HARRISBURG >> A campaign billed as containing considerable promise passed its inaugural eye test Saturday afternoon at Severance Field.
Coatesville, pegged as PIAA contenders in Class 6A by many to start the season, delivered a 37-6 blow to the host Harrisburg Cougars, winners of 11 games a year ago.
The contest, a District 1/3 crossover, marked the first time the Red Raiders have faced Harrisburg, as currently constituted, dating to the merger of the former John Harris and William Penn high schools in 1971.
Matt Ortega’s crew found itself up 9-0 a mere 1:28 into the season and were never seriously threatened for the balance of the contest, which included a sluggish 45-minute first quarter.
Junior quarterback Ricky Ortega passed for 271 yards during a 12-for-21 outing and two touchdowns. Senior running back Aaron Young ran for 86 tough yards on 20 carries, seemingly picking up steam as the contest rolled on and threw a score to Ortega on a not-quite Philly Special gadget play. Junior wide out Dapree Bryant threw for a touchdown and caught one, from Ortega, worth 79 yards.
Coatesville appeared ready to audition the part. The Raiders, full of explosive playmakers, will indeed be a load for the rest of the Ches-Mont League to handle before talk ever turns to November football.
“Our kids had been preparing for this game for a long time,” Ortega said. “We scheduled it for a reason. We knew that we were going to have a pretty good team and why not schedule the best, come up here and play one of the best from the Mid-Penn (Conference). With District 1 getting shipped up here for the state playoffs, it makes sense to play Mid-Penn teams.”
Harrisburg, though, did not live up to advance billing. The Cougars stumbled out of the gate, surrendering a safety on the season’s third snap when quarterback Kane Everson was sacked in the end zone after a botched opening kickoff pinned the Cougars at their own 5-yard-line. That was quickly followed by a 33-yard Bryant-to-Dymere Miller halfback option score, following the free kick.
After six plays in 2018, the Cougars were down nine points and swimming upstream. Two drive-killing fumbles and a second-half end zone pick from seven yards out, by Nik Thompson, snuffed out additional rally chances the hosts generated.
“That was a heckuva start,” Ortega said. “And that was our goal. We knew we were going to put pressure on them on defense, try make something happen. They have a young quarterback (Everson), a transfer from CD East, and he hasn’t gotten a lot of reps. Hopefully, get him rattled a bit and that’s what happened and it worked out for us.”
Everson was just 5 of 12 passing for 36 yards. The young signal-caller ripped off 97 yards on 17 rush attempts, but only a portion of those totes were by design: Coatesville spent much of the afternoon busting down the fence and camping in Harrisburg’s back yard.
Ricky Ortega continues to emerge as a vaunted option. The big play instinct, with playmaker teammates to help pull it off, is what carried the Raiders on Saturday.
“Having a kid like that is liking having a coach on the field,” Matt Ortega said of his son. “He lives for this. He’s the one who said, “Dad, we’ve got to play here. And here we are and I knew he was going to give his best effort.”
Ricky Ortega capped a nine-play, 54-yard drive to make it 16-0 midway through the first quarter on a 2-yard plunge. The score was set up by a 32-yard completion to Frankie Sherman on the first snap of the possession, which put the Raiders in business at the Harrisburg 22.
Sherman would later cap the scoring late in the third quarter on a 21-yard strike.
Young got into the trick play bag to push it to 23-6 late in the first half. He found Ortega from the backfield from 12 yards out.
“It’s great because we have athletes who can throw the ball and catch it and can do it all,” Young said. “That’s the best part of our team. Our offensive coordinator (Jim Cantafio), he’s great guy. It’s fun.”
Harrisburg’s lone score came from Everson, who scrambled 16 yards to paint with 1:15 left in the first to cut the deficit to 16-6. The short, two-play drive was set up by Coatesville’s lone snafu of the afternoon, a botched punt snap from its own 27.
Everson would later depart with leg cramps, giving way to sophomore John McNeil. It was McNeil who threw the interception to Thompson in the end zone — ending a seven-play, 76-yard march set up by a 49-yard scramble by Everson, one play before leg cramps sidelined him.