OCEAN CITY, N.J. — As far as first impressions go, Samir Bullock left little to the imagination.
In his first game as a member of the Archbishop Ryan football team after transferring from Father Judge, Bullock didn’t just break the single-game school rushing record in his first try … he flat out obliterated it.
Bullock used touchdown runs of 73, 67 and 27 yards on his way to 345 rushing yards in Ryan’s 37-20 season-opening victory over Cardinal O’Hara, putting on a show for the ages on a field just a stone’s throw from the Ocean City boardwalk.
This time, after coming oh so close the previous two years, Ryan finally left its annual season-opening tilt against O’Hara with an emphatic, coveted victory.
“It felt great, but I’m not a person who just thinks about himself,” said Bullock, who accounted for 345 of Ryan’s 346 yards from scrimmage, or 99.7 percent of the team’s offense. “I have to give all the credit to my offensive line. I came to this team as a new guy and they all extended a hand to welcome me. They told me they had my back and that they were going to block their butts off for me. All I had to do was run the ball.”
Bullock did just that. After O’Hara took a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, Bullock responded two plays later by running straight up the gut for a 73-yard score. After Ryan forced a punt, Bullock again broke a long run on the drive’s second play, this time finding a crease on the outside before racing down the Raider sideline for 67 more yards to put his team up 15-7. With 4:51 still remaining in the first quarter, Bullock had carried the ball five times for 156 yards.
And he was just getting started, too.
When he was all finished, Bullock’s 345 rushing yards were 97 more than the previous school record of 248, set by Mike Erbrick back in 1990. And despite his record-setting day, the genuinely selfless Bullock still maintained he could have a better showing if not for two lost fumbles that could have seen his yardage and touchdown figures soar even higher.
“He’s such a humble, nice kid,” said Raiders coach Frank McArdle, who won his first season opener in five years in charge. “After the game when he found out he broke the record, literally the first thing he said was how great of a job his offensive line did. Most people would get excited about themselves and what they just did, but the first thing he wanted to do was credit his teammates. Words can’t describe how impressed I am with him.”
McArdle and the rest of the Ryan program knew the junior speedster had talent; they saw it firsthand in 2012 when Bullock lit them up for 190 yards on 20 carries. As a sophomore at Judge in filling in for the injured Marquis Seamon, Bullock racked up 1,086 yards on 150 rushes, good for 7.24 yards a carry. On Saturday, with the Ocean City ferris wheel towering over Carey Stadium, Bullock managed nearly 13 yards a carry, but he wasn’t completely satisfied.
“I had a good game, but it could have been better, especially with those two fumbles,” he said. “Now that becomes my problem to work on. In any other situation those might have cost us the game, so that’s on my shoulders. I want to get back on top and learn from those mistakes.”
On the rare occasion that Bullock made a mistake, his defense was there to have his back, picking off O’Hara quarterback Dashawn Darden three times. Two of the three picks came from senior linebacker and captain Jesse Wireman, including a 20-yard return for a touchdown with 5:40 to go in the fourth quarter, giving Ryan a 30-14 lead and essentially putting the game out of reach.
While Bullock is the new kid on the block, Wireman is a wily veteran who has started for three seasons. Wireman arrived just as the once struggling program began to turn itself around, going from two wins his freshman year to five in 2011 to six last season. Now, the dark days seem to have passed, and Wireman maintains that all the hard work when Ryan was losing is finally paying dividends.
“We knew as soon as last year ended that we would be good,” Wireman said. “We worked for it. We came together as a family with the goal of putting Ryan football back on the map. As long as the seniors stay together and continue to work our tails off, there’s no reason why the stars won’t align for us to have a real chance to win the Catholic League.”
Season goals aside, how enthralled did that pick-six make Wireman feel?
“That moment when I scored…,” he said while exhaling in an attempt to find the words. “It was just pure ecstasy.”
And while Ryan knows that one win in a season full of tough contests won’t be enough to allow the team to reach its goal of winning the program’s first league title since 1994, it’s certainly a start. The program that lost to O’Hara 56-0 five seasons ago seems reborn to the point where the scars of a 20-game losing streak feel like ancient history.
“It shows that we’ve come a long way,” said McArdle, a former Raider himself back in the ‘90s. “O’Hara has a very good team to the point where a lot of people considered this an upset. To us, it wasn’t. We had come close the last two years, so for me it was an ‘It’s about time’ moment. It’s a great feeling.”
On this day, nothing could stop the Raiders from grabbing that coveted victory, not Bullock’s two fumbles on an otherwise flawless day nor a 99-yard O’Hara scoring drive right before halftime that cut the lead to 22-14. For a fiercely determined veteran group, they left Ocean City hoping — and believing — that this one would be one of many in what has the potential to become a truly special season if the chips fall in Ryan’s favor.
“It feels great, and I knew all along we were capable of this,” Bullock said. “We turned it up and took it to the next level, but we’re still not the best team we can be. We have room for improvement. We came here to play football and to win a game against a really good team, and that’s exactly what we did.” ••