Northeast Times

Romano, O-line carry Ryan to second straight win

The work of the Arch­bish­op Ry­an of­fens­ive and de­fens­ive lines in train­ing camp has paid off, as the Raid­ers are off to a 2-1 start this sea­son. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Start­Frag­ment

When Arch­bish­op Ry­an head foot­ball coach Frank McArdle took over the reigns at his alma ma­ter four sea­sons ago, he set out to in­still two im­port­ant qual­it­ies in his play­ers — hard work and ded­ic­a­tion.

He knew that re­build­ing a suc­cess­ful pro­gram in the power­ful Cath­ol­ic League AAAA Gold Di­vi­sion was not go­ing to hap­pen overnight — it would be im­possible for any team that re­cently suffered through a 20-game league los­ing streak and a win­less 2008 sea­son. For the team to be­come com­pet­it­ive again, McArdle was go­ing to have to build from the ground up by de­vel­op­ing the young play­ers in the pro­gram and get­ting them to buy in­to his brand of foot­ball.

Fri­day night at Ben­s­alem High School, the young Raid­ers took a big step in­to ad­van­cing their pro­gram by meth­od­ic­ally dis­mant­ling the host Owls of the Sub­urb­an One League’s Na­tion­al Con­fer­ence, 41-13.

Led mostly by skilled po­s­i­tion un­der­class­men, Ry­an fought through some early first-half ad­versity and went in­to in­ter­mis­sion up 7-3 thanks to a per­fectly ex­ecuted screen pass from quar­ter­back Bri­an Kennedy (a Fath­er Judge trans­fer) to run­ning back Jim Mans­field, who scampered 10 yards for the score. However, the Raid­ers failed to cap­it­al­ize later in the half when an il­leg­al block in the back neg­ated a fumble re­turn for a touch­down, which did not sit well with McArdle.

 “I told the guys that we had to stop shoot­ing ourselves in the foot,” McArdle said of his half­time mes­sage to his team. “We were do­ing some knuckle­head things like tak­ing stu­pid pen­al­ties. I knew once we cleared that up, we would be in good shape.”

The team took McArdle’s words to heart and cut out the ‘knuckle­head’ play im­me­di­ately, as the second half kick­off was re­turned 80 yards for a touch­down by ju­ni­or Bobby Ro­mano. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Ro­mano fol­lowed a per­fectly formed wedge and nev­er broke stride.

It was the first of Ro­mano’s three im­pact plays for the Raid­ers. Later in the third quarter, Ro­mano caught a pre­cisely thrown 25-yard side­line fade down to the 5-yard line from change-of-pace QB Mark Os­taszewski, also a ju­ni­or. Three plays later, Os­taszewski scored on a QB keep­er from a yard out. On Ben­s­alem’s en­su­ing of­fens­ive pos­ses­sion, Ro­mano made a high­light reel in­ter­cep­tion of a Kev­in Hop­kins pass to take the wind out of Ben­s­alem’s sails. Four plays later, the Raid­ers put the game away on a 50 yard TD run by Joe Dutkiewicz.

“Bobby Ro­mano was huge for us,” McArdle said. “He knows how to play foot­ball and he is a win­ner. Bobby is a two-way standout who is one of our best tack­lers on de­fense. On of­fense, he could run the ball for us if we asked him.”

The Ry­an de­fense per­formed well in the face of a wide-open spread at­tack em­ployed by Ben­s­alem. In ad­di­tion to Ro­mano’s in­ter­cep­tion, sopho­more Travon Wil­li­ams in­ter­cep­ted a pass in the flat and took the ball 35-yards un­touched in­to the end zone.

McArdle was pleased with the de­fens­ive ef­fort con­sid­er­ing the unit was play­ing un­der some ad­versity.

“We lost two starters on the de­fens­ive side of the ball to in­jury,” the coach noted. “Two kids jumped in and did a great job. We star­ted ten un­der­class­men.”

While the un­der­class­men seized the op­por­tun­ity and sub­sequent glory, the young and savvy head coach was quick to point out after the game the of­ten-over­looked work in the trenches.

“We have a lot of un­der­class­men who con­trib­ute, but the seni­or lead­er­ship provided by guys like (of­fens­ive/de­fens­ive line­man) Bri­an Rob­bins is huge,” McArdle said. “Bri­an was voted a co-cap­tain by his team­mates. He or­gan­ized the guys in their workouts dur­ing the off­season. He has im­proved so much since his sopho­more year and he is such a tough kid.”

Rob­bins epi­tom­izes the kind of play­er that the pro­gram needs to de­vel­op if Ry­an is to climb back in­to Cath­ol­ic League con­ten­tion. In just his third year of or­gan­ized foot­ball, Rob­bins is already a two-year starter. This sea­son, he ad­ded de­fens­ive line du­ties to his re­sume. When asked about his two-way play, Rob­bins ad­mit­ted that play­ing both sides of the ball is tir­ing.

“I’m get­ting used to the dif­fer­ent tech­niques com­ing off of blocks, but I can handle it,” he said. 

The Mill­brook nat­ive did not fol­low the tra­di­tion­al foot­ball path set by many of his team­mates and neigh­bors. Grow­ing up only a couple of blocks from the Cal­vary Ath­let­ic As­so­ci­ation foot­ball fields, Rob­bins nev­er got in­volved in or­gan­ized foot­ball.

“My mom wasn’t a fan of me play­ing foot­ball, so I had to con­vince her that I would be OK,” he said.

His par­ents, Kathy and Jack, are now his most ar­dent sup­port­ers. Rob­bins has made the most of his chance to play. The 6-foot, 245-poud Rob­bins is re­ceiv­ing col­legi­ate in­terest from the likes of Ship­pens­burg, Lock Haven and Kutztown. For now, however, he is fo­cus­ing on the tough AAAA sched­ule ahead, which will in­clude Fath­er Judge, La Salle, St. Joseph’s Prep and Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, all qual­ity teams this sea­son.

In ad­di­tion to Rob­bins, the seni­or lead­er­ship up front on the line of scrim­mage in­cludes Ed Bier, Joe Ruskowski and Bill Dykan. All four play on both sides of the ball and have a sim­il­ar goal of bring­ing a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship to Ry­an. The four have put in years of hard work and ded­ic­a­tion to mak­ing them­selves, and the team as a whole, bet­ter. The win total hasn’t matched their level of com­mit­ment just yet; however, they are op­tim­ist­ic that they can help turn the pro­gram around for good, as they seem to be well on their way to do­ing so.

You can reach at jfleming6@msn.com.

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