CHELTENHAM >> The line of people waiting to hug Lonnie Rice seemed never-ending. First, it was a fan that had rushed the field. Then, an assistant coach wrapped him up and pounded on his shoulder pads. A teammate was next, giving Rice a big embrace.
Why Rice? Because his fingerprints were all over Bishop McDevitt’s win, what coach Mike Watkins called “a culture win.”
Rice had another name for it.
“This was the first of what we think can be many statement wins,” Rice said, following McDevitt’s 10-7 victory Saturday night over visiting Cardinal O’Hara.
Improbably, the Lancers (4-0, 1-0) came out on top in their Catholic League Blue opener. They didn’t outgain Cardinal O’Hara. Their leading rusher, who had averaged 173 yards per game, had only 32. And they mustered only five first downs.
And yet, here they were.
“This is only the beginning,” said Bishop McDevitt defensive end Tyrone Fowler.
Rice turned the game in McDevitt’s favor early in the third quarter, after the teams had played to a scoreless first half.
The 6-foot sophomore stepped in front of a pass from O’Hara quarterback Bobby Siderio and returned the interception 55 yards for what looked like a touchdown. At the last moment, though, O’Hara wide receiver Justin Santilla chased down Rice and poked the ball from Rice’s hands and out of the side of the end zone.
What should have been the game’s first score became a turnover that gave the ball back to O’Hara.
“I was like, ‘OK, back on defense. I’ve got to get this ball back,’” said Rice, who also plays quarterback for the Lancers. “I was furious, but I told my guys, ‘Trust me, I’ll get this back.’”
Two plays later, Rice picked off Siderio yet again; this time, his 26-yard interception return stood, giving McDevitt a 7-0 lead.
O’Hara’s offensive woes continued. The Lions’ next drive ended after only two plays when a high snap by center Ryan Culp got away from Siderio. McDevitt recovered at the O’Hara 6-yard line, and the Lancers added a field goal to extend their lead to 10-0 midway through the third.
That was the last of a season-high five turnovers, including two on high snaps, for O’Hara (3-1, 0-1).
“Negative plays, they’ll kill you,” Lions coach B.J. Hogan said. “I don’t care if it’s grass, if it’s turf, it can’t happen. We’ve got to limit the negative plays.
“They’re getting out of control. The turnovers are on me because, obviously, I’m not doing a good job in practice. We had three last week, and five tonight. Bad football teams lose games when they turn the ball over. It’s inexcusable, honestly.”
Hogan and the Lions had every reason to be disappointed with the outcome.
O’Hara outgained McDevitt on offense, 214-124. The Lions had no problem moving the chains, either, racking up 17 first downs. And the O’Hara defense stymied McDevitt tailback Jon-Luke Peaker, holding one of the Catholic League’s top ballcarriers to a paltry 32 yards on the ground.
And they had momentum, too, using a 32-yard touchdown sprint from Taseer Jones to trim McDevitt’s lead to 10-7 late in the third quarter.
It wasn’t until Fowler sacked O’Hara quarterback Luke Sprague twice on the Lions’ final possession, forcing them to turn it over on downs with 14 seconds to go, that McDevitt could finally exhale and celebrate its first win over O’Hara since, uhh…
“Probably a couple years,” Rice said.
“Probably a hundred years,” Watkins added.