By Matt Diano:
When: Saturday November 17th, 2018
Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex
Time: 10 am
A clash of the established versus the newcomers on the block, defending single-A champions, Cardinal Spellman, have advanced to championship weekend four straight years (winning their lone title in 2017), whereas the top-seeded Gaels of Kennedy Catholic will be making their first appearance on center stage.
Despite being the team who is making their title game debut, the Dom Tassone mentored Gaels should head into the “A” finals with a lot of confidence following a sweep of the regular season series by identical scores of 21-7.
Riding their dynamic duo of senior tailbacks, Myles Proctor and Seth Surrett to a perfect record this season against NYCHSFL opponents, the Gaels are averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground and have scored 21 rushing touchdowns this season…In the two previous meetings between the Pilots and Gaels, Kennedy Catholic has racked up 397 yards and five touchdowns…Proctor, who missed the semifinal win over Nazareth Regional but is expected to play this Saturday has posted a pair of 100+-yard performances against Spellman, running for 110 yards and one TD in game #1 and then following it up with a 155-yard, 1 TD effort in the rematch…Surrett, who is fresh off of a career-high 194-yard rushing game last weekend, has also enjoyed his fair share of success against this Pilot defense, gaining 145 yards and scoring three touchdowns on just 18 carries (8.1/carry).
While the Gaels should feel pretty good about their ability to move the ball on the ground, we have taken notice that previous meetings have revealed that if they want it, the aerial attack should also be open to them…Between alternating senior quarterbacks, Ryan Johnson (8-for-9 for 65 yards) and Zach Sellinger (9-of-15 for 122 yards), KC has completed over 70 percent of their toss attempts against the CS secondary…If the passing game does become a factor, look for Eric Volpi, Tyler Outhouse, or Surrett to be on the receiving end…Volpi, the team’s leading receiver this season with 18 catches for 351 yards and 3 touchdowns tied his season-high of four grabs (74 yards) during the initial meeting and then added two more catches for 27 in game #2…Outhouse (10 catches, 178 yards receiving in 2018) had his finest showing of the year in the second game against the Pilots, snatching three balls for 45 yards…Surrett, who had the only TD reception of the semifinal round on a 67-yard screen pass, made two catches for 22 yards in game #1.
Spellman will look to counter with their own polished running attack…As noted in last weekend’s semifinal preview, unlike the Gaels, William Cawley’s cohort is a team that relies on depth as opposed to star power in their offensive backfield…Utilizing a rotation consisting mostly of 4-5 potential ball carriers, the Pilots did have nine different student-athletes carry the ball in the first meeting between the two schools. So, you can expect fresh legs on every hand-off…Leading the way for the #2 seed should be the team’s top rusher in 2018, Kyle Maysonet. Averaging 60 yards in two appearances against the Gaels, 85 of Maysonet’s 120 total yards came in the first match-up when he averaged over 14 yards per carry on six touches. His numbers decreased to 35 yards on 10 carries in game #2, thus showing an adjustment was made by the KC defense. Maysonet rushed for 85 yards in last weekend’s semifinal victory over St. Dominic’s….Junior, Ethan Ortiz, is another dangerous operation for Spellman. An individual that they seem to save for big moments, Ortiz earned his second Player of the Week distinction yesterday when after rushing for 40 yards and a TD in the win over the Bayhawks. Ortiz would score his school’s only touchdown in the first meeting on a 10-yard run and then added his highest yardage game of the season in the rematch, averaging 10 yards per carry on five hand-offs to finish with 50 yards. Considering that he is averaging double-digit gains in a short sampling, it would behoove the Pilots to feed him the ball often to see if his consistency can withstand a heavier workload…Matthew Forti (318 yards, 2 touchdowns this season) should also fit into their running plans this weekend. Like Ortiz, Forti is averaging 30 yards on the ground in this series, gaining 35 yards on eight carries in game #1 and tacking on an additional 25 on six attempts in the second round…One final name to know will be Salvatore Maida. Carrying the ball just four times between the two games, the senior gained 50 yards and scored the only TD of the game on October 26th.
