Gorman: A first for the last of North's Longs
As his North Catholic teammates broke into an instantaneous celebration, Ryan Long bowed his head and started to sob.
The Trojans risked the PIAA Class A championship by going for a 2-point conversion in overtime and were rewarded with the school's first state football title.
That was not lost on Long, whose family has a history with the Troy Hill high school now known as Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.
Long's father, Tommy, and uncles Marty, Dave and Jim played football or basketball — or both — at North. Dave is the school's boys basketball coach. Ryan was preceded by his cousins: brothers Dave and Joe, Jesse and Fran, Martin and Matt.
“The Long family is synonymous with North Catholic,” Trojans coach Bob Ravenstahl said. “I'm going to miss the Long family, to be quite honest.”
Not as much as Ryan Long will miss North Catholic.
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound two-way tackle reminded the Trojans of that at halftime Friday afternoon at Hersheypark Stadium when they were trailing Old Forge, 7-0.
“For these seniors, this is your last two quarters in these uniforms: For you underclassmen, you may never get another chance to come back here,” Long shouted. “Let's play these last two quarters like they're the last two of our lives. Let's fight like brothers. Let's fight like Trojans. Let's go out and win this ballgame.”
Then, amazingly, they did.
Despite their quarterback, Adam Sharlow, on crutches since Week 7. Despite their star tailback moving to quarterback. Despite their offensive line being smaller than Old Forge across the board. Despite nearly losing starting center Dylan Grieco to injury.
Grieco, a 5-foot-7, 208-pound senior, is Long's best friend and the player who epitomized the toughness of North's line.
Grieco played despite needing surgery to repair blowouts in both knees. With a partially torn ACL and torn meniscus in his right knee and a torn MCL in his left, he feared his season was over after getting injured against Neshannock.
After growing up together in Shaler, Grieco followed Long to North Catholic because of their love for the Trojans' smashmouth style of football. So Grieco played the last two quarters (and overtime) like they were his last.
“He's a warrior, a soldier,” Long said of Grieco. “I wouldn't be where I am if it weren't for him pushing me.”
North Catholic has boasted all season that it has the best line in Class A. Old Forge forced the Trojans to back it up from the beginning.
“We never underestimate the opponent,” Ravenstahl said, “but I think those kids honestly believe they can beat anybody they play.”
It started with the coin toss, when Long exchanged pleasantries with Old Forge 6-4, 290-pound tackle Ryan Paulish.
“I was giving him the death stare,” Long said, “and he blew me kisses.”
They beat each other to a pulp, as the teams combined for runs on 81 of 97 plays. Old Forge outgained North, 219-145, but the Trojans had the confidence to run P.J. Fulmore for a 2-point conversion for the 15-14 victory.
“As the quarterback, I have to be the leader of the offense, but Ryan Long leads the whole team,” Fulmore said. “He just shows us how bad he wants it. That makes us want it, too.”
Long shared a story with his teammates of his family vacation here years ago, how he saw the stadium and vowed to play in it for a state title.
“This was probably his biggest dream,” Grieco said, “coming here to be the first in his family to win a football championship at North.”
A dream that came true and reduced him to tears. He sobbed while the Trojans celebrated, thinking of the four years he spent walking into the gym and daydreamed about being one of the seniors to ring the Victory Bell after winning a championship.
“This is for every player at North Catholic that walked down that hallway,” Long said of his gold medal. “This is just as much theirs as it is mine.”
A first for the last in a long line of Longs at North Catholic, a name that rings a bell at a school with a new name and, now, a title to go with it.