It started in August in tee shirts and shorts, long before the first day of class, when ten seniors began a ritual of two-a-days that has occurred for generations. For them it was their 4th high school football season, but for nearly each of them it was also their last football season. And, then, in little more than a moment, it was the first weekend in November; the leaves turning, the winds of autumn signaling the end of another season as those ten seniors stepped onto Fannon Field as football players one final time.
To most their classmates it was only another game, but to those seniors it was far greater, including captain Hudson Sullivan, who could barely get on the field without the aid of crutches. During a pre-game ceremony honoring seniors Matt Bocchi, Hudson Sullivan, Sam Nelson, Francesco Chichizola, Daniel Baskin, Dylan Espinosa, Conor Burns, Vincent Hession, Taylor Dean, and Max Sanasack and their parents; Head of School, Dr. Tom Curry, athletic director Bill Simmons and Coach Verducci congratulated and thanked each player and family. Teammates presented a Nike athletic bag with the Ireton athletic logo and words “A Cardinal for Life” to each senior, in the hopes that each will remain always a Bishop Ireton Cardinal. With that completed, the the players took their places for one final time.
On the far sideline, a similar emotion ran through John Paul the Great seniors. For the visiting Wolves, however, a win could provide the opportunity for another weekend, a possible state playoff berth, which also loomed for every white-jerseyed player. It would be a milestone accomplishment for the young school that opened its doors for the first time in 2008. So, when the teams took the field, as fans continued to enter the game, it was far from just another football game.
John Paul the Great (7-3) received the opening kickoff and the Wolves’ senior leader, and Ireton nemesis, Zak Perroots, soon made his presence known on his last visit to Fannon Field as he bolted 45 yards up the middle, the key play in a 6-play, 67-yard drive that was capped by a 13-yard run by sophomore Michael Horan for a touchdown with 9:06 left in the first quarter. The Matthew Nguyen kick made it 7-0 JPG.
Bishop Ireton responded immediately. Sophomore Alex Duke, a rising star at the running back position, fielded the kickoff and bolted 66 yards before being hauled down on the Wolves’ 25 yard line. Junior quarterback Andrew Latrash needed only one play, a 25-yard toss to junior Drew Smith and the Matt Bocchi PAT had the game even at 7-7 16 seconds after the visitors took the early lead.
The teams’ defenses steadied at that point, the Wolves going three and out on their next possession. Ireton moved into field goal range when their next drive stalled, but Bocchi missed just wide right on a 32-yard attempt. The teams traded pass interceptions as they struggled in the second quarter to gain the advantage. Fortunately for Ireton, it was a Drew Smith interception at the 30 of John Paul the Great that gave the home team’s offense the opening it needed.
Duke continued to pile up the yardage on the ground for Ireton as they knocked on the door, the gritty sophomore gained 56 yards on 11 carries, but it was a bubble screen to senior Max Sanasack for a 24-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals a lead they would not relinquish at 14-7 with just over 3 minutes remaining in the first half. Ireton’s second interception, this time by sophomore Corey Johnson, stalled the Wolves just before halftime.
Bishop Ireton struck again on its first possession of the second half to increase the lead to 21-7. Starting on their own 48, Latrash rushed twice, putting Ireton on the JPG 27, Duke ripped off a 20-yarder, and hard running junior Josh Ammon, a rugged two-way player, bulled through defenders to the 5-yard line. Latrash soon rolled to his right, looking for an open receiver, then tucked the ball away for a 5-yard scamper to paydirt with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
The Wolves didn’t fold however, and on their next possession rode the rushing of Perroots, Zak and brother Brandon, as well as Horan, to put together a 15-play, 76-yard drive that closed the gap to 21-14 when Zak Perroots scored on a five-yard run.
Special teams caused the visitors some problems during the game and another long kickoff return by Duke gave Ireton great field position on their next drive.
Duke and Ammon shared the load battering the visitors’ defense on the ground and Ammon finished the drive early in the game’s final quarter dragging tacklers from the 5 yard line into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown and a 28-14 advantage. The Dumfries school refused to go quietly however, and aided by a gadget play and a penalty, were soon driving down the field on their hosts again. Eating up 4:55 of game time, the Wolves mixed their most effective aerial attack and their strong running game to march nearly the length of the field, capped off with a Perroots to Horan 9-yard touchdown pass with 2:18 remaining, closing the gap to 28-21.
The Cardinals took the ensuing kickoff back to their 34 yard line and attempted to use as much of the remaining 2:12 left in the game while protecting the slim margin. Three running plays left Ireton short of the necessary ten yards but Andrew Latrash got off a 38-yard punt to give John Paul the Great 73 yards of artificial turf ahead of them with only 79 seconds to cover it.
Of all the improvements the Cardinals made in the 2013 campaign from their one win season a year ago, defense had to be near the top of any list. The final drive of the game was a testimony to the work of new defensive coordinator Jerton Evans. His defense, even without its unquestioned leader, Hudson Sullivan, played another strong game and the final drive was among their best performances. Andre Robinson, Sam Nelson, Josh Ammon, Dylan Espinosa, Michael Everett, as well as backs Brendan Peifer, Corey Johnson, and Drew Smith kept Ireton close in nearly every game.
On JPG’s final drive the Cardinals broke up a pass attempt on first down, flushed Austin Otter out of the pocket on second down and the senior scrambled to the Wolves 27 before going out of bounds for no gain. A determined pass rush caused a hurried toss that was incomplete on third down, forcing a critical 4th and 10 final chance for the Wolves’ and any post season opportunity. Sophomore Trey Lovisone chased down a scrambling, desperate quarterback on that final snap and the Cardinals took over on downs in John Paul the Great territory. Two snaps from center and taking a knee in the “victory formation”, the team’s injured captain Hudson Sullivan made his only appearance on his final day in a Cardinal football uniform; with that the game and season were over.
For the Cardinal seniors, it was their 4th win of the year, their second in a row to end the season 4-6, something for the returning players to build upon next August. They went out winners in their final appearance as Cardinal football players, mobbed by their classmates as the team hand shake concluded, a memory none will soon forget.
“We grew throughout the course of the season and moved past two heartbreaking loses.” reflected head coach Tony Verducci as his 7th campaign at the helm concluded. “We’ll miss our small but hardworking group of seniors and have many talented players returning. It is an exciting time to be a member of the Cardinal football program.”
John Paul the Great (7-3) ……..7 0 7 7 21
Bishop Ireton (4-6) ……………..7 7 7 7 28
JPG: Horan 13 yd run (Nguyen kick)
BI: Smith 25 yd pass from Latrash (Bocchi kick)
BI: Sanasack 24 yd pass from Latrash (Bocchi kick)
BI: Latrash 3 yd run (Bocchi kick)
JPG: Perroots 5 yd run (Nguyen kick)
BI: Ammon 2 yd run (Bocchi kick)
JPG: Horan 9 yd pass from Perroots (Nguyen kick)