By Jeremy Balan
After the first play from scrimmage against Sacred Heart Prep, Archbishop Riordan High School looked like a brand-new football team, but in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders made many of the same mistakes that plagued them in the past.
Senior wide receiver Nate Warren took a reverse 54 yards for a score to give Riordan a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter, but the Crusaders only gained 18 total yards in the second half and had constant issues with center-quarterback exchanges in a 24-17 loss to visiting Sacred Heart on Friday.
“Our team played valiantly and we had a very good team on the ropes. We just didn’t finish them,” said first-year Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney. “Every day we’re just trying to get better, but obviously right there we have to be able to finish.”
The Riordan (0-2) offense may have stalled in the second half, but the defense put the Crusaders in a position to score, forcing three and recovering two second-half fumbles.
The second, forced on a sack by junior linebacker Mark Mulligan and recovered by senior Joseph Gilleran, set up a 3-yard touchdown run from junior running back Armani McFarland that gave the Crusaders a 17-10 with 11:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Gators (2-0) responded on the next drive, scoring on a 15-yard run that was fumbled at the goal line, then recovered by running back Daver Refioglu, but the ensuing extra point was blocked, allowing Riordan to cling to a 17-16 lead with 8:00 remaining.
The Gators first two touchdowns were both on recovered offensive fumbles in the end zone.
The Crusaders were locked down again on the next drive and failed to convert a fake punt on their own 33-yard line, but the Riordan defense held firm and forced the Gators to turn the ball over on downs with 2:46 remaining.
Only needing a few first downs to seal the win, two fumbled snaps halted another Riordan drive and Sacred Heart senior quarterback Jack Larson led the Gators on game-winning scoring drive, capped by a 19-yard touchdown pass to junior running back Ryan Gaertner with 1:02 remaining.
“The fumbled snaps helped us, but we had some fumbles and mistakes ourselves,” said Sacred Heart head coach Peter Lavorato. “Give them a lot of credit, though. They played hard, and to be honest, I think they wanted it more than we did.”
After a solid first half where he threw for 74 yards on 9-of-12 passing, sophomore quarterback Zach Masoli was under constant pressure that drove him out of the pocket in the second half, and threw for only five yards, while being sacked twice.
“I’ve always said, ‘If the offensive line is good, everybody has a chance,'” Sweeney said. “This afternoon, they had some weaknesses.”
The Crusader defense did well to limit the wing runners in Sacred Heart’s offense, but gave up large chunks of yards on inside handoffs to senior fullback Will Morgan, who finished with a game-high 131 yards on just 10 carries.
Another close loss may be in the books for Riordan, but it was a far cry from last season’s 30-point loss to the Gators, who went on to win a Central Coast Section Division IV title in 2010.
“Last year, it was over in the third quarter, so obviously they’ve come a long way,” Lavorato said. “I think they have a real opportunity to turn this around here.”
Regardless of the circumstances, the Crusaders were in a position to win the game throughout, making the loss sting that much more.
“I don’t feel great right now, because it’s still a loss,” Sweeney said. “This is a work in progress and we’ve got some talented kids. We just haven’t put four quarters together yet.”
R: 11:39 — Nate Warren 54-yard run. (Jose Rodriguez kick good)
SH: 10:46 — Nic Kawasaki fumble recovery in end zone (Brendan Spilane kick good)
R: 7:33 — Rodriguez 41-yard field goal
SH: 0:14 — Spilane 35-yard field goal
R: 11:02 — Armani McFarland 3-yard run (Rodriquez kick good)
SH: 8:00 — Daver Refioglu fumble recovery in end zone (kick blocked)
SH: 1:02 — Ryan Gaertner 19-yard pass from Jack Larson (Gaertner pass from Larson on conversion)