RADNOR >> There was a buzz at Archbishop Carroll High School Friday night as the Patriots hosted their first true home game of the season against Archbishop Ryan. Then again, that might have been the whir of the generators attached to portable lights, illuminating newly christened — but still under construction — Joe McNichol Stadium.
Plastic fencing encircled the field. Straw was down covering the muddy areas that surrounded the bleachers.
And like its new abode, Carroll football remains a work in progress. The Patriots dropped a 26-7 decision to the Raiders to stay winless in 2016.
This loss was particularly frustrating. Carroll committed 17 penalties for 140 yards. The Patriots lost two fumbles in the fourth quarter as they attempted a comeback. Twice they had first-and-goal in the first half and failed to score. The latter of the two came with less than 10 seconds to play before the break.
On first-and-goal from the two, Carroll quarterback Stephen Honick, down 14-0, slipped and fell as he looked for an open receiver. The clock ran out.
“We have to finish when we’re in the red zone,” said senior wideout and cornerback Khadir Roberts, who had two first-half picks to his name. “We just have to punch it in. We’ll make a big play and get our energy up, and then give one up and the whole team shuts down.”
Ryan struck first when Bill Palmer snagged a Chris Reed pass in the corner of the end zone to close the first quarter. The Raiders added a second score four minutes into the second frame. Shamar Edwards split the Patriots’ secondary for a 52-yard catch-and-run.
When Carroll started to put drives together, it was undone by flags.
“I wasn’t happy about it,” Carroll coach Dan Connor said. “You can’t lie to yourself. It wasn’t good football. It wasn’t tough, hard-nosed, disciplined football. You can’t win games like that. Sloppiness around the field, holding penalties, we shoot ourselves in the foot a ton.”
Then again, Connor did add, “We flash. You see signs of life.”
The brightest of those came at the start the third quarter, when Honick marched his offense down the field on an 11-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Christian Smith converted a fourth-and-one at the eight, then bulled his way into the end zone three plays later. He accounted for 23 yards on the drive and rushed for a team-high 67 in the game. The touchdown made it 14-7. The Patriots would draw no closer.
Midway through the fourth quarter the Raiders found themselves with a first-and-31 from their nine thanks to penalties. They were flagged 16 times in a game that left the referees icing their elbows. Ryan (4-3, 1-3 Catholic League) somehow turned that field position into six points. Cameron Gontek, who came in for Reed, hit Tommy Santiago for a 31-yard gain to move out of danger. A face mask pushed the visitors farther down the field. Do-it-all back Jaye McNeil (215 yards rushing) handled the rest. His 18-yard escape and score closed the door on Carroll.
On the next possession, McNeil took a screen pass and galloped 47 yards to complete the scoring.
The Patriots (0-7, 0-4), down and demoralized, couldn’t muster a response.
“It hurts because we’re seniors. We still haven’t won a game,” Roberts said. “We still have to show up every game and play with love and passion.”
“It’s a big game. Brand new stadium, a bunch of alumni,” Connor said. “Everyone wants to see Carroll succeed. Everyone knows we’re rebuilding. We’re a work in progress, but our performance wasn’t up to the standard that I set day one when I was here in January.”
McNichol, “The Father of Carroll Football,” was on hand to accept a plaque commemorating the stadium-naming ceremony. He was joined by members of his various teams, including the two Philadelphia City Champions of 1971 and 1976.
“I’m honored,” McNichol said. “It’s a beautiful stadium.”
There are still optimistic Patriots fans out there.