By Matt Diano:
When: Saturday November 18th, 2016
Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex
Time: 2:30 pm
The last time they met:
-Kellenberg handed the Rams their only loss of the season, 34-24, on October 6th
-The Firebirds rans for 337 yards and five touchdowns, led by junior QB, Matt Sluka, who tallied 244 and three by himself…His TD dashes came from distances of 11, 80, and 42 yards.
-Excluding sacks, the KMHS defense limited Fordham Prep to just 38 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
-Juniors, Jake Deakin and Alain Telford, each had an interception, making it the only game this season that Fordham Prep All-State field general, Matt Valecce, has been picked multiple times in a game.
-Anchored by junior, Dan Wilson’s three, Kellenberg put extreme pressure on Valecce, sacking him six times….Peter Talicercio, Elijah Eddy, and Matt Olsen, also joined the party with one apiece.
-A second half team for much of the 2017 season, the Berg turned a 15-14 deficit at the break into victory by outscoring Fordham Prep, 20-9, over the course of the final 24 minutes of play.
-The Rams’ dynamic pass catching trio—Will Loffedo (5 for 61), Liam McHale (8 for 99), and Thomas Walsh (7 for 133, including both TD grabs) all had their usual explosive games despite the loss.
-While they struggled in their ground defense, FP excelled in pass coverage, holding Sluka to just seven yards on 1-for-6.
-Fordham Prep would make things uncomfortable for Sluka as well on drop backs, as they responded to KMHS’s six bags by getting three of their own, including a pair by junior, Jack Goodkin…Goodkin, who has also been utilized as a receiver on offense, also contributed a pair of catches for short yardage…The other sack on the evening was courtesy of the game’s leading tackler, George Gaspar, who ended the contest with 10 stops. One of these 10 tackles resulted in a 3rd quarter safety.
-Despite the double digit margin of victory for Kellenberg, this was a back-and-forth war all night that witnessed seven lead changes.
The rematch that the Catholic football world has been eagerly awaiting has come to fruition following a pair of one-sided semifinals that saw the top-seeded Firebirds remain undefeated in 2017 behind a 28-7 victory over nemesis, Xavier, and Fordham Prep completely overwhelm fifth-seeded St. Francis Prep to the tune of a 41-14 triumph.
A game that no matter who wins on Saturday will contain a great human interest story, for Kellenberg, this weekend represents a chance to post the first immaculate season in Firebird football history while at the same time claiming the brass ring for the first time since winning “A” in 1999…..On the opposing sideline, November 18th is about closure to one of the greatest scholastic careers ever by a New York State quarterback. Already in the top-3 All-time for TD passes and yardage thrown, when we say that Valecce is a living legend, we are not just limiting our praise to within the NYCHSFL. If you took this same young man and put him anywhere, he’d still tower over the rest of the field….The catalyst behind leading FP to the Single-A title as a freshman in 2014, there could be no better and more fitting conclusion to his decorated resume than to tack on a bookend title in the AA.
The classic tale of a dominant rushing attack (Kellenberg has run for close to 3,000 yards and 42 touchdowns) versus an explosive, air it out as much possible aerial strike, the double-A title will be decided by whichever team has been able to make the necessary adjustments since they last played in week #5.
To the credit of our second-seeded Rams, in advance of their championship appearance, we already started to see them make the effort to become more balanced with their ball in their hands….Running for 75 of fewer yards in their first five games of the season, Fordham Prep has discovered something on the ground during the second half of the year, running for 90 in yards on a season-high 29 attempts in sixth week victory over Moore Catholic and keeping the trend going by surpassing century mark in three of their last four games. Last week in the aforementioned semifinal win over the Terriers, the Pete Gorynski mentored Rams established season-bests for yards (219) and scores (3) on the ground….The ground game was so effective that Valecce was only asked to pass 12 times a week ago. This power football strategy was unheard of from FP when the season started. However, now that they have it working well, it gives the #1 ranked KMHS defense something else to think about. No longer can Kellenberg focus solely on the pass. They now must be prepared for anything and everything.
