Back in the Day . . .

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  This story includes two La Salle High players who advanced to Penn State football . . .
Keith Conlin as a player and John Butler as an assistant coach.
  John is now a member of new coach Bill O'Brien's staff! (Keith's older and younger
brothers, Chris and Kevin, also played for Penn State. Another brother, Craig, played
basketball at both La Salles and is now the coach at Episcopal Academy.)


Nov 12, 1990

By Ted Silary, Daily News Sports Writer

 Keith Conlin and several of his football-playing La Salle High buddies were having an interesting discussion the other day.

 How tremendous a team, the guys asked themselves, would Bishop McDevitt be able to field if La Salle did not exist?

 Off the top of his high-altitude head - he does stand 6-8, after all - Conlin named five prominent Explorers who live in McDevitt's territory.

 Conlin, a center and defensive tackle, started the list with himself. (No argument there. Plus, he's too big to mess with. ) He then mentioned linebacker Kevin Schmidt, defensive back John Butler, defensive end Craig Fitzgerald and quarterback-punter Joe McNichol.

 "With all of us," Conlin said, "they'd be unstoppable. "

 Remove "un" from stoppable and precede it with "eminently" and one has the perfect phrase to describe McDevitt in yesterday's Catholic North playoff semifinal at Northeast.

 With Conlin, Schmidt, Butler and Fitzgerald leading the way on defense, La Salle held the Lancers to 100 yards total offense, 4 first downs and 2-for-18 passing in a 6-0 win. McDevitt has suffered just five shutouts in coach Pat Manzi's nine seasons and two of those blanks were fired in his first five games.

 The game wasn't pretty and it wasn't exciting. Defensive struggles rarely are. But Conlin, who played a prominent role in the game-winning play, wasn't thinking about the number of fans who fell asleep. He was thinking big picture, about how much good-natured gloating he'll be able to do in the future.

 "Ten years down the road, I'll be hanging around with all those guys," said Conlin, a Glenside resident. McDevitt is in neighboring Wyncote. "It feels good knowing we had the upper hand. That's five meetings now (in three varsity seasons), and we've won three of them. "

 How did this win come about?

 Glad you asked. We'll now describe the play, but be forewarned, things got sticky.

 Second quarter. McDevitt ball. Second-and-6 from McDevitt's 24. Tailback  Jamal Love starts a sweep to the left. He's met in the backfield (principally by Conlin), takes a few steps backward and decides to head for the right. No daylight there, either. He heads back to the left and backtracks some more. Conlin and defensive back Jim Cairnes corner Love, then move in. They deliver a hit and the ball pops loose.

 At the 6, Fitzgerald picks up the ball and rumbles into the end zone.

 "When I saw the ball on the ground, everything went in slow motion," said Fitzgerald, a 6-3, 215-pound senior. "I picked it up and the next thing I knew, I had six points . . . Well, the team had six points.

 "I didn't expect anybody to be around. Somebody hopped on my back, though. I just fell right into the end zone. "

 The last - and only previous - time he had scored a touchdown, Fitzgerald did so standing up. Back then, though, he didn't stand nearly as tall.

 "Eighth grade at Gwynedd-Mercy. I caught a touchdown pass," Fitzgerald said. "We ran a fake out of the wishbone. I went into the end zone and caught the ball over some d-back's head. "

 According to Conlin, Cairnes was first to arrive on the scene.

 "One of our d-backs had (Love) held up," Conlin said. "But then he fell and that left (Love) totally off-balance. I went in to clean house. Luckily, the ball fell out. I was screaming, then there was Fitz in the end zone. "

 Conlin, a brother of the Indianapolis Colts' Chris Conlin (ironically, he played for McDevitt), has received recruiting scrutiny from many of the country's major college programs. Any school that sees the video tape of this game has to fall further in love, seeing as how Conlin involved himself in 11 tackles.

 "Keith owed himself a good game," said coach Joe Colistra. "For a while there, he thought he had to put us on his back and carry us. When he settles down and plays his position - instead of running all over the place and trying to do everything - obviously, he's a good player.

 "It's hard to get leverage at 6-8, but he's been missing a lot of tackles. He makes great hits, then falls off. Did you see that one tackle today? It looked like the guy was going to get away, then Keith really wrapped. "

 McDevitt's best scoring opportunities occurred in the fourth quarter. Fitzgerald's 8-yard sack of Sekou Wilson helped abort the first. Butler's heads-up coverage, on a halfback pass by Love, took care of the second. Then came the third . . .

 With 0:07 left, after a punt, Wilson completed a 25-yard pass to John Taylor, down to La Salle 's 30. When Wilson spiked the ball at 0:03 to stop the clock, he was called for intentional grounding. Next, Wilson lofted a pass to Taylor in the back of the end zone.

 Again, the Butler did it - made sure there wasn't a catch.

 Today, McDevitt brass might be checking into a way to get La Salle to close its doors.