BRISTOL TWP. >> B.J. Hogan read the schedules right-side-up, upside-down and sideways, with a magnifying class, under good lighting.
He read the schedule for his Cardinal O’Hara High football team.
He read the schedule for Conwell-Egan.
He checked, double-checked and decided: Yes, it was time to deliver a reality check, out loud, in the locker room, for all to hear.
“I’m kind of a new-age coach,” Hogan said. “So I let them know: If we don’t win this one, there will be no championship, no ring. That’s what we want.”
Complicated system short, as the O’Hara coach saw it, the Lions had to win Friday night, 16-13, at Truman High against Conwell-Egan… or have the Catholic Blue standings and reality puncture more than the Lions’ perfect record. No, in a tough spot, on the road, between two teams unbeaten in the Catholic Blue, it was time to play like contenders… or wonder for a long time why not.
With that as motivation, the Lions used a bruising defense and just enough big plays to outlast the Eagles to improve to 7-0 overall, 4-0 in the Blue.
The Eagles fell to 6-2 overall, 3-1 in the league, but not before making a good game even better with a touchdown and an interesting decision with 2 minutes, 38 seconds to play.
The Lions ahead, 14-7, Patrick Garwo basted 34 yards for his second touchdown of the game to draw the Eagles within a point. That gave coach Jack Techtmann a choice.
“We talked about it the whole time, what we would do,” Techtmann said. “Would we go for two if we scored, or kick. We were at home and we felt like kicking was the right move at the time.”
Such is the nature of football coaching decisions. For, as it would happen, O’Hara’s Cameron Blair would come charging in from the right side to block the attempted PAT. That preserved the Lions’ lead… and, temporarily at least, their peace of mind.
Though Derrick Patrick would recover the expected on-side kick, the Birds had enough timeouts to force the Lions to make at least two more big plays. The first was from Nick Kutufaris, who was central to O’Hara’s swarming defense from the secondary, but whose limited offensive opportunities would prove memorable.
It was Kutufaris who had sprinted 48 yards in the second quarter for a touchdown, helping the Lions to a 14-0 halftime lead. His second carry came with 1:56 left and was good for 43 yards, pushing O’Hara to the Conwell-Egan eight.
Once more, for accounting purposes only: Nick Kutufaris, two carries, 91 yards, an average of 45.5.
Three next game?
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “It comes down to the situation. We won. That’s what we wanted.”
Not that it would be simple, even then.
Understanding those Catholic Blue stakes itself, Conwell-Egan managed the clock and kept the Lions out of the end zone with 46.9 seconds left.
It was then that Hogan had a thought: Just let the clock run out somehow.
“We really didn’t want a safety,” he acknowledged, figuring that it would only wiggle the Eagles off the goal line and provide them with one final on-side kick lottery-stab.
Ah, but points are points. So outside linebacker Tyric Gould provided two more, charging into the end zone to sack quarterback Kendall Jones, providing the Lions with a three-point lead. By then, he was just joining in on the theme of the game, which was to win it one big play at a time. In addition to Kutufaris’ long runs and Blair’s snuff, the Lions scored a first-quarter touchdown on a 16-yard pass from Tommy O’Hara to Justin Santilla and recovered four fumbles. Gould’s late sack not only further thickened the highlight film, but it was one more exhibit of proof that the Lions had understood Hogan’s orders.
“We knew this was the game,” he said. “We want that championship and the rings. That wasn’t going to happen if we didn’t win this one. We think we showed something tonight.”
The Lions, who’d been subjected to whispers about their strength of schedule, won a game between undefeated Catholic League teams, on the road, after leading by only a point within the final three minutes.
Hogan understood the meaning. It’s why he passed on the one-game-at-a-time standard.
“We didn’t say that,” the Lions’ coach said. “We let them know how big this one was.”
Big game. Big plays. Bigger things, perhaps, to come.