Local Catholic rivalry runs deeper than won-loss records

No matter what the records say, the rivalry between Bonner-Prendergast and Cardinal O’Hara always seems to bring out the best in both teams.

Friars head coach Greg “Bubba’ Bernhardt, a one-time assistant at O’Hara and Bonner alumnus, says it’s about pride and tradition. Bragging rights are at stake. Delco sports legends to be made.

Bonner (7-1) comes into Sunday afternoon’s game as the clear favorite. There is a stark contrast between what the Friars have done and what the Lions have gone through. Beginning with the death of beloved head coach Dan Algeo in July, O’Hara (1-7) has endured one of its most difficult seasons, on and off the field, in the program’s storied history.

For one day, however, everything that transpired in the weeks and months before Sunday’s contest is pushed aside. There’s motivation and incentive on the part of both teams to put forth their greatest effort. The Catholic League AAA playoffs, which get under way next weekend, might as well be in the distant future.

“Whatever happened leading up to this game, it does not matter. When you talk about your records being zero-and-zero, this is that game,’ Bernhardt said. “…if they win this game it kind of makes their year. And rightfully so. It’s a game that means a lot to both schools. We’re not concerned with anything they’ve done to this point. We’re concerned about progressing and playing the best game we’ve played all year.’

Bernhardt added that his players have turned the page from last week’s 56-7 defeat at the hands of Archbishop Wood, a deflating loss for a team as good as the Friars. Bonner could see the Vikings again in the Catholic League final, but none of that matters this week.

O’Hara interim boss Paul Strus can attest to Bernhardt’s comments about there being a certain level of respect for the tradition of the rivalry. Back in the day, Strus was an assistant coach on the Bonner staff and spent the previous 10 years as the special teams coach for the Lions.

“There can be a heated rivalry and there can be a pride rivalry. For our guys, it’s a chance for us to gain a lot of respect back,’ Strus said. “All those times Bonner was having a down year, they still gave us a game. It comes down to we know them and they know us. Emotions run and will play a big part in the game. ”

It will be hard to top last year’s regular season and playoff meetings. Each game featured an incredible comeback for the ages. First, it was the Lions that erased a 15-point deficit and won in overtime, 36-35, after JT Blyden’s touchdown run and All-Delco kicker Steve Weyler’s point-after conversion. Two weeks later, Bonner returned the favor in the Catholic League semifinal round, riding the back of then-junior quarterback Collin DiGalbo, who threw for 325 yards and accounted for six TDs in a 41-38 win. The Friars had trailed at halftime, 35-7.

“I don’t really care if we can top it,’ Bernhardt said, laughing. “I just want to get a win.’

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Marple Newtown is one of four Delco teams — along with Glen Mills, Interboro and Radnor — scraping for a spot in the District One Class AAA playoffs. The Tigers, under the tutelage of rookie head coach (and Delco’s all-time career passing leader) Chris Gicking, are looking to snap a two-game winning streak when they host unbeaten Springfield Friday night.

Fueled by Adrian Sapnas, who is inching closer to the school’s single-season rushing crown, the Tigers are enjoying a program resurgence despite their recent striggles. Sapnas’ success can be attributed to the maturation of offensive linemen Luke Lozowicki, Kyle Kelly and Vince Ciavardelli. Tight end Noah Turner has developed into a solid run and pass blocker.

The Tigers, who are tied with Glen Mills for the eighth and final seed, end the regular season at home against Penncrest.

“I think it would be great for the community if we got in,’ Gicking said.

In the Class AAAA bracket, Garnet Valley (15th place), Haverford (16th) and Ridley (tied-18th) are all in a do-or-die position. One more loss could cripple their playoff dreams. Haverford and Garnet Valley, both 6-2, meet Friday night. The Fords host Ridley next week. The Jaguars’ loss to fellow Class AAAA program Unionville could come back to haunt them, as it cost them a handful of key power points.

One thing is certain: it will be a wild ride to the finish line.

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There are a few tweaks to the Del Val League schedule.

This week’s Penn Wood-Academy Park game, originally scheduled for Friday night at 7, has been moved to Saturday at 1 o’clock. Chester’s home game with Chichester Saturday morning has been moved to 1:30. Next week’s Chester-Interboro game at the South Avenue Athletic Complex was changed from Friday night to Saturday morning at 11 a.m.

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Although the 2014 season hasn’t gone as expected for Penncrest (1-7), a team many expected would make noise in District One Class AAA, there have been some positives. Lineman Jonah Jackson and linebacker Diego Zubieta have been constants. Quarterback Dan Fisher, who has thrown for 1,277 yards, and wide receiver Bobby McCafferty, who has 493 yards and a county-best 49 catches, have been one of Delco’s top pass-and-catch combinations. Sophomore Joe Quintiliano has emerged as the team’s leading running back.

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Springfield’s superb defense leaked oil in a crazy, 34-33 decison over Upper Darby two weeks ago. The Cougars allowed a season-high in total yardage and points.

In Saturday’s 7-0 triumph over Garnet Valley, they gave a lights-out performance. Buoyed by the exploits of linebackers Adam Krauter and Ricky Sterling, linemen Brian Layden, Dan Archibong and Matt Cella, and defensive back Pat Smyth, Springfield became the first team to shut out Garnet Valley in four years.

“I think it (the Upper Darby game) was a good gut-check,’ Krauter said after Saturday’s win. “It was a wake-up call. It was disappointing, but we brought ourselves down back to earth and we got it done.’

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To contact Matt Smith, email msmith@delcotimes.com or follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith. For stats, standings and more high school football coverage, visit Delcofootball.com.

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