A Golden opportunity

Ryan football not panicking after loss to La Salle

  • Fresh start: Freshman Matt Romano (right) rests after firing the first touchdown pass of his young career. Romano, whose brother, Bobby, is a senior starter for the Raiders, got into the action briefly when starting QB Mark Ostaszewski went down with an ankle injury. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • Connor Golden (right) heads back to the sideline after one of his two touchdowns as teammate Jesse Wireman waits to congratulate him. Golden had five catches for 141 yards in the La Salle loss. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • Not this time: Despite a monster game from WR/FS Connor Golden (five catches, 141 yards, 2 TDs), Ryan fell to La Salle, 28-14. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • Down, but not out: Ryan QB Mark Ostaszewski exited against La Salle with an ankle injury, but later returned to the action in the fourth quarter. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

  • Back to the drawing board: The Ryan bench was a lonely place to be in the second half of La Salle’s win over the Raiders. After a four-game win streak was snapped, Ryan will try to start a new one on Saturday evening against Roman. ED MORRONE / TIMES PHOTO

As the blo­wout vic­tor­ies con­tin­ued to mount in the first month of the sea­son, so too did the con­fid­ence and ex­pect­a­tions of Arch­bish­op Ry­an foot­ball sup­port­ers.

And how could they not? The Raid­ers won their first four non-league games — by 17, 35, 53 and 44 points, re­spect­ively — and it seemed a real pos­sib­il­ity that Ry­an could have its first 5-0 start to a sea­son since 1988, even with an­nu­al AAAA state cham­pi­on threat La Salle stand­ing in the team’s way.

But if Ry­an’s hot start was a bal­loon soar­ing to­ward the foot­ball heav­ens, the Ex­plorers played the role of the pin prick that sent the Raid­ers hurt­ling back down to Earth. While Frank McArdle’s group still sure has what it takes to have a very spe­cial sea­son, Sat­urday’s 28-14 loss to the sur­gic­al Ex­plorers in­dic­ated that Ry­an isn’t quite there … yet.

“I’ll put it to you real simple,” said McArdle, in his fifth sea­son as Ry­an’s head coach. “We didn’t play phys­ic­al or smart. We blew cov­er­ages, dropped two touch­down passes and just wer­en’t fo­cused.”

The 0-1 start in the bru­tally tough Cath­ol­ic League AAAA di­vi­sion wasn’t as much de­mor­al­iz­ing as it was dis­ap­point­ing. The Raid­ers have plenty of sea­son left, and the fact that the of­fens­ive and de­fens­ive men­tal de­fi­cien­cies reared their heads now shows the team what it must clean up against Ro­man, Judge and St. Joseph’s Prep in the com­ing weeks. 

No, the sky isn’t fall­ing; it’s just a bit cloud­i­er than it has been in the past month when the Raid­ers were dis­patch­ing their op­pon­ents by an av­er­age of more than 37 points per game. The biggest dif­fer­ence, per­haps, is that for the first time in sev­er­al sea­sons, Ry­an le­git­im­ately felt that it had a shot to beat La Salle go­ing in, which would ex­plain why the dis­ap­point­ment was so palp­able.

“In those oth­er games we made some mis­takes against teams we were bet­ter than, and we covered them up with tal­ent,” McArdle said. “Against La Salle, we played someone just as good as us and made sim­il­ar mis­takes that hurt us. We didn’t re­gress … we just showed we can’t make any men­tal mis­takes.”

Tail­back Samir Bul­lock, who ran rough­shod over op­pon­ents in the first four games (in­clud­ing 345- and 295-yard out­puts), was lim­ited to just 57 yards on 18 car­ries, the first time he’s been held un­der 100 yards this sea­son. Quar­ter­back Mark Os­taszewski, who ex­ited briefly in the second half with an ankle in­jury, went just 4-for-16. Ry­an, un­able to stop La Salle’s first down ma­chine from churn­ing, trailed 21-0 at half­time.

