Before we turn our attention to Championship Saturday let’s look back at some of the players who shined in getting their teams there. By Matt Diano:
Described as “the anchor on the defensive side of the ball” in Fordham Prep’s 41-14 AA semifinal victory over St. Francis Prep, the 6’2, 260-pounder impacted the game in every way possible, serving as the Ram’s primary run-stopper (4 tackles), as well a relentless pass rusher on Terrier toss attempts…With the Pelham resident applying constant pressure from the edge, the FP defense limited St. Francis Prep to a 20 percent (3-for-15) completion percentage and a modest 54 yards while forcing them into a trio of interceptions….
Among these three interceptions, the most outstanding of the bunch would be posted by Devine himself when, with the #2 seeded Rams already leading 27-0 in the second quarter, he would get his paw on a throw attempt, knocking it into the air and allowing himself to make one-handed grab…Seeing nothing but open field in the horizon, the senior lineman completed the highlight reel play by cruising 37 yards into the end zone for the touchdown…The INT return to the house was one of two pick-6s on the evening for Fordham Prep. Earlier in the game, fellow 12th grader, Ryan Gilchrist, had a 50-yard journey to the “promised land” off of an interception.
Demonstrating his immense athleticism, Devine also managed to make the most a rather unusual situation when he fielded a kickoff and returned it 50 yards to give the Rams ideal field position to start one of their drives.
Next up for Devine and the Rams will be a chance at avenging their only blemish (34-24) of the 2017 season against Kellenberg Memorial, in the CHSFL Double-A Title game. In the first meeting between the #1 and #2 seeded program in the division, Devine had a solid performance in the losing effort, making six total stops….Champions in 2014 while playing “A” ball, Fordham Prep last reached the AA championship game in 2011 when coincidentally, they claimed the hardware with a 22-21 victory over this same Firebird program.
We don’t know what it is, but playing against Cardinal Hayes in the postseason really brings out the best in the 11th grader from Mount Vernon….A little less than a year removed from catching a 43-yard TD pass (one of six total grabs for 109 yards) in the final minute of last year’s AAA title game to keep the dream of a three-peat alive (before ultimately dropping a 41-39 on a missed 2pt conversion), Harris would finally get the “w” that escaped him in 2016, as the Mike O’Connell guided #3 Crusaders are bound for championship weekend for the fourth straight season following a 13-12 victory over their second-seeded hosts from the Bronx.
Deadlocked at 6-6 in the triple-A semifinals, Harris would take over on what ended up being the game-winning drive, running for back-to-back first downs in Stepinac’s initial drive of the second half to move the ball to the opposing 38. After a few untimely late hit calls moved the ball just outside of the red zone, Harris struck for the difference maker, as he took the pitch to the outside and out-ran the Hayes’ defense, chugging 23 yards to the house for the TD to regain the lead for the boys from Westchester, 13-12.
Proving that he is a stellar young man who elevates his game when the stakes are at their highest, the performance that Harris put on last Saturday was a vast improvement over the numbers he compiled in a 47-21 week #6 loss to these same Cardinals…Combining for just 19 yards of total offense (4 carries for 14 cards; 1 catch for 5 yards), it was like he was an entirely different person this past weekend, posting his first 100+ yard rushing game of the year by averaging 7.3 yard per touch on 16 carries to end the contest with 116 yards of ground production. He added 27 yards as a pass catcher via a pair of snatches to tally 143 overall between his dual skillsets.
When they step football on Mitchel Field this Saturday evening for the AAA title game against the Friars of St. Anthony’s, his teammates owe Harris more than a few thank you’s. After all, in their two playoffs victories to reach the “ship, Harris has a mind-blowing total of 425 yards and five touchdowns….In the Crusader’s 48-38 quarterfinal triumph over Chaminade, he darn-near had a triple-century effort, rushing for 99 yards (2 TDs), catching two passes for 84 yards (1 TD), and bringing a kick all the way back 99 yards to end the opening round with four scores.
As attention turns to the aforementioned title game this weekend, it goes without saying that Harris will enter with extreme confidence. When the two programs went to battle on September 15th (38-19 Stepinac win), the three-sport student-athlete (also runs track in the Winter and Spring) who has drawn the admiration of Central Connecticut State among other suitors, had one of his finest showings of his junior campaign, making a pair of TD grabs to rack up 75 yards receiving, while simultaneously averaging 35 yards on his three kickoff returns (105 yards total) to constantly be giving his school excellent field position….If the top-seeded Friars do not do a better job containing his explosive tendencies, it could be a long day for the Friar faithful.
