WILDWOOD, N.J. >> It took not even one half of football in 2015 for Archbishop Carroll to encounter a crossroads that would say something about it as a team.
In the waning seconds of the first half of its opener against Conwell-Egan Friday afternoon, the Patriots saw starting quarterback Steve Honick writhing in pain after a crushing hit wrenched his ankle. On the very next play, his understudy, junior Kevin Downs, was driven into the turf with enough force to render him unresponsive for an unnerving amount of time and after 20 minutes of medical attention, taken off the field strapped to a gurney.
Carroll was faced with a decision: Play the rest of the game distracted and bereft of energy after the physical and emotional one-two punch to its signal-callers, or regroup and show those who came to the Jersey Shore that it could survive a storm, too.
The Patriots weren’t able to find the end zone in the second half, and because of that they fell, 6-0, to Conwell-Egan. But with Honick showing heart as he hobbled all over the field, Carroll outplayed its Catholic League rival in the final 24 minutes, outgaining the Eagles, 120-42 in the second half.
“Seeing Kevin go down lit a fire in me,” said Honick, perhaps the most vertically challenged quarterback in Delco, but who makes up for it in guts. “I just wanted to do anything I could to help the team win.
“I think the whole team bonded today.”
It was an important sight for head coach Joe Powel, as he and his staff witnessed enough fortitude and underclassman talent at skill positions to believe it can be a far better team in November than it was three days before Labor Day.
“We had some first-game mistakes, some inconsistencies that we have to get better at,” Powel said. “Right now, it’s about learning how to win. In the first half our defense gets up a fumble on (Conwell-Egan’s) 5, and we can’t punch it in. That was a big series.”
That missed opportunity in the opening quarter — the Pats saw a 27-yard field-goal attempt sail wide left — started a trend in which Carroll seemed more than capable of driving from the middle of the field, but would stall once it pressed inside the Eagles’ 30-yard line.
Those problems should dissipate as junior Christian Smith (75 yards rushing) and sophomore Rahsul Faison (50 yards) continue to mature.
If there’s a challenge for Powel, it’s that the big, quick tandem are at the same position in his offense at the moment and shuttle in and out of the game for each other. You get the feeling that, at some point, opponents are going to see both of them lined up on offense, creating more than one concern.
“Ever since Christian arrived at Carroll, we’ve put a good thing together,” Faison said. “We’re working really hard to do whatever we can to get the team wins.
“We know what we can do … when (they didn’t take advantage of the first-quarter turnover), that was a disappointment on our part.”
Carroll certainly doesn’t suffer from finger-pointing. Every player seemed willing to own the mistakes that left the Patriots just short of the opening win they craved.
“Personally, I take a little of the fault for the loss,” said Honick, who was 4-for-13 passing and was sacked five times. “I missed some open receivers …”
In Honick’s defense, a couple of his misses were overshooting receivers by a hair while throwing with a gusty breeze at his back, or releasing a pass a tad quickly as his struggled to roll out on a bad wheel.
“I knew when Steve came back in (after his injury), he would keep fighting,” Faison said.
Defensively, the Patriots forced three turnovers and, other than a lapse at the end of the first quarter and early in the second that concluded with a 28-yard touchdown run by Conwell-Egan’s Kyree Bronson, didn’t allow much movement at all.
“I’m proud of our defense,” Powel said. “Our defense kept us in the game all day and played hard and with some emotion. We have to fix some things offensively, but I think we are really close.”