All of that above having been stated, it goes without saying that even with FP senior tailback, Justin Ancheta (681 yards, 4 TDs on the season), in the midst of a two-game 100+ yard streak, the Rams certainly are not about to abandon the most potent passing attack in all of the CHSFL….With Valecce (ranked 4th in NYS with 2,712 yards; 2nd in TD passes with 34) at the controls, the Rams offensive machine is averaging 271.2 yards per game in the air and scoring an average of approximately 34 (33.9) points per game…As the saying goes, you don’t fix what ain’t broke. Hence, while Ancheta may be given a few extra carries to keep Kellenberg on their toes, there will still be quite a bit of gun slinging out of the Maroon jerseys….And when he does drop back to chuck, Valecce will have the luxury of choosing among a 1, 1A, and 1B repertoire of gifted pass catchers in the persons of fellow All-Stater, Loffredo (4th in NYS with 61 catches; 4th in TD receptions with 12; 10th in yardage with 834), Walsh (also tied for 4th in the Evil Empire with 12 TD grabs; 3rd in AA division with 694 yards; 5th in AA with 32 total catches), and McHale (7th in New York with 57 grabs; 11th in receiving yards with 834; 3rd in AA behind his teammates with seven touchdown snatches). Goodkin (18 catches, 242 yards, 3 TDs) can also not be underestimated as a worthy target.
The undefeated top-seeds who call Uniondale home will counter by doing what they do best, run, run, run…By far the deepest team in the Catholic League in terms of potential playmakers out of the backfield, while it is Sluka (1,381 yards total, 19 touchdowns; both ranked #2 in AA) that gets the bulk of the press, the truth is that even without their once-in-a-lifetime junior quarterback, Kevin Hanifan’s program is not hurting for guys whom they can hand the rock off to…As noted above, this is a team that has put up just under 3,000 yards total with their legs. You math majors probably have already figured out that this means that even if you pretended that Sluka was never born, KMHS would still have run for 1,552 yards and 23 touchdowns….HOLY DEPTH!!!!.
Providing that second wave of endless rushing prowess will be the likes of Frankie Roder (667 yards, 14 touchdowns), super sophomore Jordan DeLucia (who despite missing time with an injury still ran for 493 yards and four scores), Deakin, who when he is not taking away TDs in the defensive backfield is capable of putting a few on the board as a running back (144 yards, 2 scores on 32 carries), and Jimmy Musso (averaging over 10 yards per touch on his 10 carries; 108 yards)….Ryan Tyznar, who has not gotten many carries because of the ferociousness of the depth chart, scored in the first meeting between the two schools and could get his number called again this weekend.
Admittedly while his is still at the stage where he is more pure athlete than he is polished pocket passer, if you think that Sluka is a one-trick pony, then he is going to burn you and prove otherwise…..Because his feats with his feet have been so remarkable, it is easy to overlook the fact that the 11th grader from Roslyn still threw for nearly 1,000 yards (917), completed 61.5 percent of his attempts, and had a TD to INT ratio of 3:1, tossing nine touchdowns…Thus, if FP attempts to stack the box, don’t be surprised if we see a career day in the air out of the red-headed assassin…..If Sluka is forced to rely on his arm more this weekend, look for him to be on the same page with fellow junior, Matthew Mongelli, all afternoon…The #1 receiving option for the Firebirds, Mongelli caught 17 balls for 426 yards and four TDs to lead in all categories.
Defensively, the story is quite similar….For Kellenberg to put that last cherry on the perfect sundae (on Saturday), they will need to get another banner game out of Wilson, Olsen, and their D-line brethren…Reigning Player of the Week, senior Brendan Whitehead, is fresh off of career highs in sacks (2) and tackles (9), so he too carries immense momentum into his final appearance in the Blue & Gold….While ideally, the pressure applied would be so great that Valecce is unable to even get the ball out of hands. However, when he does manage a successful release, the responsibility will fall on the pads of Kellenberg’s star DB, Aidan Fitzgerald, to set the example. “Fitz” leads KMHS with five interceptions and 14 successful pass defenses. He will need to save his best for last!
Fordham Prep, which in the past has had their title hopes derailed by shaky defense on the ground will turn to Gaspar (75 tackles), Lucas Petit (62 stops), another reigning POTW, Ian Devine (59 tackles), Goodkin (51 tackles), and Christian Dimitri (50 tackles) to form an impenetrable wall up front in the hopes of holding Kellenberg well below the 293.3 yards per game they are averaging heading into the main event.
Check back tomorrow for Matt’s AAA Championship Game Preview