PHILADELPHIA >> With Ryan Graham doing what he does best early in the Archbishop Carroll football season, he expected to hear a sudden pop. He never thought he’d hear it twice.
Graham is the hard-hitting Patriots’ safety, and there he was taking on a Conwell-Egan fullback, arriving with the customary thud. It was that sound that followed that had him concerned.
“I just heard my shoulder pop out,” Graham said. “I tore my labrum.”
Though he would spend weeks in pain, the senior refused to call it a season and a high school career, and returned Saturday night to do what he could in what would be a 27-13 loss to Archbishop Ryan at Northeast High.
On a night when the Patriots struggled to find offensive consistency, Graham provided an interception to set up a Carroll touchdown. As it would happen, the other Carroll score was born from an interception by Zach Butler.
Though the Pats dipped to 2-5 and 0-4 in the Catholic Red, their secondary gave them multiple chances to succeed. And it was Graham who most frolicked in that role.
“He’s battled a shoulder that is really painful,” said Carroll coach Dan Connor, who played at the highest football levels at Penn State and the NFL. “I’ve been through it, and the degree he has, some structural stuff in there, it is a high degree. And he’s a kid who has never complained. He goes out and works harder than anybody else. He’s our best leader. He’s the heart and soul of our team.
“He battled. He rehabbed. And he got back on the field. He made some great plays. He was physical. He was fast. He’s the kind of kid you can build a program around.”
Connor is in his second year of trying to rebuild the Carroll football momentum, and was less than pleased with the overall energy Saturday. Ryan (3-4, 2-3) generated 256 rushing yards, with Jason Jefferson running for four touchdowns.
The Raiders built a 27-6 lead after three, but Carroll made two telling fourth-down stops in the fourth, opening opportunities for a rally. But 100 yards worth of penalties and a difficult late-game wind kept Ryan in control until Mekhi Lang’s interception with 1:28 left provided the seal.
“We jumped on them, and that was the difference,” Ryan coach Frank McArdle said. “But they did a great job. They played really hard to the end. Really hard. There has been a major improvement at Carroll since last year. A major improvement.”
After Graham’s interception at the Ryan 20 and his return to the seven, the Pats scored on a three-yard pass from Kamal Gray to Dahmir Ruffin to trim a deficit to 14-6.
Ryan, though, was relentless on the ground, and upped its advantage to 20-6 with Jefferson’s three-yard burst 35 seconds before halftime. Jefferson’s three-yard scoring run early in the third, along with Gavin Dionisio’s third PAT kick, re-established the Ryan command.
“I have to be honest, I’m a realist,” Connor said. “Last year was a silver-lining year, where each game, we struggled, we battled, we showed courage and we built from that. But at this point, we have to execute. In this league, and it’s the best league in the state, the only way we can win is to execute. If we want to be competitive in games, we have to practice better, tougher and do everything above and beyond.”
That much, Graham has provided, returning from the injury Saturday to make an impact. Butler made a similar one with 11:17 to play, returning an interception to the Ryan 26. Russell Minor-Shaw capitalized with a 16-yard, fourth-and-inches touchdown run. Juliano Mastrocola’s point-after drew the Patriots within 14 with enough time remaining to keep Ryan on edge.
“In the first half, we came out timid and soft,” Graham said. “That’s not who we are. We held St. Joe’s Prep, the 10th best team in the country to 10 points in a half. If we put out that kind of performance, it might have been a different outcome.
“I think our secondary had a pretty good game tonight. But there is always room for improvement.”