PHILADELPHIA >> On a different field, against a different opponent, in a different month of the year, maybe Archbishop Carroll plays it conservatively.
Maybe then the Patriots, after driving 72 yards in 76 seconds, would have kicked the point-after attempt and tied the score. Maybe they would have opted for overtime, and taken their chances there.
Maybe they would have extended their season by another game.
“When we were driving down, I decided if we have a shot to win it, we weren’t going to play for overtime. We were going to try to win it,” said Archbishop Carroll coach Dan Connor, moments after the Patriots’ 21-20 loss to Archbishop Ryan in a Catholic League Class 5A semifinal.
Carroll quarterback Kamal Gray capped the Patriots’ potentially game-tying drive with a 31-yard scamper that reached the end zone with 45 seconds remaining. Rather than send out kicker Jules Mastrocola, who had been 2-for-2 on point-after attempts, Connor kept his offense on the field.
Gray rolled left and feathered a pass on the two-point conversion try into the hands of Zach Butler. The receiver’s left foot touched down first, beyond the end line and out of bounds.
“We wanted to win and not play it safe,” said Gray, who was responsible for all of the Patriots’ touchdowns. “A bunch of people were in the same spot. I put it in there, hoping somebody would go get it. I saw (Butler’s) hands go up. I saw he had the ball. I didn’t see if his feet were there.
“Not getting that call is just heartbreaking.”
The win sends Archbishop Ryan (5-6) into the Catholic League 5A final against Archbishop Wood. And it sent Carroll (3-8) into the offseason.
But the Patriots put up a fight.
Gray gave Carroll a first-quarter lead with the first of his three scores. He adeptly delivered an 11-yard pass between two defenders and into Carlon Brown’s hands. Just prior to halftime, and in response to a score, Carroll jumped in front again on Gray’s 31-yard connection with All-Catholic receiver Dahmir Ruffin.
That put the Patriots up, 14-7, at the break. The lead didn’t last, however. Ryan’s Tyreek Chappell opened the third quarter with an 86-yard touchdown on a kick return, leveling the game at 14.
“We can’t come out at the same pace,” Ruffin said, of his team’s flat opening to the second half. “We can’t fall, or stay at the same level.”
Ryan running back Jason Jefferson’s second touchdown of the day, with 2:06 remaining, gave the Raiders a 21-14 lead and set the stage for Carroll’s dramatic drive. Gray eluded a collapsed pocket and scurried for the 31-yard touchdown.
The conclusion to the Patriots’ rally, Connor said, just wasn’t meant to be.
“We got a guy right on the end line. That’s football,” Connor said. “It’s a game of inches, as cliché as that sounds, but it’s true. That was the game today. You take a chance to win the game and, sometimes, those inches cost you the game.”
Top photo: Archbishop Carroll quarterback Kamal Gray, right, in a game from earlier this season. Gray accounted for all three Patriots touchdowns in Saturday’s 21-20 loss to Archbishop Ryan.