By Jeremy Balan
SAN JOSE – Casual observers that just glance at the score of the Archbishop Riordan High School football team’s 28-10 loss to Bellarmine on Friday at San Jose City College may think the Crusaders are improving.
They would be correct in that assessment. In last season’s meeting between the two teams, the Bells trounced Riordan 56-0 on the Crusaders’ home field.
But what those casual fans won’t know is that the Crusaders (3-1, 0-1) were a few key plays away from being in a position to beat the defending West Catholic Athletic League champs in their league-opening game.
The Bells (3-1, 1-0) held a 21-3 lead at halftime, but were far from dominant in the opening half.
The game’s biggest momentum swing came in the final minute of the first quarter, with the Bells facing a third-and-26 on their own 41-yard line. Bellarmine quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels hit receiver Jared Vallner for a 23-yard gain to position the Bells with a manageable fourth-and-3 situation, when senior running back Joey Sanfilippo broke off a 36-yard touchdown run.
On the next drive, Riordan worked the ball down to the Bellarmine 5-yard line on two huge, scrambling runs by junior quarterback Zach Masoli, but had to settle for a field goal after three consecutive sacks.
Again, late in the third quarter after forcing Bellarmine to turn the ball over on downs, the Crusaders drove down to the Bells’ 8-yard line, but failed to turn that possession into any points.
Masoli scored on the Crusaders’ next drive to cut the Bellarmine lead to 21-10 with 8:14 remaining, but the Bells put the game away on Carta-Samuels’ second rushing touchdown run with 2:40 left.
“We’re just fortunate they didn’t score down there a few more times or we would have been in a world of hurt,” said Bellarmine head coach Mike Janda. “It could have gone either way and if they score a couple of times while they’re down there, we’re fighting for our life.”
Riordan’s progress was clearly visible, but some of the same issues that have hampered the Crusaders in recent years struck again.
The most glaring issue was the Riordan offensive line’s struggle to protect Masoli, and the junior had few, if any opportunities to stand in the pocket to find an open receiver. He was constantly flushed out of the pocket on passing plays and was sacked six times.
“They were bringing it and some of that is not just the offensive line,” said Riordan head coach Richard Sweeney. “He’s maybe gotta release the ball a little bit quicker. It’s football and we’re gonna get better.”
Even with 38 yards in the negative from the sacks, Masoli ran for a team-high 66 yards on 15 carries and threw for 151 yards on 9-of-16 passing.
“Their quarterback is as good as there is around here,” Janda said.
What will likely need to change if the Crusaders expect to compete week-to-week in the WCAL is the performance of the pieces surrounding the standout quarterback. Masoli totaled 217 yards on the ground and through the air, but the rest of the Crusaders (not counting receiving yards on passes from Masoli) gained just 43.
“We just have to keep working,” Sweeney said. “We dropped a couple of long passes we shouldn’t have, we need to tackle a little bit better and there’s all kinds of stuff we need to work on.”
B: 0:20 – Joey Sanfilippo 25-yard run (Grant Bush kick)
R: 8:44 – Angel Hernandez 35-yard field goal
B: 7:23 – Sanfilippo 11-yard run (Bush kick)
B: 0:55 – K.J. Carta-Samuels 2-yard run (Bush kick)
R: 8:14 – Zach Masoli 3-yard run (Hernandez kick)
B: 2:40 – Carta-Samuels 2-yard run (Bush kick)