By Matt Diano:
When: Friday November 9th, 2018
Where: St. Anthony’s High School @Cy Donnelly Field
Regular season champs now in back-to-back seasons for the Friars of St. Anthony’s High School, going all the way this postseason has a much greater meaning than ever before…Triple-A titlists a remarkable 11 times in a span of 13 years from 2001-2013, the South Huntington school has not hoisted NYCHSFL hardware in their past four attempts, including a loss in last year’s finals to Archbishop Stepinac…And, with long-time Head Coach/legend Rich Reichert, set to hang up his whistle and clipboard at the conclusion of the 2018 season, you know there is added pressure to send their mentor out on top.
Undefeated this season against in-state competition (their lone loss was to an opponent from Maryland), the Friars possess an offense that at times can look invincible…Averaging 41 points per game this season, which includes a season-best 56 (56-32) that they put up in the week #6 match-ups with this same Cardinals opponent, St. Anthony’s welcomes a high-scoring shootout because in their opinion, they have the best artillery in NYS.
At the or rather under the center of it all is their three-year starting quarterback, Greg Campisi, who has been nothing if not magical during his swan song campaign…An individual who is garnering serious Hansen Award (Suffolk County Player of the Year) hype and should be in the conversion for the overall NYS Player of the Year, the 6’1, 175-pound Harvard-bound student-athlete can do anything and everything on a football field…The purest form of the term “dual-threat QB”, Campisi has accounted for 34 touchdowns this season, completing nearly 60 percent of his throw attempts (127-for-212) for 1,982 yards and 23 touchdowns. He also ranks among the top rushers (regardless of positions), having carried the pigskin 93 times for 846 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns….When these two storied programs met on October 12th, the Friar signal caller went 14-for-22, hurling for 302 yards and tossing four touchdown passes. He tacked on another 77 yards on the ground to give him 379 yards of all-purpose production.
An offensive that is capable of moving the ball on the ground but just prefers to utilize the aerial pass in order to get their wealth of playmakers into open space, when #11 drops back to hurl, he is blessed to have five capable targets, all of whom are threats to take it to the house at any given moment…Leading the Friars in all receiving categories this season has been senior, Daniel Parker, who has made 34 grabs for 626 yards, and eight touchdowns. During the first-meeting, Parker would have a modest game by his standards, catching four balls for 52 yards + 1 score….Fellow senior, Kyle Angus, who next to Campisi, has asserted himself as the Friars most versatile weapon (864 yards of total yardage; 15 touchdowns) had his only multiple TD reception game of the season against Cardinal Hayes, as he brought two of his three catches on the night to the promised land to finish with 115 yards receiving. He would also run for three touchdowns (5 carries, 68 yards) en route to being named as a NYCHSFL player of the week following the victory over the Cardinals. For the season, Angus trails only Parker with 33 grabs for 505 yards and five touchdowns. On the ground, he is averaging six yards per carry, accumulating 359 yards and scoring 10 TDs on 60 attempts….Greg Randall, who tied Parker for most catches during the game back in Mid-October with four grabs for 84 yards, is yet another 30-catch option for STA, as he has enjoyed a banner junior year with 30 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns…Rounding out the list of available pass-catchers with 15 and 12 grabs respectively this season are Makhai Murphy (15-253-5) and Jaden Jernigan (12-146-2). The former was not credited with a reception in the first meeting, whereas the latter had his finest game of the season, making three snatches for 47 yards and scoring once.
Defensively, the key for the Friars will be to get solid play out of their secondary…Playing against a Cardinal squad that featured a returning All-State quarterback in Sofian Massoud, you know that the ball will be thrown early and often by the Cardinals. Therefore, Nick Espada and Murphy, who are tied for the team-lead with three interceptions apiece, as well as James Errante and Nicholas Alvarado, will all need to be alert.
On the opposite sideline, the name of the game for Head Coach CJ O’Neill and the Cardinals will be execution…Too many times during the first match-up, Hayes would be on the cusp of doing something big on offense only to have their drive derailed by a turnover deep in opposing territory. If the Cardinals have any chance at all of pulling the upset and avenging their previous loss, it will be necessary for them to play “clean football”. Because when they do protect the ball, good things seem to happen for them.
Gaining over 500 yards of total offense in the October 12th loss, if you are the visitors from the Bronx, you know that you should be able to march down the field and put points on the board.
Massoud especially should feel rather confident, as the 341 yards (21-for-32 passing; 3 TDs) he tossed for against the Friars were among his career-best days…Adding to the swagger that he will need to bring with him to the field on Friday is the knowledge that he is currently playing his best football of the season. In his team’s quarterfinal victory over Monsignor Farrell, the 6’2, 175-pound junior threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth TD.
