Nov 082018
 

By Matt Diano:

Sean Fleming (Sr.); TE – Iona Prep Gaels

Two years ago, the Monmouth University commit was a 190-pound sophomore who made just 13 catches for a Gael program that won the 2016 Double-A title…Fast-forward to the present time and what you now have is a 6’4, 235-pound stud who looks every bit the desired prototype for the tight end position…A testament to the amount of blood, sweat, and tears the Dobbs Ferry resident has sacrificed during the transformation process, it is not just Fleming’s physical traits that have grown; so too has his overall skill set and the level of impact he has been able to make as a part of this high-octane IP passing attack.

Taking to the field on Saturday evening needing just one reception to equal his 2017 season total, the Iona Prep captain would explode for nine catches for 71 yards (just eight yards short of tying his previous single-game best from last season) in propelling the host Gaels to a 42-21 victory in the quarterfinal round of the AAA playoffs…Among these nine grabs, three would result in IP touchdowns, giving Fleming the first three-score performance of his scholastic career.

By virtue of his statistically best game in Maroon & Gold last weekend, Fleming has successfully surpassed all of his records from a season ago, as he now has 50 catches (42 in 2017) for 478 yards (463 last year) and seven touchdowns (6 as a junior)…His 50 catches currently ranks 2nd in the NYCHSFL (behind only teammate, Matthew Panker’s 55) and puts him in a tie for 11th overall for most catches this season in the entire Empire State.

Fleming would catch his first TD of the game on his school’s opening possession of the game, capping off a sub-.2:00 drive by catching a 13-yard dart over the middle to give Iona Prep the initial 7-0 lead…He would add his second touchdown of the game late in the 3rd quarter when he caught a pass on 3rd & goal from the 7 and stretched across the line to make the score 28-14 in favor of the #2 seeds from New Rochelle….His third and final score came in the last 3:20 of regulation as again he made a grab short of the line and then dove his way in for a touchdown…Fleming also had a 2pt-conversion reception in the 2nd quarter to wrap up his night with an even 20 points.

The Gaels will now host #3 seed, Stepinac in the AAA semifinals…When these two programs met during the regular season, it would be a late IP rally (trailed 28-14 in the 4th), coupled with a clutch stop on a two-point conversion attempt that yielded a 36-34 overtime victory over the defending State Champions….Fleming had five catches for 52 yards and one touchdown as a part of the win.

 

Maurice Sherrod (Sr.); OL/DL – Cardinal Hayes Cardinals

It was an evening of redemption this past Saturday for Head Coach, CJ O’Neill, and the Cardinals of Cardinal Hayes High School….Just five weeks removed from witnessing their 11-point lead at the half get squandered in a 26-24 week #4 loss to the Lions, the boys from the Bronx could not have picked a more perfect moment to play their most complete game on both sides of the gridiron.   They advance to the semifinals for a fourth straight season behind a 33-9 triumph on the road over Monsignor Farrell.

A defense that surrendered an average of over 30 points per game during the regular season, if you were to judge Hayes based solely on their performance during the quarterfinal round of the triple-A play-offs, you’d think they were the 1970s Steelers (Steel Curtin) based on how well their line executed in the trenches.

Pitted against the regular season rushing king in the triple-A division, Vin Wagner, the Cardinals’ DL would hold the Farrell senior to his lowest production of the season (note: not including week #2 where an injury forced him out early), limiting him to a modest 77 yards on 16 carries…This strong performance up front marked a significant difference from the first meeting where Wagner rushed for over 200 yards.

Starring in this statement-making effort for the Cardinals was the 6’0, 255-pounder out of the Big Apple…Credited with 11 total tackles, 2 TFL, and zero sacks heading into the postseason, Sherrod would be the best version of himself on November 2nd, making 8 stops (6 solo), including three for a loss of yardage, as well as earning a sack and three QB hurries.

A lock to have been a POTW selection just on his defensive merits, Sherrod would not be content just dominating on one end of the line of scrimmage.  Instead, he would play almost every snap at left tackle, providing supreme protection to his returning All-State quarterback, Sofian Massoud, and making it possible for Hayes’ junior field general to complete 2/3 of his throw attempts (14-for-21) for 160 yards and three touchdowns.