One of the toughest and most respected two-way linemen in the Catholic Football League, as well as the backbone and/or foundation of a Firebird program that boasts the distinctions of possessing both the #1 offense (all divisions) and the top-rated defense in the Double-A division (#2 among all division), Whitehead has dominated the line of scrimmage in every game in every imaginable way in leading Kellenberg to a perfect 10-0 season and their first championship weekend berth since advancing and losing in the finals in consecutive season in 2010 and 2011…
Emerging with a season-high nine tackles (3 for a loss) against the famed Xavier Single-Wing formation, the 6’1, 225-pound resident of Glen Gove, played a monumental role in containing the Knights’ star tailback, Jonathan Geruso…Entering the game having run for 341 yards and seven touchdowns between the final week of the regular season and the quarterfinal playoff round, Geruso was held just a single score last Saturday night (28-0 at the time) as Kellenberg picked up the 28-7 win to sweep the 2017 series over a foe who had traditionally given them problems in big games.
Whitehead proved to be quite adept as a pass rusher too, notching a pair QB bags to double his total on the season to four.
When he was not busy plugging every hole in sight, Whitehead found the time and energy (played 99.9 percent of all snaps in the game) to create more than few craters of his own from his OG spot…Trekking behind him and the other beasts along the KMHS offensive line, quarterback Matt Sluka (102 yards, 2 touchdowns) and the running back duo of Frankie Roder (83 yards, 2 TDs) and Jordan DeLucia (27 yards) posted a collective sum of 212 yards and the aforementioned four touchdowns….For the season, Kellenberg has run behind Brendan and the O-Line for 2,933 yards and 42 touchdowns. They have reached 200+ yards in all 10 games this season and have even surpassed 300+ in six of 10 appearances. The Firebirds have also scored three or more times on the ground every time out this year.
Finding themselves on the cusp of an immaculate season, the Firebirds will ride Whitehead and his fellow trench warriors one final time when they square off with Fordham Prep….When the two schools faced off on October 6th, the ‘Berg had a monster night with their legs, running for 337 yards and five touchdowns in handing the Rams their only loss of the year to date….Whitehead also contributed four tackles on defense. Expect for this number to increase as FP has embraced a more balanced attack recently.
Easily the most unique selection that I have had the pleasure of featuring in my four years writing this piece, usually when spotlight a special teamer, it is because of a game-winning field goal or a huge kick return….However, never have we had a case like that of the senior kicker, DiGregorio.
All week, the plan was simple; keep the ball out of the hands off the often dynamic Iona Prep offense….While in most cases, this might mean running a ball control offense and chewing clock….But alas, you don’t need to change anything on offense when every time you score, your kicker does something to get you the ball immediately back.
In one of the most bizarre, but equally amazing feats, on three separate occasions in the second quarter, DiGregorio would execute perfect onside kicks, thus allowing the top-seeded Friars to turn their original 7-0 lead into a runaway 21-0 advantage at the break en route to an eventual 35-7 win in the AAA semifinals.
Using a variety of different techniques, DiGregorio’s first attempt (the only one that was planned per Coach Rich Reichert) came with 8:36 remaining in the half following a Sean Bryan TD run to give STA the previously cited 7-0 lead. A slow nubber with a lot of spin up the middle, the ball could not be fielded cleanly by the Gaels and ended up bouncing back into the arms of the young man himself.
Kick #2, which was more of a pinball shot, came following a Kyle Angus 45-yard touchdown rush. Again aimed directly up the middle, when impact was made with the IP player, the ball ricocheted off to the side with such force that the Friars were able to jump on it at approximately midfield.
Finally, with just over 1:00 remaining in the opening half and again right after a Bryan score, DiGregorio would incorporate yet another tactic, lofting the ball into “no man’s land” and enabling his charging teammate to out race Iona Prep and recover right around the Gael 43.
When all the magic was pulled out of the hat, what was yielded was a time of possession advantage of 17:59 to 6:01 at the intermission….More importantly, Iona Prep never was permitted to establish rhythm and because of that, struggled all night to find their usually lethal attack.
Overshadowed by his trick kick heroics was the fact that DiGregorio did connect on both on his PAT attempts and had several booming kickoffs that buried IP deep in their own zone.
Now looking to win the crown for the first time since 2013, #1 St. Anthony’s may be the higher seed, but they know that after losing by a considerable margin in the regular season match-up, they are going to need to bring something special to the field with them this Saturday in the rematch against Stepinac….And by special, we are not ruling out some more incredible SPECIAL TEAMS antics.