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Sprague, O’Hara defense pick off a win over Neumann-Goretti

Cardinal O'Hara's Quasir Cottman, seen in a September game against Archbishop Carroll, ran for 88 yards and a touchdown Saturday in a 28-6 win over Neumann-Goretti. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)
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PHILADELPHIA — Cole Sprague’s eyes lit up when he saw Neumann-Goretti quarterback Rausheen Lively put air under the ball late in the first half Saturday night.

The Cardinal O’Hara junior defensive back had already pocketed one interception at the South Philadelphia SuperSite. So as he camped under the errant pass in the final two minutes of the first half, he knew what to do. Sprague contributed to O’Hara’s four takeaways in a stifling defensive performance for a 28-6 Catholic League Blue Division victory.

Rich McNichol scooped up a fumble to complement a drive-killing sack, and Max Much sealed the game with an interception while playing centerfield in the fourth quarter, reinforcing O’Hara’s credo about making plays on defense.

“We take a lot of pride in it,” said Sprague, who added three pass-breakups. “Our coaches put us in the right spots every play, and the rest of the players on our defense just get in the right spots, and it frees us up.”

It started up front. Linemen Joe Kelly and John Caponi had two tackles for loss each, ensuring Lively was constantly on the run. They limited the Saints (1-4, 1-4 PCL Blue) to 26 rushing yards on 20 carries, aided by four quarterback sacks.

O’Hara (5-2, 3-2) also rebounded when it got pushed around. The Saints finished with 86 yards of offense, but it uncorked a 13-play, 94-yard drive in the first half to score its only points. Lively capped the drive by hitting Tysheem Johnson on an eight-yard pass, and the big blow was a 32-yard punt fake by Ronald Holmes on fourth-and-1 from the Goretti 15.

But that was all the Lions would relent on the day (mathematically, it was more than all.)

The O’Hara offense did its part by controlling the clock. Luke Sprague orchestrated a 12-play, 73-yard drive that ate up 7:51 of clock to make it 21-6 in the third quarter. Derrick Patrick reeled in a perfectly floated ball from Luke Sprague, who deftly stepped up into the pocket, for a 24-yard score.

A turnover on downs by Neumann-Goretti led to another long march, 60 yards on 13 plays elapsing 7:15. Hunter Whitlock did the scoring on a one-yard dive.

The running game could’ve been dicey for O’Hara when Keed Kpoto exited with a shoulder injury in the first half. He ran for 37 yards on eight carries with an early three-yard score, but he finished in a sling.

“I just felt like when Keed went down, my coaches, they trusted me,” running back Quasir Cottman said. “My o-line, my team, they trusted me, and I just stepped up to the plate and did what I can do.”

Cottman filled the void with a workmanlike 88 yards on 23 carries, including a 10-yard score at 2:30 of the second quarter. While the 1-2 punch of he and Kpoto was shelved, Whitlock (15 carries, 26 yards) emerged for the most significant action of his career. Kpoto’s elusiveness was missing, but the deputizing pair got the job done.

“It felt like someone else stepped up to the plate,” Cottman said of Whitlock. “We felt like we trusted him and the team trusted him.”

And that was more than enough for the defense to finish its job.

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