BRISTOL TWP. >> The script flipped at a most inopportune time for Lansdale Catholic’s football team.
With a berth in the Class 3A state quarterfinals on the line Friday night, the Crusaders made a few too many mistakes and fell 44-20 to Conwell-Egan in the District 1-12 regional final at Harry S. Truman.
It was a stark contrast to the Philadelphia Catholic League Blue Division teams’ regular-season meeting in late September, when LC forced six Conwell-Egan turnovers on the way to its most impressive victory of the year.
The Eagles turned the tables on LC in a big way in the playoff rematch Friday, forcing the Crusaders to make the bulk of the mistakes this time around.
Twice, the Crusaders misplayed Conwell-Egan kickoffs, allowing the Eagles to recover both of them. Also, the Eagles’ Dajuan Harris blocked an early third-quarter LC punt that resulted in a Conwell-Egan safety.
The biggest backbreaker, however, came when LC allowed the Eagles’ Terome Mitchell to find an open lane and return a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown with just 15 seconds to play in the first half. It erased the Crusaders’ lone lead of the game and moved Conwell-Egan in front for good.
“Special teams is what really killed us,” said LC senior linebacker Jake Doheny, who made his share of big hits on defense and scored the Crusaders’ first touchdown on a 5-yard pass from Michael Dutkiewicz. “That kickoff return, not sprinting down the field and staying in our lanes …
“Then that punt block really killed us. It’s the small things that really killed us this game.”
The end of the second quarter featured an entire game’s worth of momentum swings.
The Crusaders (5-7) fell behind 6-0 when Conwell-Egan (6-6) grinded out a 19-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that ate up 11 minutes of the clock. Twice on the possession, the Eagles converted on fourth down – once on a gutsy fourth-and-1 call from their own 22, and another with a 7-yard run from quarterback Alex Goldsby on a fourth-and-5.
Conwell-Egan was driving toward another potential score with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter. LC, however, forced a Patrick Garwo fumble that the Crusaders’ Mike Shragher recovered.
The Crusaders marched 62 yards in 12 plays, taking a 7-6 lead on Doheny’s touchdown reception 26 seconds before intermission.
When it appeared LC would head into the locker room with big-time momentum, the Eagles’ Mitchell had other ideas. He ran the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, then picked up a fumbled pitch on the two-point conversion and raced into the end zone again to make it 14-7.
“That just killed us right there,” Doheny said. “That was one of the punches that got us down. It’s hard to recover from that.”
“It was (deflating) to see that (kickoff return) happen,” LC senior defensive end Nick Picozzi agreed. “But a lot of times, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve just got to keep playing.”
Just when it didn’t look like things could get worse for the Crusaders, they failed to field Jack Barreras’ bouncing kickoff. The Eagles’ Mitchell fell on it at the LC 10 with nine seconds left in the half.
“You’ve just got to never give up,” Picozzi said. “It’s part of the game. You’ve got to just keep pushing and hope that something turns around and comes your way.”
Another Conwell-Egan score in that spot could have just about buried LC, but, two incomplete passes later, the Crusaders blocked Barreras’ 27-yard field goal attempt to keep the score 14-7 at the half.
“We had a little bit of momentum going again,” Picozzi said. “But it was tough. They came out (in the second half) a lot stronger than they did in the previous game.”
The first three-plus minutes of the second half were disastrous for LC. The Eagles extended their lead to 16-7 on Harris’ blocked punt for a safety. Then, after Mitchell returned the Crusaders’ free kick 30 yards to the LC 27-yard line, it took the Eagles just four plays to go up 23-7 on a Goldsby 5-yard touchdown run.
LC aided Conwell-Egan’s cause by committing a facemask penalty to give the Eagles a first-and-goal from the 5.
Playing mistake-free football in the second half, Conwell-Egan was tough to stop. The Eagles scored 30 points after intermission.
Garwo, the PCL Blue Division Most Valuable Player, was limited to just 66 rushing yards in the regular-season meeting against LC. On Friday, he ran for 194 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries, showing just why programs like Wisconsin, Virginia and North Carolina have already offered football scholarships to the junior standout.
“They have a great running back,” Doheny said. “It’s hard to stop him. It’s just hard.”