They don’t award championships for winning on Thanksgiving. But for the Archbishop Ryan and George Washington football teams, victory in their annual Far Northeast showdown would be a welcome, yet bittersweet consolation prize.
During a season when both programs had a league title in their sights and perhaps a deep run in the state playoffs, their dreams evaporated with untimely and uncharacteristic defeats.
Washington (5-5), a 12-time Public League champion, lost its first three non-league games, lost twice more to Frankford (including the PL title game) and is at risk of its first losing season since 1984, the year before head coach Ron Cohen took charge of the team.
Ryan (7-3) failed to make the Catholic League playoffs despite beating two of the league’s divisional champions, St. Joseph’s Prep and Archbishop Wood. A three-game losing skid, including a defeat to archrival Father Judge, dashed the Raiders’ postseason hopes.
“Washington, record-wise, they’re not where they wanted to be and neither are we, really,” said Frank McArdle Jr., Ryan’s fifth-year head coach. “But they were just playing for a Public League championship. And if you’re a Ryan football player, there are two games you really want to win every year — that’s Judge and Washington.”
For the Raiders, the game will be the last hurrah for a senior class that will be remembered for leading the program back to relevance. Ryan had not qualified for the Catholic League playoffs for seven years, nor posted a winning record for 13 years before the junior-dominated 2012 group finished 6-5 and earned an AAAA Division semifinal berth.
The Raiders opened 2013 on fire and outscored four non-league opponents 186-37. Then the wheels fell off. They lost by 14 to defending champ La Salle, by 12 to Roman and by 11 to Judge in successive weeks.
But just when folks were writing off the Raiders, they earned a 15-point win over eventual CL AAA champ Wood and a 13-point win over AAAA champ St. Joe’s. Although Ryan finished last via tiebreakers in the five-team AAAA Division, it ended the campaign ranked among the top teams in Southeastern Pennsylvania and throughout the state in various published polls.
“Our goal was to qualify for the playoffs and to win it,” McArdle said. “And if we did qualify, we really could’ve won it.”
“We were destined for a lot bigger things than a winning record,” said senior Joe Hansbury, a first-team All-Catholic offensive lineman. “We fell apart in a couple of big games. Obviously, we had the skill and talent to beat two of the best teams in the state.”
That skill showed itself most along the O-line. Center Andrew Voroscak and right guard Nick Werez joined Hansbury, the right tackle, on the All-Catholic team. All are seniors. They cleared the way for running back Samir Bullock’s 1,775 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Bullock, a junior, averaged 7.7 yards per carry.
“Being an offensive lineman, I feel the players to watch the whole time are the offensive line,” Hansbury said. “If one of us doesn’t play, the whole game goes to crap. Nothing is going to be different on Thursday. We’re going to line up and run the ball.”
Interestingly, the Ryan line will match up against perhaps Washington’s greatest strength. Cohen thinks that at least three on the Eagles’ defensive front have the potential to play in college.
Seniors Zaire Hollerway and Tyrone McNeil, along with junior Dawayne Young, will try to force Ryan out of its comfort zone. McNeil earned first team All-Public honors as a linebacker.
“They’re going to be asked to do a lot,” Cohen said. “It’s a challenge for them because, from what I’ve seen on tape, there’s no question we’re going to have to stop their running attack. They ran well against La Salle and against the Prep. And they ran well against Wood.”
When Ryan goes to the air, receivers Connor Golden and Bobby Romano both pose a threat. The senior duo teamed for 933 yards and 10 touchdowns receiving. Golden was a first-team All-Catholic pick at the position. Romano also returned three kicks for touchdowns.
Washington senior Hassan Brockman was an All-Public choice at defensive back.
Things will be a bit tougher to predict when Washington has the ball. Senior Ken Everage led the Eagles in rushing with 751 yards and five touchdowns. Meanwhile, senior quarterback Cedric Wright passed for 889 yards and five scores. Rasheed Black, a senior, and Brockman both bettered 400 receiving yards. Everage and Black were All-Public picks on offense, as was the lineman Hollerway.
“The kids want to do well,” Cohen said. “They want a much better ending than beginning. I firmly believe we can play with Ryan if we come to play.”
For Ryan’s defense, Golden has put opposing receivers on lockdown lately. The safety has three interceptions in each of his last two games and 10 interceptions for the season. He returned one for a touchdown and was an All-Catholic choice at defensive back, joining teammate Sean Boylan, a senior defensive end.
For the many senior Raiders, the game will signal the end of an era.
“They’re our first group of eighth-graders that we brought in (to the program),” McArdle said. “When they walked in four years ago, they were a group of kids who wanted to stay together and play with their friends. And Archbishop Ryan has a legitimate program now.”
“Our seniors before us set an example and we just followed their example,” Hansbury said. “This year, we stumbled in the beginning but then we proved that Ryan football is definitely on the rise.” ••
George Washington alumnus and author Porfirio Barrera will sign copies of his novel ‘When Winning Hurts’ inside the stadium. The book chronicles the championship-winning 1991 Eagles, including a section on that year’s Thanksgiving game.
George Washington High School
Thursday, Nov. 28, at 10 a.m.
Ryan won, 13-7
RYAN LEADS SERIES: 26-9-1