Throwback Thursday: 2004 Cardinal O’Hara Lions season
On January 12, 2004, a new era of Cardinal O’Hara Football was ushered in when it was announced that Dan Algeo would be the new head coach. Algeo took over for a retiring George Stratts after serving under him for a season as his offensive coordinator. Previously Algeo served as an assistant coach under his dad, Jim, at Lansdale Catholic from 1983 to 1996, when he took over as head coach at Roman Catholic. He also was the head coach at Phoenixville High School in 2000, and spent one season as an assistant at Widener University.
Algeo inherited a team that went 7-3 the year before and lost to St. Joseph’s Prep, 45-7.
The first game of the season was played at Carney Stadium in Ocean City, N.J., which was tradition during Algeo’s tenure (all but one season did the Lions open up in OC) against Archbishop Wood. Behind the running of Steve Cook (15 carries for 114 yards and 1 touchdown) and Pat Macaulay (20-117-1) and the receiving of Sean Barksdale (two TD catches from John Ward), the Lions walked away with a 28-12 victory.
In Week 2 the Lions traveled to Penn Charter to play the Quakers and made a statement by coming away with a 41-13 victory that was led by Cook. The workhorse carried the ball 29 times for 175 yards and two more touchdowns running behind tackles Joe Glace and Matt Lowry, guards Dan Gough and Jerry Penrose, and center Jerry Feehery.
Week 3 brought an early challenge to the Lions as they hosted the powerful North Penn Knights on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Those in attendance got their money’s worth as both teams played their hearts out, resulting in an overtime game. The Lions got on the board first in the extra session with Cook scoring from three yards out. Frank D’Angelo added the extra point giving the Lions the 14-7 lead. Ian Carpenter would pull the Knights back within 14-13 and it appeared a second overtime would be coming right up, but LB Greg Smith had other plans. On the ensuing PAT, Smith went up the middle with ease and blocked it giving O’Hara the 14-13 victory. Easily lost in the overtime drama could have been the fact that the Lions didn’t score until 23 seconds were left in regulation when Ward connected with Barksdale from 5 yards out.
In Week 4 the Lions’ faithful got a glimpse into the future as sophomore RB John Dempsey exploded for 120 yards and two touchdowns on just 5 carries in a 48-7 walloping of Bishop McDevitt. That game started a stretch for the Lions’ defense under the direction of first year defensive coordinator Joe DiTullio that saw them give up a total of 14 points in four games; they shut out archrival Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Ryan by scores of 24-0 and 36-0
October 23 provided the most anticipated matchup of the regular season when the powerful St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks came to Springfield Delco. The Hawks entered the season with a 35-game winning streak that was snapped in Week 1 by Pittsburgh Central Catholic, but the Hawks still had a 33-game Catholic League winning streak entering the contest. On this day the Hawks and Lions, in front of huge crowd, waged a heavyweight battle that would make the likes of Ali-Frazier proud. Macaulay enabled the Lions to draw first blood with a 17-yard scamper. The Hawks would respond with a scoring pass from Jim McCormick to Tim Lutz and from there both defenses showed that they were championship caliber. Leading the way for the Lions’ defense, which had five sacks, were Mike Marotta, Scott Taylor Ed Callahan, John Paul Conneen and Todd Cannon. The game was decided late in the fourth quarter when McCormick connected with Mike Boyle in the left corner of the end zone for a three yard touchdown and the win.
The following week against Father Judge the Lions rolled out a new starting quarterback in Anthony Walters. And the offense didn’t miss a beat, rolling up a total of 421 yards. Included were 356 yards on the ground, led by Dempsey’s 124 yards on ten carries. Cook also rushed for over 100 yards, finishing with 107 on 18 totes as the Lions cruised to a 46-26 victory.
In the final week of the regular season Algeo’s Lions went on the road and visited old friends in the Roman Catholic Cahillites for a game that would give the winner a first-round bye in the upcoming Red Division playoffs. The Lions needed a late-game score and overtime to lock up the victory by a score of 24-21. D’Angelo’s 21 yard field goal on the first possession of overtime was the gamewinner. The tying drive started with 3:30 left in the contest and the ball on the Lions’ 33. The Ward-Barksdale combination, along with the running of Cook, carried the Lions down the field but it was Macaulay who pounded his way in from 3 yards out with 17 seconds left to force OT. Cook added two first-half rushing touchdowns along with Walters’ touchdown. Defensively the Lions were led by Callahan, Kevin Murray, Taylor and Walters, who notched his seventh interception of the season.
On a cold, rainy Saturday night the Lions return to action in the semifinal contest against Ryan. The field resembled a mud pit more than a place to play football, but that had little effect on the Lions. They racked up 329 yards offensively and were led by Dempsey, who made the most of his six carries by racing for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively the Lions were led by Brahiim Washington, Conneen and Callahan.
On December 4 fans packed a frigid Villanova Stadium for the nightcap of the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship doubleheader and the much anticipated rematch between the Lions and the Hawks. The Hawks were seeking their fourth consecutive championship. The last season the Hawks didn’t win the championship was 2000, when a Lions team led by future NFL player Kevin Jones took down them by a score of 35-10.
The last message Algeo gave to his team before the game was, “Men I love you. Make me proud.” Much like the regular season meeting between these titans, the fans got a classic. The Hawks got on the board first on their second drive of the game when, following a 43-yard pass from McCormick to Steve Quinn, John Shaw powered his way in from five yards out.
The Lions’ special teams got on the board midway through the second quarter when Hawks punter Andrew Cabrey couldn’t get a handle on the snap as the ball bounced around evading several Lion defenders before rolling out the back of the end zone, cutting the Hawks lead down to 6-2. Any momentum that was being felt by O’Hara quickly went out the window when, on the ensuing drive, Shaw took a second-down carry and went through the heart of the Lions’ defense untouched for a 71 yard score that sent the Hawks into the locker room at halftime with a 13-7 lead.
The Lions got new life late in the third quarter when Mike Cavanaugh missed a 30-yard field goal. On the ensuing play from scrimmage Cook raced 20 yards then Walters, on an option keeper, raced down the O’Hara sideline 55 yards down to the Hawks’ 11. Walters would then sneak his way in from two yards out on a fourth and one. The Lions were back in the contest and had the momentum on their side and it stayed on their side when a hook-and-lateral play resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Marotta. On the ensuing drive the Lions took the lead when Macaulay went up the gut on the Hawks from 10 yards out.
The Hawks, however, wouldn’t go down without a fight as on their first play from scrimmage following the TD Chris Whitney connected with Tim Lutz for a big gain that put the Hawks at the O’Hara 25. On third down Whitney appeared to find Matt Leddy open at the 10 yard line when Walters appeared out of nowhere and delivered a bone rattling hit that resulted in an incompletion, forcing the Hawks to attempt another Cavanaugh field goal. But this time he never got the kick off as Smith, as he’d done in the overtime game vs. North Penn, came untouched up the middle and blocked the ball with his leg. The ball dribbled to the Lions’ 1 and Conneen fell on it. The Hawks got another chance after forcing a three-and-out. But the O’Hara defense stepped up and forced the Hawks into a turnover on downs. Along the way, Brian Giacobetti led the way for the Lions’ defense with two interceptions.
With the win Algeo became just the second coach in modern Catholic League history to lead two different schools to Catholic League championships. The man he matched was Stratts, who’d won at O’Hara in 2000 and at Cardinal Dougherty in 1982.
(Information for this article came from tedsilary.com)
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