In his sophomore season, star quarterback Connor Desiderio has himself a new friend on the Maryvale football team.
Basketball star Ray Blackwell decided to return to football this year and the Flyers sure needed him in a come-from behind 30-24 win over rival Cleveland Hill on Saturday afternoon at Carl J. Kuras Field.
“Ray and I have been working a lot over the last month since he decided to come out for football,” Desiderio said. “The first time he ran a route for me I was like, ‘This is the connection right here.’ Now I know when I need a big play, this is the man. He’s got great hands.”
Desiderio found Blackwell for two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in the second-half as Maryvale erased a 16-0 halftime hole and 24-8 fourth-quarter deficit. The tandem gave the Flyers the lead for the first time with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter with a game-winning 5-yard TD connection on a quick slant.
“I just had to stagger him a little bit and get on the inside,” Blackwell said of his defender. “I have an awesome quarterback, he put it right on the money and we got the score.”
“That was all you, man,” Desiderio quickly interjected.
Blackwell played football as a freshman, the same year he surged onto the basketball scene as a late-season junior varsity call up who helped the 10th-seeded Flyers to the Section VI Class B-1 championship game.
He’s back for football this season, much to the delight of Maryvale. The senior grabbed a game-high eight passes for 131 yards.
“We’re very, very, very, very happy that Ray came out this year,” Maryvale coach Jeff Buccieri said. “He’s an outstanding basketball player and today he showed he can be a great football player. What a difference maker he is.”
The win was the second straight for Maryvale against Cleveland Hill – and third in four years – in the annual season-opening rivalry. Prior to that, the Eagles had won six in a row.
“It’s a great rivalry and you never know what’s going to happen,” Cleveland Hill coach Glen Graham said. “They were the much better team in the second half. We made some mistakes but that’s a great football team over there.”
For the first three quarters, it looked like the defending Class C champion was going to get the bragging rights back. A 95-yard pick-6 by Ryan Majerowski and 31-yard touchdown run by Aaron Wahler gave Cleveland Hill the halftime lead.
The Flyers got one back on a 12-yard TD pass from Desiderio to Blackwell in the third and drove into the red zone late in the third – but Desiderio was intercepted at the 4-yard line by Brett Kochanski. Cleveland Hill then drove down the field and Kochanski cashed it in with a 6-yard scoring run.
Dylan Casey had a quick response, though, returning the ensuing kickoff 68 yards for a Maryvale score. He wasn’t done, adding an 18-yard touchdown run with 4:34 left in the fourth but Cleveland Hill’s defense came up with a stop on the two-point try, preserving a 24-22 lead.
Maryvale got the ball back at the Cleveland Hill 42 with 2:09 to play and Desiderio went to work. First he found Blackwell for 25 yards on a 3rd and 27 play and then later the winning TD.
“We just calmed down,” Buccieri said. “We challenged the guys at halftime to show character, to believe in themselves to believe in their team. These guys stepped up and I’m proud of them. They beat a heckuva football team.”
Desiderio threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns. Rashad Law ran for 75 yards and Casey added 55 yards for the Flyers with a two-point run to go with his two touchdowns.
Cleveland Hill was led by Wahler, who ran for 91 yards and also added a two-point conversion run.
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