However, there were bright spots. Fresh­man Matt Ro­mano (broth­er of seni­or WR/DB Bobby) re­lieved Os­taszewski late in the third quarter and played with the poise of a seni­or. He com­pleted his first pass, a 13-yard dart to seni­or Con­nor Golden, scrambled 15 yards for a first down and then lof­ted a rain­bow pass in­to the end zone that a leap­ing Golden some­how hauled in in heavy traffic from 25 yards out. 

Speak­ing of Golden, he was spec­tac­u­lar. The wide re­ceiv­er/free safety combo, who is in the top 10 per­cent of his seni­or class, hauled in five catches for 141 yards and both Raid­er scores, the oth­er be­ing a 45-yard laser from Os­taszewski that briefly cut the de­fi­cit to 21-7; Golden also ad­ded his team-lead­ing third in­ter­cep­tion on de­fense.

“La Salle is very good, there’s no ar­guing that,” Golden said. “We just left a few plays out there on the field and we didn’t score in the red zone. We’ve lost be­fore, so we know not to dwell on it. Just got to dust it off our shoulders and fo­cus on this week­end, be­cause if we lose that (against Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, Sat­urday, 7 p.m., at North­east), then we’re in a bit of a hole.”

As for his mon­ster game on both sides of the ball against ar­gu­ably the best team in the city?

“You have to play like you’re the best play­er on the field,” Golden said. “You know La Salle is great, so there’s noth­ing you can do about that. I just try to go out there and tell my­self, ‘Nobody is bet­ter than you, so go out and give it everything you’ve got.’ ”

Per­haps the biggest sil­ver lin­ing for Ry­an is that had it played even just a little bit bet­ter against La Salle, which has ad­vanced at least as far as the AAAA state semi­finals the last four sea­sons (win­ning a state title in 2009), then the Raid­ers very well could have won. Ry­an got in­side La Salle’s 10-yard line twice and came away empty-handed both times; they were def­in­itely knock­ing on the door, only to find out that on this day, nobody was home.

“La Salle, they get first downs and they make things hap­pen,” McArdle said. “They ex­ecuted their calls. We didn’t. It’s real simple. We need to look in the mir­ror and get back to what we do well. There’s no ma­gic pill … we just made too many mis­takes.”

And des­pite hugely chal­len­ging con­tests at Ro­man and Judge in the next two weeks, McArdle is not let­ting one loss elim­in­ate all the pos­it­iv­ity that has em­an­ated from the pro­gram for most of the month of Septem­ber.

“We’re go­ing to bounce back,” he said. “We’ve been in way worse situ­ations, and I couldn’t be more con­fid­ent that we’ll put it to­geth­er. Con­sid­er­ing where this pro­gram has come from, this is noth­ing. We played the best pro­gram in the state of Pennsylvania and we didn’t play well. I have a ton of re­spect for La Salle, so don’t take it the wrong way, but it’s not like we played great and lost by two scores. 

“We need to fix what we have to fix, and when we do we’ll have a really good year. I’m call­ing it now: this will not af­fect us go­ing for­ward. We’ll be OK, and we will bounce back.”

Golden con­curred with his head coach.

“We have to listen to our coaches, be­cause they know what they’re talk­ing about,” he said. “Phys­ic­ally, we’re beat­ing up on people, so we just have to fix the men­tal er­rors. It doesn’t feel good to lose, so for us it’s about go­ing out there and try­ing to earn some re­spect. We want people to know we’re the real deal and try­ing to do big things.”

And what big things would those be, Con­nor?

“We want to win the Cath­ol­ic League, and we know any­thing can hap­pen in the play­offs,” the three-year play­er said. “For a lot of us seni­ors, it all star­ted sopho­more year. A lot of us have been start­ing since then, so we view ourselves as the group that got bet­ter and helped turn this thing around. In the past, play­ing foot­ball here was more like a chore. Now, it’s a priv­ilege, and I’m lov­ing every second of it.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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