AGOOD 15 minutes after the final whistle sounded on Saturday night, the pain remained quite raw.
Wet eyes still made the prominent senior members of La Salle High's football team stand out from others, and when center Connor Kerrigan was approached for comment, he responded politely, yet firmly, "I really don't think I can talk right now."
His father had warned him . . .
In 1981, Jay Kerrigan was a star center for Roman Catholic, and wound up earning third team Daily News All-City honors before moving on to Ursinus. That fall, the Cahillites defeated Cardinal O'Hara, 18-6, in the Catholic South regular season, but then were table-turned by that same foe, 9-6, in a division semifinal that was also the first overtime game in city history.
"When I come home from practice," a much more collected Connor said yesterday by phone, "I always talk with my dad about football things. He always mentions his Roman days and how heartbreaking it is to lose your last game [playoff, that is; Roman finished '81 with a frolic past Roxborough]. "Now I see what he meant. When I came home [Saturday], we had a good talk. He really comforted me. Made things easier. We talked about all the great times I've had through my football career at La Salle."
The last game, played at Northeast, was a PIAA Class AAAA semi. The Explorers fell to North Penn, a team they'd bested in the season opener [and twice last year], by 21-14.
"When two good teams keep playing each other, it's like the law of averages is going to pop up at some point," coach Drew Gordon said. "But I don't want to just say, 'It was North Penn's turn.' They earned it."
Thanks to great defense - linebacker Sean Burke notched 15 tackles (eight solos) and a forced fumble - and wise use of timeouts, La Salle had two possessions in the final 4 minutes, 16 seconds. The first ended inches from midfield, when star rusher Tim Wade was stonewalled on fourth-and-1. The final play of No. 2 began at NP's 36 with 46.4 seconds remaining. Trying to hit Colin Buckley, Matt Magarity (14-for-33, 184 yards, one touchdown apiece to Buckley and Jared Herrmann) threw an interception.
"I thought Timmy had it. Just one inch short," Kerrigan said. "And then I thought the pass from Matt to Colin would work; they've been so successful. It was hard to watch that happen. We've been working since January to get back to Hershey (the 2010 squad fell in the state final after the '09 contingent finished on top). To come close yet lose the way we did, by one touchdown, it was heartbreaking.
"North Penn was very physical. They came in looking for revenge and they were swingin' right from the start."
Kerrigan's fellow grunts were Luke Persichetti (guard) and Matt Maginnis (tackle) to the right, and Pat Hoffman (G) and Dan Wasylenko (T) to the left. Quality junior Tom Spiteri had been lost to injury a month ago. Though Maginnis was the only returning starter, the line helped the offense churn to 5,044 yards in 14 games (360.3 average).
Saturday night, there was something that helped everyone regroup.
"After I talked to my dad, a bunch of the senior players came over to our house," said Kerrigan, an Upper Dublin resident who's receiving Division III interest and wants to major in communications. "There were 14 of us, I think. We focused on all the great times.
"Even though we're all from different neighborhoods, we have a tight bond. We've been playing together for 4 years now. We talk to each other in the hallways, talk again after school, always get together on the weekends . . . We're just very, very close."