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Fifth win the sweetest for Cardinal O’Hara

MARPLE >> Des Holmes described the frustration of losing to Bonner & Prendergast two straight years.

He spoke with passion and pride.

“It was so hard. We haven’t beaten them since (2013),” said Holmes, the 6-6, 320-pound Cardinal O’Hara senior lineman. “And when you play this game … you can feel the heat of this rivalry. You can feel it in the stadium. It’s really unlike any other game I’ve ever played in high school.”

Many will say that O’Hara and Bonner & Prendergast is still the premier rivalry in Delaware County.

“They shut us out at their place (last year),” Holmes said. “Two years ago, we gave up a lead at halftime and lost.”

O’Hara hadn’t defeated Bonner & Prendie since the 2013 regular season.

“There was no way it was going to happen again,” Holmes said. “We all believed it.”

Holmes and his linemates dominated for a fifth straight week. And for this group of ever-improving players, who had two varsity wins to their record

O'Hara wide receiver Justin Santilla catches  a pass behind  Bonner  & Prendergast defensive back Brandon Bettole during first quarter at Cardinal O'Hara High School.(Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)

O’Hara wide receiver Justin Santilla catches a pass behind Bonner & Prendergast defensive back Brandon Bettole during first quarter at Cardinal O’Hara High School.(Special to the Times / ERIC HARTLINE)

prior to the season, Friday night’s 28-0 trouncing of the rival Friars proved a point.

The Lions remain one of the best stories in the county, unbeaten after five games.

And it’s about time folks start paying attention.

“It comes down to the way we practice, and we always make each other better,” said defensive tackle Stephon Brown, who penetrated the line of scrimmage with ease and delivered several big hits. “We’re staying low and we’re using our hands, and that’s what I think the difference is.”

On both sides of the line, the Lions have flourished. They were tested Friday night as Joe Hartley-Vittoria, the Friars’ tough-as-nails senior running back, slashed and dashed his way to 79 yards on 10 carries. But the Lions (5-0) held the Friars (1-4) to 63 passing yards, twice intercepted quarterback Evan Raiburn, and forced three turnovers on downs. In five weeks, O’Hara has given up 26 points (5.2 ppg) and it has posted two shutouts.

“We now have guys who are working hard in the weight room and coach (B.J. Hogan) is coaching guys to the best of his ability,” Holmes said. “He’s doing a great job of showing us how to be a winning team and we’re just going with what he’s saying. (We’re) just being better players and playing as a team, because if you play as individuals you lose, which is something we saw last year.

“As a line, coach preaches to keep it physical up front. If we can do that, we can win a lot of games.”

Holmes paused for a moment, then gave a shoutout to his teammates.

“Of course, so much of the credit goes out to my guys. Tommy O’Hara has been great. My other linemen, like Stephen Randazzo, Ryan Harlow, Tommy Wertz, Stephon Brown, Colin Hickey … All credit goes to them. They keep it hard up front. The other line guys on defense, like Tyric Gould and Montez Spearman, we just try to keep it competitive. The coaches push us all the time and that’s how you learn to win.”

The offensive star of the night was Justin Santilla. The junior wide receiver had seven catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Shortly after the game started, O’Hara All-Delco and Carolina Panthers wide receiver Corey Brown dropped by the Lions’ sideline to cheer on Santilla, his younger brother. Santilla noticed Brown when he was forced to come out of the game after injuring himself while making a spectacular diving catch. The ailment wasn’t serious, and Santilla returned moments later.

“When he had that big catch … he came out because he had the wind knocked out of him. He didn’t even know Corey was here,” O’Hara said. “So, (Santilla) came on the sideline and Corey said to him, ‘You going to stop crying, man? Come on.’ He ended up getting back out there and I found him on a slant.”

The quick slant from seven yards out was beautifully executed by Santila for his first touchdown catch, which gave the Lions a 21-0 cushion. In the third quarter, O’Hara threw a bomb down the Bonner sideline and Santilla hauled in the pass for a 46-yard touchdown. He spotted Brown on the sideline and gave him a hip-bump.

O’Hara the quarterback was excellent, going 9 of 10 for 149 yards. In addition to his pair of scoring passes, he had two rushing TDs. Junior defensive back Jamir Redd had a sack and an interception for the Lions.

The Lions are off next week before they host Lansdale Catholic in another big Catholic League Blue Division battle.

“The break is definitely nice. It gives us a chance to rest our bodies a little bit before some of these serious games on the schedule,” Brown said. “Lansdale Catholic is a good team, West Catholic is a good team. There’s a bunch of really good teams that we still have to play.a”

Even better, the Lions will another shot at Bonner & Prendie in November. As the only two District 12 4A squads in the Blue Division, they’ll face each other in the district play-in game. The winner will take on a Public League squad for the right to qualify for the state tournament.

Of course, the Lions have a long way to go before they start talking playoffs.

“I was just telling a couple seniors from last year that I wish they could be a part of this,” Hogan said. “We have some good-sized kids who are buying in and starting to get after it. It’s great to see. That’s where we’re going to win games this year, just leaning on those big guys. We’ve got Des, Stephon Brown, a bunch of those guys who are buying into things that I can’t coach. They trust each other and that’s why we’re so successful right now.”

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