Speaking of peaking at the ideal time of the year, WR Tafari Mason, is fresh off of a two-touchdown game against the Lions and continues to become a bigger contributor to this Cardinal attack with each subsequent appearance. When he faced STA during the regular season, he had a quiet 2 catch, 31-yard evening. However, based on what we have been seeing from him down the stretch, we are fully expecting to see a much more impactful performance on November 9th.
Also expected to be on the back end of many a Massoud completion this weekend will be two guys who had extraordinary efforts in the previous loss to the Friars—Jalen Smith and Angel Tamarez….The top-2 receivers on the team, as identified in last week’s quarterfinal preview, Smith had one of, if not his best game in the Maroon & Gold during week #6, making eight grabs for 136 yards and scoring twice….Tamarez too would be mighty impressive, making six catches for 100 yards and one TD.
Honored as a Player of the Week following his breakout performance during the opening weekend of the postseason, the Cardinals are going to need to get the same stellar display out of Maurice Sherrod on the defensive side of the ball…Credited with eight tackles, 1 sack, and 3 QB hurries last weekend, the senior two-way lineman (also plays OT) is going to have to make a habit of being a pest to Campisi all night during the semifinals…Joel Athuahene (2) and Micheal Tetteh (1) combined for three sacks against the Friars and will also need to turn up the pressure in order to disrupt the usually cool as a cucumber Campisi.
Let it be known that St. Anthony’s has never lost a home game in which Campisi was the starting quarterback. Hence, the odds will no doubt be stacked against the road warrior Cardinals in their bid to return to the AAA finals for the second time in the past three seasons.
When: Saturday November 10th, 2018
Where: Iona Prep High School @Mara Field
Time: 1:30 pm
An absolute barn-burner that was settled on an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt in overtime by Stepinac (36-34 IP) when the two schools met on September 15th, to call this Saturday’s rematch one of the most anticipated games anywhere in New York State would actually be a bit of an understatement…A clash of two Lower Hudson perennial powerhouses, not only will the berth in the AAA finals be on the line, so too will be a year’s worth of bragging rights.
Trailing 28-14 late in the 4th quarter during week #2, the second-seeded Gaels would use a combination of their elite passing game (60-yard TD to Matt Panker) and a huge pick-6 by Jimaar Edwards, to pull off the comeback…Given a second life, Iona Prep would lean on tailback, Frankie McFadden, in the extra frame and they would be rewarded for the confidence they showed in their super sophomore, as he would account for all eight their points by finding the end zone on an 11-yard TD run and then following it up with a successful 2pt conversion.
The defending league and state champion Crusaders would get within 36-34 when Mekhi Green scored from shortage yardage. However, their opportunity to extend the game to a second overtime would be denied when junior field general, Joey Carino, was stopped short of the goal line on a designed roll out keeper.
The outcome of this game would unleash a chain-reaction in which the two teams would travel in different directions…Iona Prep would go on to win their next three games en route to earning a top-2 seed…Stepinac on the other hand would drop three in a row, putting them in the unenviable position of needing to claw their way back (which they did, closing out the regular season with three consecutive wins)…But alas, no matter the path they have taken to reach this point, all that matters on November 10th is that both enter the game playing grade-A ball and all signs suggest it will be another classic in New Rochelle.
Iona Prep QB, Derek Robertson, who leads the NYCHSFL in all passing categories with 2,328 yards and 28 touchdowns on 184-for-282, takes the field fresh off of a five-touchdown passing effort in the Gaels’ 42-21 quarterfinal victory over Chaminade….During the first meeting between these two schools, he would complete 20 of 32 attempts for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns….And While Panker (5 catches for 130 yards during week #2) would be the one on the back end of the play to turned around the momentum, fellow senior, Sean Fleming, would also have a strong showing, making 5 catches for 52 yards and the other TD reception…Fleming was a POTW selection this week after making nine catches for 71 yards and establishing a new personal best for TD receptions in a single-outing with three in the win over the Flyers…Camari Glasgow, would be the third Gael to post a 5-catch game during the second week of the regular season, as his stat line against Stepinac was 5 grabs for 38 yards. A Percy Harvin type receiver who can make his presence felt just as efficiently as a ball carrier, Glasgow had a highlight TD run during the quarterfinals, going 70+ yards for the score. He also was credited with two catches for 27 yards on November 3rd….Ryan Soules and Alex Williams, both made two catches for 18 and 23 yards in the win over A.S.
McFadden, who gained 80 yards and scored two touchdowns (including the previously referenced game-winner) on 17 carries versus Stepinac, continued to the consistent complementary piece that Head Coach, Joe Spagnolo, needs him to be, as he kicked off his postseason by running for 56 yards on 12 carries. His 822 yards on the ground rank him 4th in AAA this season, but he remains tied for the TD lead with 10….Jayden Lambert, who did not take a single hand-off in the first meeting, has really emerged the past few weeks as a trusted option out of the backfield for IP. In back-to-back wins over Chaminade in the regular season finale and the first round of the playoffs, he has seen his involvement on offense increase tremendously, as he has gone from carrying the ball just twice in the entire month of September to nine carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the past two weeks.
