ostaszewski took the next snap all the way to the goal line before being stopped. However, he bounced through on third down to make it 31-30.
When he turned to the sideline, McArdle and offensive coordinator Chris Rahill were holding up two fingers, meaning that Ryan would either win or lose on the next snap.
“I was confident we would get it,” McArdle said. “There was no reason to think we wouldn’t. We were playing great on offense all game long.”
With the ball placed on the two-yard line, Ostaszewski pitched back to senior running back Jeremiah Agrio. While rolling to his left, Agrio, a Pennsbury transfer received an outstanding block from junior receiver Bobby Romano before diving into the corner of the end zone as he slapped the ball against the pylon.
Goodbye losing streak. Hello, Catholic League victory.
“We won’t forget this,” said Agrio, who finished with a career-best 246 yards on 33 carries, two yards short of Mike Erbrick’s 1990 school record. “There was no way we were going to lose this game. That wasn’t going to happen.”
Ahead 17-7 at halftime, Ryan players were reminded how they lost to Cardinal O’Hara in last year’s season opener despite being ahead after two quarters. Although the Raiders said they weren’t worried about a repeat, Judge ultimately was able to forge a 24-24 tie behind sophomore running back Samir Bullock (20 carries, 190 yards, one touchdown).
Entering overtime, a pall of concern washed over the Ryan crowd. A momentary, deafening silence occurred after the Crusaders took the overtime lead, but the offensive line grunt work of center Ed Bier, guards Brian Robbins and Nick Werez, and tackles Bill Dykan and Joe Hansbury refused to be denied.
“Our line played great,” Agrio said. “They were opening holes all game long.”
As for the decision to go for the win rather than a tie, Ostaszewski said he was “thrilled” by the aggressive strategy. Having already scored twice on quarterback sneaks while also tossing a 26-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Travon Williams, Ostaszewski (5-for-7, 89 yards, two touchdowns) felt that momentum was on Ryan’s side.
“I wanted to end it right there, too,” he said. “Judge was running it pretty well and I think everyone was tired, so we didn’t want to give the ball back to them. It was time to take the game … that’s what we did.”
And finally, after five long years, a Catholic League winning streak had begun. ••EndFragment
It’s been a while …
Some facts and figures in the wake of Ryan’s first league win in nearly five years:
Last Catholic League win: 11/4/07 (36-6 over Bonner)
Days elapsed: 1,804
Last win over Judge: 11/4/05 (26-21, Ryan)
Days elapsed: 2,534
Points for: 209
Points against: 830
Overall record in 2007-11: 12-42
Overall record in 2012: 4-3
Number of La Salle/SJ Prep league wins during losing streak: 36