While no one will disagree that the true meaning of Thanksgiving is a celebration of family, friends, and good fortune, in the NYCHSFL it possesses an equally great purpose; many a time it is the day that we bid a fond fair well to some of our most accomplished and cherished student-athletes. 2017 proved no different as between the 94th and 75th anniversaries of the Turkey Bowl games played between Fordham Prep/Xavier and Cardinal Hayes/Mount St. Michael Academy, the downstate Catholic football faithful said goodbye and banked away another afternoon of memories for six returning All-League players, three of whom earned the distinction of being named All-State during the first three years of their respective careers (Note: many will repeat and fresh faces will surely be added when the 2017 list is released at a later date).
Fordham Prep-28; Xavier-0
Less than a week removed from moving into 2nd place All-time in career passing yards for a NYS scholastic quarterback (was already top-3 for touchdown passes) after throwing for 400+ in the Double-A finals loss to Kellenberg Memorial, Rams Quarterback, Matt Valecce, got his much deserved happy ending in his final appearance in the Maroon, leading his school to their second consecutive Thanksgiving Day victory over rivals, Xavier.
Without question the most accomplished signal caller to ever play in the NYCHSFL, the future Boston College Eagle would close out this chapter of his bright career on the gridiron ideal fashion, hurling the last four touchdowns of his four-year varsity career to three different receivers to have a hand in just about every point FP put on the board on Thursday morning….This final four bullets brought his season total to an astounding 41 and his career tally to a mind-blowing 112.
Already a two-time All-State honoree (5th in 2015, 2nd last season), Valecce is a virtual lock to earn a third straight designation and should very much be in the conversation for both 1st team honors, as well as the overall State Player of the Year Award.
Needing only three plays to get his team on the board in the opening drive of the contest, Valecce would hit fellow 12th grader/Ram’s leading receiver entering the game (67 catches), Liam McHale with a 15-yard dart to make the score 7-0….McHale, who should garner some major All-State consideration himself after posting a monster swan song campaign, ends his 2017 season with nine TD grabs.
Losing their top-3 pass catchers to graduation in June, today’s festivities also gave FP the opportunity to take a look at some new talent out wide. And it appears they have found quite the keeper in the person of junior, Devin Pettus….Credited with just seven snatches and no scores heading into the 2017 finale, the 6’3, 175-pounder had the finest performance of his young career, finding himself on consecutive TD connections between the 1st and 2nd quarters to increase the FP lead to 21-0….His first touchdown catch of the season came immediately following a special team’s turnover by Xavier that put the ball on the Knights’ 15-yard line. On the ensuing snap, Valecce hit him perfectly for the 15-yard strike to make the score 14-0 at the end of the 1st….Fast-forward to the second quarter and this time the tandem hooked up from 11-yards away to further pad the advantage.
Coming out of the intermission still very much on fire, the 112th and last score hurled by Valecce would go to the perfect target, as it was his three-year partner in crime/fellow 2016 All-State (3rd Team) recognized player, Will Loffredo, on the back end of a 38-yarder for his career-best 14th TD catch of the year…His four-year journey comes to an end with 32 touchdown grabs.
Also donning the Fordham Prep colors for the last time in his career was dominant lineman, Joseph Petti….An All-League pick last year, the 6’6, 295-pound gentle giant (described as a great human being on and off the field) will answer the call to serve his country as he will continue his academic and athletic pursuits as a member of the class of 2022 at the United State Naval Academy.
In a shocking turn of events, the aforementioned three studs will not be the only faces adorning the Rams’ sideline in 2018. Breaking the news to News 12 Varsity reporter Greg Thompson, FP Head Coach, Pete Gorynski, announced that after 21-seasons at the controls he will not be coming back next year….In his more than two decades at the helm, Gorynski was the architect of two title winning squads, hoisting the Double-A crown in 2011 and the A trophy in 2014…His teams also finished as AA runners-up on two separate occasions, 2006 and this past season.
Cardinal Hayes-44; Mt. St. Michael Academy-16
While it was the 6’4 Valecce serving as the catalyst in the first of our two traditional Holiday showdowns, in the other, the star-power was delivered by one of the shortest in stature, but largest in terms of play-making ability, Hayes senior wide receiver, Lucas Nunez.
Standing just 5’8, the Sacred Heart University commit has been a larger than life presence every time he has stepped onto the field during his three-year Cardinal career. ..The definition of a football magician, the reigning NYS 2nd Teamer (1500+ yards, 21 TD catches last season), is a threat any time the ball gets into his hands, whether it be as a receiver, a DB, or a return man. No matter his physical measurements, he ends his high school career toppling all when it comes to being feared by the opposition.
One year removed from having nine grabs, 184 yards, and 1 TD in the Turkey Day victory over the Mountaineers, the future Pioneer would make it wins in a row for Hayes, putting one final exclamation mark on his decorated resume by turning three of his final snatches on the morning into scoring plays, as he personally accounted for 3/5s of super sophomore, Sofian Massoud’s five touchdown passing performance, and was on the back end of 164 of the 10th grade field general’s 350 ( on 11-for-17 in attempts) yards in the air.
Massoud would partner up with another of the Cardinals heralded senior two-way players when he opened up the scoring approximately 90 seconds into the game, hitting Valecce’s soon-to-be Boston College teammate, Elijah Jones, on a 51-yard TD bomb to give the 2016 AAA Champions the early 8-0 lead….An individual who entered the season having never made the All-League or All-State teams, Jones was so outstanding in areas of the game this season that we fully expect that to challenge when the accolades begin to get bestowed…The TD reception gives him 14 on the year in this capacity to go along with three rushing scores, an INT return a kick return.
