By Jeremy Balan
Archbishop Riordan High School junior quarterback Zach Masoli’s stats this season don’t jump off the page, but he seems to come up with a “wow” play at least once a week.
Against visiting Mission on Saturday, it was a 74-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter of the Crusaders’ 35-14 non-league win.
With Riordan (3-0) already up 7-0, Masoli dropped back for a pass and was quickly flushed out of the pocket by the Mission (1-2) defense.
Masoli rolled right and appeared to still be intent on passing, then he flipped the switch.
“To be honest, it’s a whole blur to me,” Masoli said. “I’m just trying to make plays for my team and it’s more like street football with family members, trying to run around and not get two-hand touched.”
The junior sprinted down the right sideline, shrugged off a pair of Mission defenders and cut back across the field for the score.
Masoli also led the Crusaders on a scoring drive in the final minute of the second quarter and again went off script.
Facing third-and-8 from the Mission 45-yard line with two minutes left, Masoli again rolled right. He then stopped with his back to his receivers, reversed field, stopped again and found junior wide receiver Chris Hall wide open in the Mission secondary for a 35-yard gain.
Three plays later, on another third down, Masoli repeated his backfield ballet and found tight end Kyle Craig for a 11-yard score to give the Crusaders a 21-0 halfime lead.
“To be honest, I don’t want that,” Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney said of Masoli’s penchant to improvise. “That means we’re not doing as well as we should up front. Ideally, that’s not the plan. He’s a talented kid and really got us out of some jams today.”
Masoli ran for 106 yards on 11 carries and threw for 89 yards on 6-of-11 passing, but was not the focus of the Riordan game plan.
The Crusaders ran the ball early and often and got another 100-yard performance from senior running back Tre’ Gunter, who rushed for a game-high 113 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
“Tre’ has really had a fine season,” Sweeney said. “We kept feeding him and he kept getting positive yards for us.”
The Riordan offense was effective, but it was the defensive unit that kept the early lead intact.
The Crusaders held the Bears to 187 yards of total offense, intercepted Mission quarterback Antoine Porter twice and returned a Mission fumble for a touchdown.
Porter again carried a significant load for the Bears and was responsible for over 67 percent of the Mission yards from scrimmage, including a team-high 83 yards rushing on 16 carries.
Porter also scored the only Mission touchdowns. The first was on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 2:02 left in the third quarter and the second came on a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown two minutes later that cut the Riordan lead to 28-14.
The sneak capped the only Mission scoring drive, which started on the Bears’ 3-yard line. Porter had 46 rushing yards on the drive.
“We’re built around him,” Mission head coach Joe Albano said of Porter. “I thought we did a pretty good job, but we just didn’t put the ball in the end zone when we needed to. We shot ourselves in the foot with penalties, turnovers and AAA stuff.”
The win gives the Crusaders their first undefeated non-league season since 2003, but the question remains whether they have appropriately prepared themselves for West Catholic Athletic League play with what many consider a weak non-league schedule.
Riordan will open league play against defending WCAL champion Bellarmine in two weeks, a team that routed the Crusaders 56-0 last season.
“I don’t know if you’re ever prepared for that league,” Sweeney said. “The [league] is so tough. We had a coach down to watch Bellarmine last night and he said he didn’t see a mistake made by Bellarmine from the middle of the [junior varsity] game to the end of the varsity game. Not one mistake.”
R: 9:38 – Tre’ Gunter 5-yard run (kick failed)
R: 10:10 – Zach Masoli 74-yard run (Chris Hall run on conversion)
R: 0:51 – Kyle Craig 11-yard pass from Masoli (Angel Hernandez kick)
M: 2:02 – Antoine Porter 1-yard run (kick failed)
R: 0:06 – Craig 26-yard fumble return (Hernandez kick)
M: 0:00 – Porter 94-yard kickoff return (Dreon McElroy pass from Porter on conversion)
R: 4:37 – Gunter 13-yard run (Hernandez kick)