Despite the head-to-head loss, if you are Stepinac Head Coach, Mike O’Donnell (who just picked up career win #200 in the 51-13 quarterfinal triumph over Christ the King), you really have to take the field with some semblance of confidence. After all, despite playing on the road with a then inexperienced quarterback and without the services of your top running back, you still managed to almost come away with the “w”.
Leading the majority of the game (including a 14-0 edge at the intermission), when Stepinac looks back at the film, they probably should not see a loss, but rather, a missed opportunity…Because they were so in control for large parts of the contest, they know they have the studs necessary to get revenge.
One big difference between then and now that the Crusaders will be banking on, is the maturity and overall development of their junior signal caller, Carino….Competing in just his second varsity start when they played IP at the onset of the 2018 season, the 6’2, 190-pounder did not perform poorly (15-for-23 passing, 162 yards, 1 TD/1 INT; 61 yards rushing and 1 touchdown on the ground), but he also was not yet at the level in which he is currently operating…Stepping onto Mara field riding a streak of three-straight multiple-TD passing games, the Somers resident was the best we have ever seen him during the quarterfinal round, as he connected on a career-best 73.7 percent of his attempts (14-for-19), tossing for 265 yards (2nd highest total of the year) and three touchdowns against the CTK Royals.
Another undeniable change between week 2 and the semifinals will be the involvement of starting tailback, Malik Grant….Hampered during the initial battle and limited to just two carries for eight yards, even without him in the line-up, the Crusaders still were able to generate 369 yards and four touchdowns on the ground…Add him and his AAA-best 879 yards running to the equation and only God knows how explosive Stepinac will be with their land attack this weekend…Surpassing 100 yards in four of his past five appearances, the offensive star of the 2017 State title game showed once again that when the postseason starts, he goes the extra mile, running for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the quarterfinal win last Sunday.
Filling the void in Grant’s absence during the first meeting was the aforementioned Green, who ran 30 times for 202 yards in the loss…Since the return of Grant, Green’s numbers have diminished a bit, but that seems to be more a case of lack of touches rather than a falloff in ability. We have no doubt that if he gets his #21 called, he will be ready to pick up where he left off against this Gael defense.
A potential x-factor in the game will be another option out of the backfield, Kevin McKenna. Known more for his ferocious play on the defensive side of the ball at LB, McKenna would get some carries early in the 2018 season and did quite well, averaging 7.3 yards on 11 chances. In the game against Iona Prep, he gained 49 yards on five carries and scored twice. But, like Grant, he has not been a focal point down the stretch. So, it remains unseen whether or not they will go back to the well and try to capitalize on a strategy that was successful in the past.
One final RB that is worthy of our attention is CJ Wise. The opposite of Green and McKenna, the Harlem resident has actually seen his role increase the deeper into the season we have gone…Getting just three carries for 15 yards during week #2, Wise has since posted a pair of 100+ yard games in the month of October and is coming off of a 10-carry, 70-yard showing last weekend in the championship round of 8…Wise, who had four catches for 40 yards versus Iona Prep, is second on the team this season in receptions, so he will be a threat as a pass-catcher too.
While all of the young men listed so far for the Crusaders are immense talents, if you want to talk game-changing potential, then the man you need to know about is none other than Shawn Harris…The caliber of student-athlete that fans flock to see because of his dynamic skill set and ability to go all the way every time the ball is in his hands, the LoHud Super-11 selection is like a smaller version of Bo Jackson. Simply put, he knows and does everything exceptionally well…Whether it is as a spot ball carrier, an every down receiver, or a kick/punt returner, he is lighting in a bottle and the more times A.S. can feed him the pigskin, the exponentially higher their chances of winning improve…Held to his lowest output of the season with just one catch for 5 yards when these schools squared off previously, Harris has made no fewer than three grabs in any game since and is really shifting into a new gear of late, scoring three TDs in two of his team’s last three contests. In the quarterfinal win over Christ the King, he had a 38-yard TD run and added a pair of long TD receptions…Kudos to the Gaels for containing him once. But, if they hope to dethrone the defending kings, they are going to have to prove that they can do it again!
Defensively both teams are going to have questions to answer…For the Gaels, victory will mean playing considerably tougher against the run. While it is no easy task to have to contend with the likes of Jonathan Mucciolo (reigning POTW selection), Ajani Cornelius, Shadi Rabadi, and James Prince in the trenches, the Iona Prep front-7 are going to need to win their fair share of these battles. If they let Stepinac have another 370-yard showing on the ground, it could spell doom for them.
Stepinac on the other hand is going to need their vaunted pass rushers to all show up…Per the stat sheet from September 15th, there was not a sack recorded in the game by the Crusaders…This cannot happen a second time around. Robertson’s field vision is too good and he has too many available targets to be allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket like a sniper and throw darts all afternoon.