Archbishop Ryan's Jason Jefferson was not the least bit surprised that Archbishop Carroll rolled the dice and went for the victory on a two-point conversion try with 45 seconds to play.
"I knew it was coming," the senior running back and outside linebacker said. "You just scored a touchdown, you're at the 3-yard line, and a win is there for the taking."
Zachariah Butler caught Kamal Gray's toss in the back of the end zone but his left foot landed out of bounds, just before his right foot came down in bounds. With that, Jefferson and the slow-starting Raiders narrowly escaped the gritty Patriots, 21-20, in a Catholic League Class 5A semifinal playoff on Saturday afternoon at Northeast.
Jefferson carried 13 times for 68 yards and a pair of scores. On defense, where he sometimes switches to end or inside linebacker, the 5-foot-10, 220-pounder was involved in four tackles.
"If you watch him, it's easy to see he's a very physical player," Ryan coach Frank McArdle said. "He's going to be a great small-college football player."
The Raiders (5-6) will take on Archbishop Wood (7-2) for the Class 5A league title at 7 p.m. Friday at William Tennent.
Carroll (3-8) grabbed a 7-0 advantage late in the first quarter on a 10-play, 45-yard series that was capped by Gray's 11-yard pass across the middle to wideout Carlon Brown.
Jefferson evened things on a 2-yard dive midway through the second. Soon after, on third-and-6 from the Ryan 35, Dahmir Ruffin snagged a pass from Gray at the 16 and darted into the end zone to put the Patriots back in front.
Carroll's Russell Minor-Shaw, a bruising running back, carried 11 times for 67 yards in the first half. Ryan was held to 93 yards rushing and 14 passing before the break.
"We weren't being physical enough, honestly," McArdle said. "And they were pushing us around a little bit."
Raiders freshman Tyreek Chappell forged a tie by returning the second-half kickoff 86 yards. "They kicked the ball right to him, he made good use of a blocking wedge, and he took it down the sideline," McArdle said.
Jefferson's 1-yard plunge and Gavin Dionisio's extra-point boot with a little over two minutes remaining was the difference. Patriots coach Dan Connor went for broke after Gray's 31-yard scamper.
"We had a shot to win at the end, and the momentum was in our favor," Connor said. "It was the risk we wanted."
Jefferson, who earned first-team all-Catholic League honors at running back, has carried 91 times for 457 yards and nine TDs in 10 outings.
Wood, the defending PIAA Class 5A champion, rolled past the Ryan, 42-6, in a Catholic League Red Division contest on Sept. 29.
"We're just going to go out there, play hard, and see what happens," Jefferson said. "Most people see us as a big underdog, but we don't care about that."
Archbishop Carroll 7 7 0 6 – 20
Archbishop Ryan 7 0 7 7 – 21
AC: Carlon Brown 11 pass from Kamal Gray (Juliano Mastrocola kick)
AR: Jason Jefferson 2 run (Gavin Dionisio kick)
AC: Dahmir Ruffin 31 pass from Gray (Mastrocola kick)
AR: Tyreek Chappell 86 kickoff return (Dionisio kick)
AR: Jefferson 1 run (Dionisio kick)
AC: Gray 31 run (pass failed)