Riley sparks Southern's win over Neumann-Goretti

Posted: November 29, 2013

SOUTHERN'S senior do-it-all, Michael Riley, took inventory of his high school football career shortly after the Rams knocked off Neumann-Goretti, 33-6, on Thanksgiving.

The 5-9, 160-pound quarterback/safety/long snapper transferred from now-closed Bok Technical Institute this season and brought with him a winner's resumé.

He won Public League AA and AAA titles at Bok and added AAAA Silver top dog this season. Wait, there's more. This season, Riley also added a Mini Maxwell award, division Co-MVP with teammate Mark "Spider" Webb and an All-Pub selection.

"I just thought about it and I just broke down," said Riley, a 4-year-starter. "I just thought about all that. I know not too many people get to start varsity as a freshman and win three championships."

In fact, not too many from Southern get to beat Neumann-Goretti, period. Yesterday's win was the team's first since 2004. The 27-point victory margin was the largest since a 39-0 win in 1946. And, the win is only the eighth (8-53-1) in the series since 1950. Lastly, in the other seven wins during the span, only once did they win by more than eight points (26-6 in 1989).

What does all that history mean for Riley, who also took away game MVP honors? Not nearly as much as it does for the Southern faithful.

"I came over from Bok so I wasn't really part of the rivalry," said Riley, 17. "But, everyone from Southern was telling me how much they wanted to beat them and how long it's been."

With starting running back Bryant Hudgins out because of a school issue, victory certainly wasn't assured. However, Southern's Qazi Jones and Casey Williams helped fill the void.

"Qazi is actually one of our quiet secrets," Riley said. "Since Bryant couldn't play, I wasn't really worried. I knew that with Qazi and Casey Williams I knew we could move the ball. That was the least of my worries."

Defensively, Jones, a junior, halted the Saints' opening drive in the red zone after thwarting a fourth-down reverse for an 11-yard loss.

That gave the ball to Riley, who marched his team 82 yards on 14 plays for a score. The key play on the drive was a 32-yard completion to Rasul Jackson, which was Riley's only completion on the day. His 1-yard dive six plays later gave the Rams momentum.

Jones finished with 18 carries for 120 yards. Williams, a sophomore, had 51 yards on eight totes.

In the second half, a bit of film study helped bloat a 12-0 halftime lead. Riley said a week of prep revealed patterns in the N-G offense. In the third, he jumped a slant route by standout wide receiver Jamal Custis, a Syracuse commit, and took it for a 27-yard pick-6. The ball was initially tipped by Jones.

Preparation was a concern coming in, Riley said, because inclement weather forced the team indoors twice.

Yesterday's frigid conditions were also a threat, but for Riley, who is also a holder and punt returner, he was too busy to mind.

"Thank goodness, I didn't come out very much," he said, "so I didn't have to stand on the sidelines too long."

N-G eventually scored with 6:10 left in the game on a 14-yard run by Sihmare Morgan.

Some Thanksgiving sportsmanship was also on display when Southern's Jones ran 54 yards down to the N-G 1 with 1:16 left in the game. Instead of an exclamation point, knees were taken to run out the clock.

Besides, Riley had places to go and food to eat.

"I plan on going to about four different places," Riley said. "And then everybody can come back to my house and I can show off my MVP trophy."

First stop was a cousin's house. Then on to his great-grandma's, followed by dinner at Brith Sholom House (a nonprofit rental community for seniors), where he works in food services. Finally, back home near 52nd and Paxon Streets.

It was Riley's last high school game, but he hopes to keep his career going next season. A visit to Ursinus is coming in early December.

Until then, it seems the bittersweet end to a remarkable high school career has begun to settle.

"I was happy, because I won my last high school game, but just to know that it was over was emotional," Riley said. "Very emotional. I'll just miss everybody."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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