‘Dude’ O’Hara steps up to lead Lions over Neumann-Goretti

MARPLE >> Cardinal O’Hara and Neumann-Goretti combined for five turnovers and 11 touchdowns Thursday night. They totaled one first down in the first quarter. They scored 63 points in the second half.

The game featured a deflected fourth-down touchdown pass from Tommy O’Hara to Jack Gibson. It featured a kneel-down (instead of a spike) to end the first half by Saints quarterback Brandon Pridgen, who after driving his squad 85 yards to the Lions’ six-yard-line, inexplicably sent both teams to the locker room with seconds to go.

If that wasn’t strange enough, Neumann-Goretti would extend a second-half lead thanks to a zero-yard punt return touchdown. Ryan Taylor booted the ball straight in the air. Amire Taylor jumped on it for six.

The bizarreness of a game from which O’Hara prevailed with a 39-36 win left first-year coach BJ Hogan to say, “I was sitting on the sideline and I felt like my head was going to explode and I was going to fall over.”

He wasn’t alone in that regard. But there was one constant in the confusion: The Lions’ aptly named quarterback. O’Hara’s three-yard sneak with 1:29 left gave the hosts the come-from-behind, whirlwind victory in a Catholic League crossover game.

“We went up big. But no lead is too big. No team is ever out of it,” O’Hara said. “We expected to come back. It was just a great effort by our guys.”

After that lackluster first quarter, O’Hara found a rhythm in the second. He hit Justin Santilla on a slant to open the scoring with 6:04 to go in the half. Following a Saints fumble on a kick return, the Lions doubled their lead in lucky fashion.

On fourth-and-six from the 18, O’Hara was hit as he threw a desperation pass towards Gibson on the right sideline. Gregory Fuller jumped to intercept the ball only to see it end up in the hands of the O’Hara receiver.

O’Hara was flat on his back at that point.

“I was on the ground,” he recalled. “Steve Randazzo picked me up and said ‘We’ll get them next play.’ I was like ‘We scored.’”

Pridgen’s gaffe in the red zone sent the teams to halftime with the Lions leading 12-0. But fortune switched in the third quarter as Pridgen led scoring drives on consecutive possessions. Two touchdown passes to Fuller were followed by two-point conversions and suddenly N-G was up 16-12.

That run was extended by Taylor’s miss kick, as the Saints stretched their advantage to 24-12.
O’Hara, though, the player and team, wouldn’t be denied.

“There was something a coach sad last March Madness that I liked,” said Hogan. “He said ‘We need dudes.’ I told the guys we don’t need average players. We need someone to step up and be a dude.”

O’Hara was that dude. He hit De’Andre Dixon for a 78-yard touchdown on the next play after the botched punt. After the Saints countered with a score, O’Hara scrambled for a 44-yard gain down to the N-G one. Taylor redeemed himself by punching the ball in for six.

And so it went. Khalil Roane scored from three yards out. O’Hara answered with another long touchdown to Gibson, this one a 43-yarder on fourth-and-18.

It was 36-31 with three minutes to go and after recovering an onside kick, the Saints needed a few first downs for victory. Instead, Roane fumbled the ball away to breathe life into the Lions.

With help from a 26-yard Taylor scamper, O’Hara drove inside the five. He finished the drive with a plunge from three yards out to give the Lions (1-3) an unlikely lead.

“We just put that play in last week,” said O’Hara, who received a solid shove from his linemen. “I just got a great push from the line.”

He finished with 233 yards through the air, 42 on the ground and five touchdowns, a stat line worthy of any great game.

“We found a quarterback tonight,” said Hogan. “He made some throws.”

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