With one hurdle down, the 5th seeded Cardinals will now face a massive challenge in the semifinal round when they square off with top-seeded St. Anthony’s this Friday….56-32 losers when the two schools went head-to-head during week #6 (October 12th), Cardinal Hayes allowed 523 yards of total offense to the Friars.  Hence, if they have any hope of making it 2-for-2 in avenging previous defeats, it will be necessary for Sherrod to pick up where he left off and continue to get the better of the exchanges in the war zone (line of scrimmage).

 

Jonathan Mucciolo (Sr.); OL – Archbishop Stepinac Crusaders

Staying on the topic of behemoth linemen who know a thing or two about what it means to be a bona fide monster in the trenches, for two-years, this 6’5, 297-pound beast has been a linchpin member of what we consider to be quite possibly the finest offensive line in New York State….

A standout at Offensive Guard, anytime you see the Crusaders break a big run, you best bet that more times than not, it was the Mahopac resident that was the one to throw the big block that paved the road for the Stepinac ball carrier…

Such was the case this past Sunday, as Mike O’Donnell notched his 200th career win and  his team took their first steps toward defending their league and state crowns when they defeated visiting Christ the King by a comfortable 51-13 margin.

Accumulating close to 600 yards of total offense behind the wall of protection provided by Mucciolo and his line mates, Stepinac would rack up over 300 yards on the ground, including four touchdowns (Malik Grant-2 on runs of pair of 13-yard runs; Shawn Harris-1 on a 38-yarder; Joey Carino-1 on a 1-yard QB sneak), while also passing for 265 yards (Carino went 14-for-19; 3 TD passes)

As a result of their unstoppable rushing attack on November 4th, the Crusaders have officially surpassed their running total from all of 2017, as they have improved from 2,218 yards (184.8 per game) a season ago to an astounding 2,296 yards (250.9/appearance) this year despite playing three fewer games…With #64 in red, white, and blue serving as their personal chaperon, three Crusaders (#1 Grant-879; #7 CJ Wise-486; and #9 Mekhi Green-376) currently rank in the top-10 in rushing yards this season in the triple-A division.

Stepinac will have the daunting task of trying to keep their repeat bid alive when they go into hostile territory to face the 2nd-seeded Iona Prep Gaels…And while the game of inches may have cost the Crusaders the opportunity for victory during the regular season, there is still much reason for optimism…Competing without the services of Grant for much of the contest, AS still managed to run for a season-high 369 yards and scored four TDs on the ground.

Mucciolo is committed to Sacred Heart University where he will join former NYCHSFL royalty, Randy Brito and Lucas Nunez (both of Cardinal Hayes), as well as St. Anthony’s alum Eli Terry, and Brendan Whitehead (Kellenberg) in suiting up for the Pioneers in the fall of 2019.

 

Jack Goodkin (Sr.); WR/LB – Fordham Prep Rams

It is said that one spark is all that is needed in order to start a five-alarm blaze…For the 2017 Double-A runners-up, Fordham Prep, that flare would be delivered by senior wide-receiver/linebacker, Jack Goodkin, in the most unusual of ways during Saturday’s 39-12 quarterfinal win over St. John the Baptist.

With the Rams trailing 6-3 in the second quarter, the visiting Cougars looked to have all of the momentum until the 5’11, 200-pounder from Briarcliff Manor instantly turned the tables by transforming a negative into a positive…Marching deep into SJB territory, Fordham Prep would have their drive prematurely ended on an interception.   However, rather than accept the loss of possession, #36 would bolt like a bat out of hell, chasing down and stripping the Baptist defender to win back control of the pigskin.  His hustle and grit would prove to be a catalyst as a few plays later, FP would take their first lead of the game (10-6) on a strike from senior QB, Derek Bufano to junior receiver, Owen Loffredo…This turnover into touchdown conversion would mark the beginning of a 36-0 unanswered streak as the #2 seeds out of the Western Conference never looked back again en route to securing a semifinal berth for the fourth time in the past five seasons (including a 2014 title journey in the “A” division).

Speaking of the string of 36 consecutive points, Goodkin would not only be the motivating factor behind them, he also was a central figure during the rally, scoring on three of his six total catches to account for 18 points…A true Cougar killer, after previous personal best of 89 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions in last year’s game against this same foe, Goodkin would establish new career-highs in all receiving categories, finishing with 147 yards to go along with his aforementioned 6 grabs and three touchdowns.

By virtue of his huge afternoon during the first round of the postseason, Goodkin has now taken over the team lead with seven TD receptions and has moved into second place for cumulative catches with 25 in 2018.

He added to his “outstanding game” to borrow the term used by FP Head Coach, Pat Deane, by contributing four tackles on defense.

