(Videos/Photos: Donna Eckert, Kathy Leister, Lou Rabito, James Williamson & Mark Zimmaro. Video Edits by: Mark Zimmaro & James Williamson)
Preview by: John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – Talk about a logjam of talented contenders.
It would be a surprise if the survivor of the Catholic League Blue Division emerged undefeated. Actually, it wouldn’t be surprising if the eventual victory lost twice. Numerous players and coaches appear confident that they have what it takes to capture the Blue’s first division title in two years.
With eight programs vying for a PCL playoff and championship, along with PIAA post-season qualification, every game takes on added significance.
Below are the Blue Division programs in alphabetical order.
Early-season contests: Lost to Pope John Paul II, 43-14, and to Maryland’s Rock Creek Christian Academy, 42-0.
Early stats: In season opener, Victor Taylor scored on a punt return while Jesse Ventre added another on a TD reception.
Quotable: Coach Kyle Detweiler:
“What is particularly unique about the 2021 group of players is the full-blown youth movement. Traditionally, we've rolled out a deep senior class in the mid-to-high teens that has had a bevy of leadership and varsity experience. On a roster of over 50 players, we only have nine seniors. First-time starters will be prevalent in all three phases, and many juniors and sophomores will be called upon to step up and contribute in a big way.
“Early on, we feel like our ability to defend the pass is a strength. Where we do have experience on this team is in the secondary and at linebacker – guys that have been around and understand our system and what we are trying to get done. Only one defensive line starter (junior Jack Fry) is returning from last year, so we will need that group to get up to speed in a hurry for us to improve in our ability to defend the run.”
Early-season contests: Lost to Bishop Shanahan, 21-3; nipped by Upper Moreland, 33-29.
Early stats: In the first round of last year’s PIAA playoffs, Ryan dropped a forgettable 35-0 decision. This time, the Raiders led 17-7 at halftime and 29-21 after three quarters – a rather staggering improvement.
Quotable: Aidan Kelly, senior (offensive guard and defensive tackle):
“A strength this team has is that we all have the same mindset – we just wanna win. It’s good for everyone to be on board with that same winning mentality.
“We have a chip on our shoulder. Most people saw our football team as the laughing stock of the Northeast. My senior teammates and I, along with our new coaching staff and the transfers we brought in, plan not only to win games this year, but build a legacy for the future of the Ryan football program.”
Early-season contests: Took care of neighborhood rival Upper Darby, 18-6; Stopped Roman Catholic, 12-7.
Early stats: Mason Peterson combined for 302 yards and two touchdowns in the Friars’ two victories . . . In win over Roman, Shane Mulholland and David Washington hooked up for two touchdown receptions . . . Against UD, defense forced two safeties.
Quotable: Scott Bernhard-Kyle, senior (linebacker/fullback/ defensive line):
“Our team this year is filled with a bunch of young guys that are getting the opportunity to play, which is great for the future of Bonner football because as the years come, they’ll get better experience. So us seniors now get to mentor them, and our goal as a team is to go 1-0 every week and to get better every day.
“Our class really knows how to win. We only lost two times since being at Bonner, and a lot of that has to do with the mentorship and the coaching staff that we have. Everyone wants to win, and it’s our job to help the underclassmen to get that accomplishment.
“The win over Upper Darby felt good because a lot of those kids are friends with people on the team and they’re a neighboring school, but there were a lot of things we could’ve done better."
Early-season contests: Lost to Father Judge, 42-7.
Danny McManus, senior (offensive line):
“As a whole, I think something unique about us is that we’re an experienced team and most of us have been starting since we were freshmen and sophomores, so we have been playing for a while together – not to mention the little groups of us who played CYO together who have been playing together since we were little.
"To sum up, I think we all know each other’s style of play well and are a very experienced team.”
Early-season contests: Beat Upper Merion, 27-13, and then overran Interboro, 26-7.
Early stats: Quarterback Dante Morris has displayed superb running skills, amassing a composite 295 yards and five touchdowns – including an 87-yard jaunt . . . Craig Graves scored on a punt return and added a rushing tally against Interboro . . . Colin Majors hauled in a 35-yard score from Stephen Tryon in the opener.
Quotable: Colin Majors, senior (running back, defensive back):
“We as a team are ready and prepared for any challenges that come in the Blue Division. We are just gonna play one game at a time.
“What's unique about our team this year is that we feel as though no other team worked as hard as us during the off-season. We also have a lot of returning starters, meaning we have a lot of experience on both sides of the ball. Our team this year also has speed on both sides of the ball.”
Early-season contests: Lost to Father Judge, 21-7, and to Pottsgrove, 39-14.
Early stats: The TD against Judge was a highlight-reel 92-yard connection from Cole Meehan to Evan Lojewski. On defense, Bobby Lombardo and Tyler Van Osten notched interceptions.
Quotable I: Tyler Van Osten, senior, wide receiver, safety:
“We have a young squad that likes to play fast and physical football. No one here is afraid of the moment, whether this is your first year playing varsity football or if you’ve been out here for three or four years.
“There’s a mutual respect between all of our guys. At the end of the day, we’re all out here to have some fun and win games, and that’s all we really need to stick by each other. We know what we can do as a team because we’ve seen it all during the off-season. Now is the time to produce.”
Quotable II: Jake Lesher, senior (running back and safety):
“We are a very young team with a few transfers, and we are still finding a way to get the job done and work hard. A lot of our positions have been switched since last year. We try not to worry about all the changes and just get our job done and win games.”
Early-season contests: Defeated Roman Catholic, 22-18, at Rutgers University (NJ); lost to Archbishop Wood, 28-6.
Early stats: In their opener, Jayden Styles rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries while Jayden Sumpter added 49 yards and a touchdown on 16.
Quotable I: Raleigh Collins III, senior (linebacker):
“It’s definitely a huge relief to sign with West Virginia, I am happy to settle down and focus on my senior year and be able to go watch some WVU games.
“I’m very excited after we weren’t able to play last year. I was so happy to finally play in front of fans Friday at Rutgers. Getting back to normal feels great.”
Quotable II: Chris Bressi, junior (defensive lineman):
“What makes us unique is that we always stick together as a team no matter what. Even outside of football, we always help each other out. That is how we interact together – we’re a family.”
Early-season contests: Lost to Episcopal, 27-12.
Early stats: In defeat, controlled the pace of the game, particulary in the first half when the Burrs ran 36 plays from scrimmage to only 10 by EA . . . K’saan Greene pounded out 156 yards on 31 attempts.
Coach Brian West:
“The culture of the football team has grown over the past two years dealing with the pandemic. Players and coaches all understand we can only ‘control the controllable.’ We can't worry about yesterday. We can only focus on tomorrow and what it will bring.
“It's exciting to finally be back on the field representing West Catholic and competing for the PCL Championship. We wish everyone the best this season and are excited to show how the Burrs will be competitive this year.”