Late in the first quarter of the last Saturday night’s Class 6A city championship game, St. Joseph’s Prep was trailing Northeast by 14-7.
The host Vikings were riding high.
The Hawks were reeling a bit, as the Public League’s best team had the lead and the momentum while the Catholic League champion’s star quarterback was in street clothes on the sideline with a knee injury.
Enter Anthony Rightley.
Enter the versatile and unsung senior who made the play that changed the game, sparking St. Joseph’s Prep to a 43-26 victory, to its fourth straight city title, to another berth in the state playoffs.
“He’s amazing,” St. Joseph’s Prep senior running back Kolbe Burrell said of Rightley. “He will do anything to help this team win. Anything.”
It was fitting that Rightley’s big play wasn’t a catch or a run. It wasn’t an interception or a sack. It was a blocked punt.
“Got it,” Rightley said after the game, standing on Northeast’s field after St. Joseph’s eighth straight victory this season secured its fourth straight city title. “Saw an opportunity to make a play for my team. That’s all I try to do.”
Rightley blocked the punt and recovered the football at the Northeast 3-yard line. One play later, Burrell barreled into the end zone and Zavier Atkins ran for a two-point conversion and the Hawks were ahead, 15-14.
“That was huge,” St. Joseph’s coach Tim Roken said of Rightley’s punt block. “We believe in trying to win in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense, special teams.”
It’s unclear whether St. Joseph’s Prep (9-2) will have junior quarterback Kyle McCord, an Ohio State recruit who passed for 2,399 yards and 31 touchdowns in the first 10 games, available for Friday night’s state quarterfinal against District 11 champion Nazareth (12-1) at Liberty High School.
The Hawks should have Burrell and reserve quarterback Malik Cooper and that powerful offensive line and a sturdy defense led by the likes of Liam Johnson and Anthony Leneghan and a top kicker in sophomore Antonio Chadha.
They also will have Rightley, a rare three-phase contributor. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound athlete sees action on offense as a wide receiver, on defense as a defensive back and on nearly every special-teams unit.
“He’s our Swiss Army knife,” Burrell said of Rightley. “He does it all.”
Given their depth, the Hawks don’t have many two-way players. Junior Sahmir Hagans sees some action at wide receiver and defensive back, and a couple other guys occasionally contribute on both sides of the football.
Rightley plays offense and defense, although he sometimes will get a series to rest. He made a major impact on special teams on Friday night, with that punt block as well as two crisp tackles on kickoff coverage.
“He’s all about the team,” Roken said. “He’s totally engaged. We move him around, ask him to do a lot of different things, and he’s willing to do anything for the team.”
Rightley, who lives in Clifton Heights, Delaware County, played youth football for the Holy Cross CYO program. He’s the first in his family to attend the Prep, and said he knew the school was right for him during his “shadow day” as an eighth-grade student.
“I saw the brotherhood,” Rightley said. “It’s been everything I thought it would be and more.”
St. Joseph’s Prep has no shortage of top players who will continue their football careers on college scholarships. But star athletes such as McCord, Marvin Harrison Jr., and injured junior linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. tend to attract most of the attention.
Rightley said he is OK with that. He’s not sure about his plans for next year. He just wants to focus on helping the Hawks win their second straight state title, and third in his four years in the program.
“That’s all I care about,” Rightley said. “Our motto is ‘trust and love.’ That’s what I believe in.
“I’ll put my body on the line for this team. I’ll do anything for us to keep winning football games.”