The 2017 double-A semifinalists from Murdock Avenue [MSM] would drew even just about 1:00 later when returning All-League defensive back, Marquis Jimenez, put his offensive prowess on display, running 16-yards on a QB draw to knot the score at 8-8. This was the 11th time in 2017 he found the end zone with his legs. He also added four TD passes from under center.
As they had done during the earliest points of the contest, the two squads traded scores before the end of the 1st quarter with a pair of senior tailbacks inflicting the pain in each case….Putting Hayes back in the lead 15-7 on just his fourth TD run of the year was Nasier Salgado, who found space and broke free from 13-yards out…The Mount would then take their turn and briefly make their guests sweat when a 3-yard TD rush by Tim Brumell (his 7th of the year) was complemented by a successful two-point conversation to give them the slimmest of edges, 16-15, at the end of 12 minutes.
Unfortunately for the host Mountaineers, any hopes they may have had of snapping the four-year skid in the historic series became quickly dismissed by Nunez, who, as he has done several times prior in the past two seasons, would single-handedly take over the contest in the second quarter, catching touchdown passes of 67, 5, and 84 yards in a span of nine minutes to turn the previously cited 16-15 deficit into a commanding 38-16 lead at the midway point….Most impressive about his two 60+ yard scores were that in both situations, the catch itself was for a modest amount and it was Nunez’s ability to gain major YAC yardage that turned them from singles into home runs…He concludes his senior campaign with 15 receiving TDs, two scores on the ground, as well as a KOR for a touchdown, to barely surpass Jones for the team-lead with 18 total.
Commencing the second half in precisely the same manner in which he started the game, it would take Massoud little to no time at all to continue to add to his school’s lead, throwing his fifth and final TD of the morning to junior WR, Angel Tamarez, early in the 3rd quarter to round out the scoring the game…The TD snatch by Tamarez, his first touchdown of the season, was the only TD scored by a non-senior between the two schools.
Massoud, who in our preview, we stated might struggle to fill the cleats of Christian Anderson, wraps up his first-year as the starter under center having tossed for more than 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns….We proudly eat our humble pie after underestimating him and look forward to seeing what he can/will accomplish during the course of the next two seasons in the Cardinal and Gold #10 jersey.
Not getting on the board, but still worthy of recognition is Hayes’ running back, Carlos Fernandez, who if not the injury bug, would have had an incredible senior season…A 2016 All-League selection as a junior, rushing for 753 yards and amassing another 363 as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, while compiling touchdown totals of 10 and 3 in each role, the three-year varsity team member never seemed to be at full strength in his last months as a Cardinal student athlete. However, even if his body would not allow it to happen for him in 2017, his legacy is never forgotten by those of us blessed to watch him compete.
Port Richmond-14; Moore Catholic-6
In the only remaining game involving a Catholic League team, it would be the Port Richmond Raiders of the PSAL winning a battle for Staten Island bragging rights over last year’s NYCHSFL “A” titlists, the Mavericks of Moore Catholic.
The first appearance by either school on Thanksgiving in over 20 years (per the SI Advance), unlike the two aforementioned games above, this contest was as much about player development and getting an early look at rising varsity talent as it was about ending the 2017 season victorious.
After playing a scoreless opening 12 minutes, it would be Coach, Nick Giannatasio’s Mavs drawing first blood when junior classmen, Vincenzo Scarola and Nicholas Melo, played pitch-and-catch on a 29-yard hurl during the second quarter to put their school up 6-0….This was Scarola’s seventh overall touchdown pass on the year and the first caught by Melo, who per Max Preps, entered having caught just two balls all season for minimum gains.
The MC lead would be short-lived though as the Lou Vesce mentored Raiders offered an immediate response in the form of their own 20+ yard scoring play, as quarterback Elijah Prysock, tossed the first of his two TD passes on the day to fellow 12th grader, Josiah Bideau, hitting 5’9, 145-pounder from 24-yards out to even the showdown at 6-6.
The two programs stayed deadlocked at 6-6 for the remainder of the opening half and for much of the 3rd quarter before Prysock struck again with his arm, connecting with another student-athlete taking the final bows of his high school career, Stephen Montgomery, on a 21-yard throw, to give Port Richmond the lead for good, 12-6…Having caught the pass for the TD, Montgomery tacked on the 2pt conversion with his legs to create the final eight point margin.
While today was admittedly about learning and growing for both schools (who combined to win just five games this season), it probably goes without saying that Giannatasio and his staff left the field knowing that a win to close out 2017 was very much attainable….The Mavericks were within inches of seizing momentum at the end of the 1st half when a 59-yard hurl from Scarola to senior, Tommy Meyers, put the cohort in prime position to go back in front….Unfortunately, Moore’s star running back, sophomore Justin Lacks (back-to-back 1,000+ yard rushing seasons in his two years) would be unable to punch in his 12th TD of the season, as he got stone-walled on three straight attempts, stranding the pigskin on the opposing 1-yard line and turning the ball over on downs….This was a missed opportunity that ultimately proved to be the downfall for the Mavericks as a five-game drought will now hang over their heads at the onset of 2018.
Note: Special thanks to News 12 Varsity journalists extraordinaire, Greg Thompson and Elio Velez, both of whom were extremely forthcoming and accommodating in providing game insight into the FP/XR and CH/MSM match-ups.