BRISTOL TWP. >> Five years before they would provide timely and forceful proof of their theory, Tom Millison and Joe Hartley-Vittoria first shared the idea.
The event was a recruiting trip of sorts to Malvern Prep, Millison from St. Thomas, Hartley-Vittoria from St. Joseph’s, two steady eighth-grade football players, two determined competitors.
“We played against each other,” Millison was recalling Saturday. “So we were at the Malvern game on the sidelines. I said, ‘Did you ever hear of Bonner? You should come up there with me sometime.’ And from there, we have been best friends. At that time, we were thinking of other schools. But my mom and my dad went there and I was just leaning that way anyway. Joe went up there and just loved it.”
That’s how they both wound up at what has become Bonner & Prendergast, how they were co-MVPs of a freshman team, and how they each made a big play Saturday at Truman High in the Friars’ 20-7 upending of host Conwell-Egan.
Millison had a 45-yard reception from Evan Raiburn, pushing the Friars deep in the Eagles’ end in the final minute of the first half, putting Shawn Harmon in position for a one-yard touchdown run. Hartley-Vittoria used the third play of the second half to blast 71 yards for a touchdown to give the Friars their first lead. Then, after Conwell-Egan wasted repeated second-half drives, Millison caught a 14-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone with 2 minutes, 14 seconds to play to assure the mild upset.
For that, the Friars improved to 4-5 overall and 3-3 in the Catholic Blue with a game against Archbishop Carroll to play before facing Cardinal O’Hara in the District 12 Class 4A semifinals. Conwell-Egan, shaded a week earlier by visiting O’Hara, dipped to 5-3 and 3-2.
To coach Jack Muldoon, that made it a splendid time for the Friars to uncork their most complete performance of the season on both sides of the scrimmage line.
“Right now,” Muldoon said. “The right time of the year. We had a stumble last week against West Catholic, and I really think we outplayed them. But I really do think we are peaking right now.”
Defensively, at least, there cannot be much dispute. With defensive end Michael Larsen, Millison from the safety spot and linerbacker Matt Fontana, who mixed in an interception, the Friars kept Conwell-Egan frustrated. The Eagles had three second-half possessions that began in Bonner territory and stalled, and another that went without yielding a point. The frustration building, the Eagles would be penalized 13 times for 130 yards, including a 15-yard flag and the ejection of key back Kyree Bronson.
According to Eagles coach Jack Techtmann, that will cost Bronson an automatic one-game suspension.
“We have to get this back on track,” said Techtmann said, who worried about his team after what he characterized as a choppy week of practice following the O’Hara loss. But the Eagles were fine early, benefiting from Bonner’s failed on-side kick and a short field to start the game, Conwell-Egan used a seven-yard Patrick Garwo touchdown run to cap an eight-play scoring drive. Jack Barrera added the PAT for a 7-0 lead.
With seconds left in the half, Raiburn escaped a rush and found Millison open on a broken play near the goal line.
Then Harmon’s short run drew the Friars within a point. The momentum having swung, Hartley-Vittoria scored his touchdown early in the third, highlighting his 16-carry, 166-yard rushing day. Harmon’s two-point conversion run gave the Friars a 14-7 lead.
“We knew we had to play a four-quarter game to win, and we came out in the second half on fire,” Hartley-Vittoria said. “On that play, our fullback Hunter (Ragin) had a huge block. I think this is the best we have been this season. And I think it is going to continue. It’s a snowball effect.”
That snowballing began at that Malvern game, years ago, drawing two competitors together.
“The two of them are so competitive,” Muldoon said, “that I think they’d fight over the last two biscuits in the basket. I think we are going to keep it going”
Still, they know they are better when they are fighting on the same side.
“Yeah, I recruited him,” Millison said, smiling. “I got him here. I got him here. And it paid off. Yes it did.”