Goodkin and the Rams’ mission will be two-fold this weekend as they attempt to advance to title weekend in back-to-back seasons while also seeking revenge on the team who denied them the crown in 2017, Kellenberg Memorial.

 

Jalen Rivers (Sr.); RB/DB – Holy Trinity Titans

Playing in what was by far the best game of the opening weekend of the NYCHSFL playoffs, to say that Holy Trinity’s 27-26 victory over Moore Catholic went down to the wire would be an understatement.

Entering the game with many of the pundits expecting to see an extremely run-heavy game plan (as we ourselves predicted in the quarterfinal preview), Rivers and the Titans would make us all eat a big bowl of crow this past Sunday…Tying their season-high in pass attempts with 15, the 5’10, 175-pound Westbury native had a sizeable hand in enabling his fellow senior, field general Ryan Razzano, to post a new 2018 best with 10 completions…On the back end of four of those double-digit connections, Rivers would increase his already team-leading pass catching numbers, as his four grabs for 59 yards and one TD would put his seasonal totals at 20 snatches for 289 yards and five scores.

Getting the host Titans off to a great start, Rivers would be the recipient of the first of Razzano’s three touchdown passes, when he caught a 31-yard strike to give the Green & White the 7-0 advantage at the end of 12 minutes.

Used as a spot ball carrier throughout the afternoon, Rivers would tack on an additional 17 yards rushing on five attempts to finish the game with an all-purpose total of 76 (his second highest total of 2018 if you exclude kick and punt returns).

As solid a job as he did on offensive, what really set Rivers apart from many of his peers was the career-defining day he put forth on the other side of the ball…Known for his consistent tackling skills, #43 would establish individual highs in both total tackles and TFL, being credited with nine and three respectively.  His nine stops led a HT defense that limited Moore Catholic’s star tailback, Justin Lacks, to a season-low, 61 yards on the ground.  The 26 points scored by the Mavericks were also 11 less than the team average in games that Lacks played all 48 minutes.

The #2 team in the Eastern Conference will now turn their attention to a semifinal showdown against Xavier (who they defeated 29-28 on October 13th)…In the first meeting between the Titan and the Knights, Rivers would catch a four-yard TD pass for his lone reception of the game; he also added 18 ground yards, as well as five tackles and a sack on defense.

 

Valery Gwardyak  (Sr.); LB – Xavier Knights

“Offense fills the seats, but defense wins championships.”  These were the words expressed by Knights Head Coach, Chris Stevens, following Xavier’s 27-0 blanking of Xaverian last Sunday night in the NYCHSFL Double-A play-offs…Seeded 3rd in the east, the shutout over the Western Conference champ Clippers makes it three years in a row that the Maroon & Blue platoon has gone on the road and knocked off higher placing opponents in the first round of the postseason.

Known for their long history of posting goose-eggs on defense, because this year’s Xavier squad is the school’s most offensively gifted since the 2012 season (averaged 28 ppg during the regular season), more times than deserved, the “D” has gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to handing out praise…However, true to the tradition and consistent with what you would demand and/or expect to see out of a Stevens’ mentored group, as the games have taken on greater importance, the defense has responded by turning up the intensity…Unscored upon in their past eight quarters of work, the West 16th Street posse has been unforgiving, unrelenting, and punishing down the stretch…And at the heart of it has been their 5’10, 180-pound power backer [Gwardyak].

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year for the Knights after leading the team in stops with 79 (including 8 TFL) as a junior in 2017, the Staten Island resident has not shown a hint of slowing down in his final season as a Xavier student-athlete…Sitting in the familiar spot atop the team leaderboard with 51 tackles during the regular season, Gwardyak’s effort this past weekend would only pad his cushion, as he posted a season-best 11 stops (5 solo, 6 assisted), while tacking on his first full sack of the season and adding a pass deflection for good measure in holding the opponent to under 200 yards of total offense.  He has now reached double-digit stops in consecutive games after putting up a 10-tackle game in the season finale versus St. Francis Prep.

However, while we would never deny the impressiveness of his stat line, much like Goodkin above, it was not just the quantity of his numbers that won us over; it was also the quality and intangibles attached to his output that made the greatest impression…And, identical to the aforementioned Ram, it was a forced fumble by Gwardyak that ultimately served as a game-changer…With Xavier clinging to a 7-0 edge in the 3rd quarter, the Clippers would mount a potential game-tying drive, advancing the ball to midfield.  But alas, that attempt at squaring up the score would meet a premature demise as #44 would jar the ball loose and return it to the opposing 33…A few plays later, Dan Vittiburga would punch in his second TD of the game to double the lead to 14-0…The Knights would never look back, as the turnover ignited a 21-0 streak to end the game.

