UPPER DARBY >> Dahmir Ruffin wasn’t even supposed to return the Bonner & Prendergast punt.
The Archbishop Carroll standout was on the return team, but Carlon Brown was supposed to do the honors. With Bonner & Prendie backed up in its territory and never punting for more than 30 yards, there was a good chance at a good return for the Patriots.
Nobody expected it to be Ruffin doing the returning, but Brown took a hit and fumbled immediately after catching the punt. Ruffin astutely scooped the ball up to avert disaster, then took an eye downfield, and 45 yards later, he’d officially turned the game into a rout that ended in a 42-7 Carroll win over the host Friars.
“The ball rolled to me and I just had to make a play,” Ruffin said. “I ran to the right, stepped back, saw a lane and took it and scored. I stepped back and saw a wall of Friars, and then I stepped back and saw a lane and just said, ‘I’ll take it and see what happens.’”
What happened was an electric play that broke the Friars’ backs by giving Carroll (3-7) a 28-7 lead. It was much more than the Pats would need, but it was an emphatic check in the special teams box for a team that dominated offensively and defensively. Zebby Zarwie led a diverse rushing attack with 73 yards on only five carries, highlighted by a 55-yard dart up the sidelines for a score. Russell Minor-Shaw toted the ball 13 times for 70 yards and two touchdowns, including one touchdown run for two yards and another for 30 yards.
With the Patriots up 14-7, Zarwie lost two yards on a counter. Given the chance on the next play to atone for his loss, he made no mistake, zipping through the line and pulling away from the Bonner secondary for a house call.
“After the first time we ran it, my coach (Dan Connor) said, ‘Don’t head outside,” because I headed outside on the first play,” Zarwie explained. “The second time, I did exactly what he said. I didn’t head outside. I went right through the gap, followed my tackle and my tight end, and I just broke it. When I saw green grass, I was just, like, “I’ve got to score because we need to win. I’ve got to score.”
The Patriots’ domination also carried over to the defensive side, where they limited the Friars to 98 total yards of offense. Ruffin intercepted Friars quarterback Mike Standen to set up a 13-yard Josh Bowman touchdown run.
“No. 15 (Kyrin Jackson) ran a slant, I broke on it and (Standen) threw it right over his head and it came to me,” Ruffin said. “I tried to score. I didn’t score, but I got a pick. Josh Bowman had some broken tackles and scored, so that was good.”
Ryan Finnegan put the hosts on the board when he collected a Carroll fumble and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown, temporarily stemming the Patriots’ momentum. However, the Friars’ inability to string together any kind of consistent offense did them in. A two-quarterback platoon of Standen and Shon Nelson only yielded a combined 47 passing yards. Standen led the team in rushing with 14 yards, while Jackson corralled three passes for 34 yards.
There’s not much time for Bonner & Prendie (1-9) to lick its wounds, though. The Friars take on rival Cardinal O’Hara in next week’s league playoffs. The Lions handed the Friars a 21-0 loss in the regular season, but that won’t have much effect on their collective psyche if Nelson has anything to say about it.
“I can’t wait,” Nelson said. “We just have to go in there believing that we can win, believing that we can compete. I feel that our team can compete with anybody.”
Next week will be the time to prove it.