PHILADELPHIA— West Catholic hosted Archbishop Carroll Saturday afternoon at Drexel’s University’s Maguire Field. It was the Catholic League Blue Division opener for both teams and this game did not disappoint.
“In the Catholic League, teams fight!” These were the words of fiery West Catholic head coach Brian Fluck, as he spoke to his team after its 36-35 overtime victory against new Blue Division rival, Archbishop Carroll. This was a matchup that definitely lived up to its “game of the week” moniker.
From the way he spoke, one might think Fluck was furious with his Burrs, but in actuality, he was just trying to get his point across. After falling behind, 14-0, in the first half, Fluck knew his team needed to come ready to play from the first to final whistle when dealing with a Catholic League opponent.
“I just think we came out lackadaisical,” said Fluck. “I think for some reason we took the team lightly. I don’t know why because Carroll is a very good team. I think we came out lackadaisical and they came out with some intensity. They came out with some pressure, and they got on top of us.”
The first half belonged almost entirely to Archbishop Carroll. After a failed field-goal attempt on their opening possession, the Patriots’ defense made up for the missed scoring opportunity, forcing sacks on the Burrs’ first two plays from scrimmage, one of which resulted in a touchdown.
Carroll scored again on its next possession, turning a near defensive stand on a fourth and long into a two-score lead. Patriot receiver Dan Morgan managed to get a step on a defender and quarterback Russell Minor-Shaw didn’t waste the opportunity, hitting his senior receiver for the long touchdown.
West Catholic had a difficult time containing Carroll’s Minor-Shaw for the entire first half. The QB was a threat both through the air and on the ground, constantly keeping West Catholic’s defense guessing. Their defense failed to work as a group, which helped fuel Carroll’s large first half.
“I feel like everyone was trying to make a tackle themselves instead of playing team defense,” said Fluck. “We’re not very good when we play individual defense.”
The Burrs managed to get on the board late in the third on a Jacir Savoy touchdown run, but Carroll would quickly follow with a demoralizing touchdown pass on third and long to Mike Dempsey.
Both teams then punted on their next possessions to close out the half, Patriots leading 21-6. West Catholic licked their wounds while Carroll began feeling unbeatable.
Just as a sense of impending victory began to build at Maguire Field, the Burrs proved they weren’t finished. Quarterback Zhaire Hart-Hawkins completed a nice pass to receiver Seth Degree on the opening play of the second half. Degree then made a man miss and turned a moderate gain into a 60-yard touchdown as he blew by the entire defense.
After one play, it was clear that the Burrs would not go gently into that goodnight.
A short kick return put Carroll inside their own 10-yard line to start out the second half. The Burrs then managed to sack Minor-Shaw for a loss of 10 yards, then followed that by recovering a fumble on the one-yard line to set up a quick Savoy score.
The Burrs’ defensive front became ferocious in the second half, absolutely picking Carroll’s offensive line apart by forcing six sacks and a blocked punt in the second half. Minor-Shaw was running for his life throughout the remainder of the game.
Hart-Hawkins also stepped up in a major way in the second half. Following Savoy’s short touchdown, Hart-Hawkins found Degree once again on a gorgeous fade for the 40-yard touchdown. The Burrs were now within one score.
“I challenged (Hart-Hawkins) at half time because he played horrible in the first half,” said Fluck. “He wasn’t doing anything. He wasn’t reading anybody. We came out and he met the challenge, like I knew he would. He’s a tough kid.”
Carroll finally got its second half footing following the long score, with each team exchanging defensive stands until late in the fourth quarter.
Just as the Patriots seemed like they may have retaken the momentum, West Catholic forced a fumble at its own 35-yard line. Two plays later, Justino Griggs turns a short pass over the middle into a long gain, setting West Catholic up inside the Carroll 10-yard line and paving the way to the game-tying score.
The two teams would then wade out the rest of regulation and decide things in overtime.
Carroll won the coin toss and chose to open extra time on offense. Running back Josh Bowman rushed for seven yards on the first two plays of the possession, which set up Raphael Manning for the go-ahead score. The extra point gave Carroll a 35-28 lead.
Hart-Hawkins turned a near sack into a near score on West Catholic’s opening play of overtime, but a holding call pushed them back an extra 10 yards, setting them up on first and goal from the 20.
Savoy would get some of the lost yardage back on a five-yard carry, but Hart-Hawkins took care of the rest with a touchdown pass to Julio DaSilva. Rather than settling for the extra point, something West Catholic did only once in the entire game, they decided they would risk it and go for two.
They opened in a shotgun set with Savoy to the right of Hart-Hawkins. He motioned to his quarterback’s left. As Hart-Hawkins dropped back, Savoy rolled out into the flat. Hart-Hawkins looked to his right, then his left, and fired a pass to his wide-open running back for the score. West Catholic had won on a walk-off two-point conversion.
“It felt good. I knew my team needed me, so I made a play,” Jacir Savoy said.
After the game, Fluck said there were no changes made at the half to help spur the Burrs’ comeback. His team simply came out and did what they should’ve been doing the entire game.
“There were no changes, we just got back to basics,” said Fluck. “Doing the right things, throwing the ball to the right places, blocking people, covering, playing defense the way we’re capable of playing. We scored a touchdown and just took it one play at a time, so we just happened to score a quick touchdown and we got some guys open, but really, we didn’t change much.”
Fluck was also quick to sing the praise of his opponent.
“It was a great win, both teams played tremendously,” said Fluck. “They played a hell of a game and they had every right to win this game as well, and we just got more play than they did.”
With its first Catholic League victory now secured, West Catholic will begin preparing for a matchup against Lansdale Catholic next Sunday. Meanwhile, Archbishop Carroll will regroup and try once again to get a Catholic League victory against Cardinal O’Hara next Friday night.