Riding the wave of confidence that results from holding a former NYCHSFL Offensive Player of the Year [Roberto Auguste] to a meager 29 yards on the ground in the first round of the playoffs, Gwardyak knows that the challenges will not get any easier in the semis, as he will be tasked with containing a Holy Trinity rushing attack that has accumulated 2,248 yards and 32 touchdowns in 2018….When these two schools played on October 13th, the Titans gained 259 yards and scored three touchdowns in emerging with the 29-28 victory…And while Gwardyak (9 total tackles; season-best 3 TFL) would perform well individually in the losing effort, he knows that it will be his responsibility to elevate the entire team if they hope to return to AA title game for the first time since winning it all in 2015.

 

Matt Sluka (Sr.); QB – Kellenberg Memorial Firebirds

The last time that the defending Double-A champion Firebirds played St. Peter’s during week #7 they needed a touchdown in the last 1:00 of regulation in order to preserve their two-year unbeaten streak

This past Saturday, the 6’3, 205-pound red-headed assassin [Sluka] made sure that the rematch would be a lot less dramatic, as he accounted for five touchdowns (four rushing, 1 passing) in improving his career record on the varsity level to 20-0 behind the 48-14 victory.

An absolute phenom who may deserve to have his #10 jersey retired the moment the clock hits 0:00 in his final game for the Blue & Gold, what is heavenly about a player like the Roslyn native is that as dominant as he is during the regular season (and trust us, he is plenty dominant; 1,786 yards of total offense/23 total touchdowns), he seems to possess the uncanny ability to find an entirely new gear once the postseason rolls around.  It is as if the first eight weeks of the year are a mere warm-up act and the playoffs is the featured attraction.

Scoring 10 total touchdowns (an average of 3.3) in last year’s three-game trek to Titletown, Sluka would post a career-high six total touchdowns (5 rushing + 1 passing) in the finals victory over Fordham Prep to earn Offensive MVP honors…Using last year’s championship weekend effort as proof that he is an individual who is known to perform his best the higher the stakes, if five touchdowns in the quarterfinals on November 3rd is the starting point for Sluka this postseason, one can only imagine what he has instore for the crowd during the next two weeks (should KMHS return to the ‘ship).

Carrying the ball 14 times for 140 yards and the previously cited four touchdowns last Saturday, Sluka needs just 55 yards rushing during the semifinal round to earn his second 1,000-yard season in as many tries.

The two-year starter under center would break the ice quickly in the first quarter, scoring on an 8-yard dash to give KMHS the early 7-0 advantage…Following an Eagles’ score to knot the game at 7 apiece, Sluka would notch his second TD of the opening 12 minutes when he took the keeper up the middle and then cut to the outside to run 60-yards down the near sideline to make the score 14-7….Now leading 21-7, Sluka would record his third rushing TD of the game on Kellenberg’s initial drive of the second half, shedding several tacklers and spinning into the end zone from 6-yards out to make the score 28-7…The quattro would come with 6:30 remaining in the 3rd quarter when Sluka capitalized off of a St. Peter’s turnover (fumble caused by Jake Deakin, recovered by Alain Telfort) by hitting Bobby Filshie with a 24-yard strike over the middle to move the ball to the 16-yard line and then took it the rest of the way on the next play via QB keeper…As a cherry on top, Sluka (6-for-9 passing; 88 throwing yards) would side-step a pursuing defender and toss a perfect 24-yard pass into the back of the end zone to find Frankie Roder to make the score 41-14 in the last minute of the 3rd.

Sluka and the ‘Birds will now prepare themselves for a semifinal showdown against a very familiar foe in Fordham Prep….A perfect 3-0 in his scholastic career against the Rams, we already told you about his title-game brilliance from last November.  However, it should be noted that in two regular season meetings (including the 2018 finale on October 26th), the reigning 2nd-team All-State selection has been lights out, rushing for a career-best 244 yards and three TDs last season and then flipping the script two weeks ago by connecting on 6-of-8 attempts for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the air (also ran for 64 yards and 1 TD)…So, with 13 overall TDs (9 rushing, 4 throwing) among three head-to-head match-ups, there is no situation in which FP can and/or should feel safe.

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