The Archbishop Ryan coaching staff had a strong yet simple message for the Raiders’ football team after their Thanksgiving Day battle with Far Northeast rival George Washington.
“When you get knocked down, get back up,” head coach Frank McArdle told the Raiders.
But they already knew that.
In powering past the host Eagles, 21-0, Ryan finished its season with a fourth consecutive victory and its eighth overall. The win total was the program’s highest since 1998. Meanwhile, Ryan’s 341 points for the year set a school record as did junior Samir Bullock’s 2,057 rushing yards.
Bullock’s 282 yards and three touchdowns on a blustery day and muddy track provided virtually all of the offense as the Raiders looked nothing like the reeling unit that lost three straight games in mid-season — a stretch that ruined their lofty playoff hopes.
“Everybody could’ve just quit on us, but we came back and did the opposite,” right guard Nick Werez said. “You have to keep going hard at practice every week because it’s football and anything can happen.”
Ryan didn’t even pack it in leading up to the annual Thanksgiving showdown, despite facing a downtrodden Washington team fresh off of its one-sided loss to Frankford in the Public League title game. Bullock scored on runs of 40 and 5 yards within a seven-minute span of the first half, then tacked on a third touchdown on his 80-yard run to open the third quarter.
Afterward, the junior transfer from Father Judge made it clear who really earned the rushing record this year: his offensive line.
“They’re a bunch of great guys. I give it all to them. They made it happen,” Bullock said.
Werez earned All-Catholic first team honors, as did right tackle Joe Hansbury and center Andrew Voroscak. Left tackle Tom Haughey and left guard Nick Ostaszewski were stalwarts, too. All five are seniors.
“It’s great to know that we all did it together,” Voroscak said. “It’s a great group of people to share it with.”
In Washington, Ryan faced arguably one of its toughest defensive fronts of the season, led by All-Public linebacker Tyrone McNeil. And it wasn’t easy for the Raiders.
Bullock carried 31 times in the game. He got nowhere on his team’s first offensive series, so Ryan turned to the air with a strong wind at its back. Freshman quarterback Matt Romano made his first ever start and completed two of his first three tosses. One went to his brother, senior Bobby Romano, for 20 yards, then another to Connor Golden for 10. But Washington held on fourth down at its own 30.
The kicking game was integral in Ryan’s first two touchdowns. With just over three minutes left in the first quarter, Washington had to punt from its own 26. A gust of wind knocked down Chris Schlegel’s effort after just 14 yards.
Bullock ran behind the right side of the line for 40 yards on the next play to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead.
Washington failed to record a first down on its next possession and again found itself punting from its own 24. The kick netted just six yards.
It took the Raiders seven plays to cover the 30 yards, but Bullock secured a second touchdown on a 5-yard run behind right tackle.
Both defenses stiffened for the rest of the first half. Ryan recovered a short kickoff and took possession at the Eagles’ 23, but Washington forced a fumble at its 4 and kept the Raiders out of the end zone.
Minutes later, Ryan’s Bobby Romano intercepted a pass near midfield just as Washington seemed to be gaining some momentum.
Senior running back Akinyeli Everage was the most productive Eagle with 49 yards on 19 carries. Senior wideout Hasan Brockman caught three passes for 36 yards and posted a 29-yard run on a wildcat play.
“We’re a team and we play together,” Everage said. “We always have heart, but it was a crazy field. We feel we stood our ground and never backed down.”
After Bullock’s 80-yarder to open the second half, the teams settled into a battle of attrition.
Washington advanced to Ryan’s 20 early in the third quarter, but got no farther as the Raiders’ defense stopped two runs and forced a couple of incomplete passes.
Bullock picked up 12 yards, then 52 yards on consecutive plays midway through the third quarter, but a penalty and fumble stalled the Raiders deep in Washington territory.
Washington had two more opportunities in Ryan territory later in the game. The Eagles failed on fourth-and-five from the 39 late in the third, then lost the ball on Jason Dones’ interception midway through the fourth.
Bullock — and his offensive line — closed out the game on the ground, running nine straight times for 29 yards on the Raiders’ final possession.
“I hope we keep that record,” Werez said. “If somebody beats it, I’ll be happy for them. It’s a good goal to beat. It’s tough to do.”
“I think we paved the road for the kids coming up, how to prepare in the offseason and have a good work ethic,” Voroscak said. “If you get down, you’ve got to get back up and ‘keep chopping.’ ” ••