With regard to the passing game, it is no secret that freshman, Aidan Hanley-Piri has had his ups and downs this season, completing under 40 percent of his attempts (31-for-86, 471 yards, 4 TDs/4 INTs)…However, he would put forth his finest showing of his rookie campaign on September 29th against KC, tying his season-best of six completions (out of 13 attempts) and logging the only 100-yard passing game of his career in the week #4 loss…If it is this version and not the young gentleman who went 1-for-6 for 12 yards in the rematch, that shows up on November 17th, then it is very possible that CS can keep their opponents from Somers guessing on defense…If/when the pigskin does go flying, more times than not, the intended target will surely be Lance Powell. The top man in all receiving categories for the Pilots (12 catches, 263 yards, 3 TDs), Powell is no stranger to the pressures of title weekend. In 2017, he had a 17-touchdown reception in the finals. Of the seven passes that Hanley-Piri has connected on this season against Kennedy Catholic, four have found the arms of Powell, including a season-best three-grab, 80-yard effort in September.
Defensively, the “A” title contest will feature nine of the top-11 tacklers in the division, three of whom happen to rank in the top-15 of New York State…
Boosting the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Cole Esposito (114 tackles, 49 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 caused fumbles), Kennedy Catholic is allowing just 11.4 points per game this season. That number drops to 6.6 ppg when you include only “A” opponents…Joining Esposito in forming the most dominant front-7s in all of NYS is Wyatt Rumpf (120 stops, 44 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks), Joseph Eckardt (64 tackles, 19 stops for negative yardage, 3 sacks, Aidan Bernal (56 stops, 20 TFL, six QB bags), and freshman sensation, Gary Kellogg (76 stops, 21 tackles for a loss of yards, 6 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries)…Rumpf led all Gaels during the series with 27 tackles and 9 TFL…Esposito contributed 20 tackles (7 for a loss) and 2 sacks…Nine of Eckhardt’s 13 total tackles game in game #2 when he also added a sack…Against the Pilots, seven of Bernal’s 17 total tackles were accompanied by a loss of yards; he also added four sacks (3 on 9/29)…Kellogg was also outstanding in the first meeting, making 8 tackles (2 TFL) and being credited with a pair of QB bags.
At the heart of the Spellman “D” unit will be the current tackle king of the “A” division, Ortiz, who has made 121 stops (including 27 against KC) this season…Zoilo Carmona (82 stops, 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries in 2018) has heard his #62 called quite often during the two games against KC, as he has recorded 23 tackles and 2 sacks…Forti, who is second on the team with 82 tackles this season, has posted games of 8 and 11 stops this season against the Gaels…Nathaniel Colon (59 tackles) had a great game in September, making eight stops….One person who Cawley and his staff hopes does not have a busy morning is defensive back, Meki Howell-Browne. In two games against KC, he has been forced to make 25 tackles, meaning that KC’s 1-2 punch of Proctor and Surrett have had way too much success escaping the Spellman DLs and LBs…Senior, Thomas Nguyen, seems to be coming on strong following a 10-tackle, 1 sack effort in the semis. He could materialize as a defensive sleeper.
When: Saturday November 17th, 2018
Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex
Time: 1:30 pm
A classic battle between two of the past three AA champions, the top-seeded Kellenberg Firebirds will be looking to become just the second program ever to win back-to-back double-A crowns (Christ the King accomplished the feat in 2002/2003), while the Knights of Xavier will look to ascend back to the top of the NYCHSFL for the first time since their shocking victory over Christ the King in 2015 (won on a blocked punt return).
Owners of the third longest current winning streak in NYS with 21 straight victories, the #4 ranked team in the New York Sportswriters poll [KMHS] has made it look easy the past two years, beating their foes by an average score of 39.7 to 13.2…Only once during this stretch have the Blue & Gold failed to win by less than double-digits…When they two teams squared off during the regular season in week #3 (September 22nd), it was the Marianists winning 47-14.
Enjoying an embarrassment of riches on both sides of the gridiron, what has made KMHS so successful in 2017 and 2018 is that no matter where you look, there is a capable, if not extraordinary play-maker occupying all 22 positions.
Captained on offense by “Mr. Postseason” himself, senior All-State field general, Matt Sluka, the defending titlists is the only school in the AA division that has both a top-4 passer and multiple 1,000+ yard rushers….The Offensive Most Outstanding Player of last year’s championship game (238 yards rushing, 5 TDs in the win over Fordham Prep) as well as the reigning NYCHSFL Offensive Player of the Year, Sluka (69-for-101 for 1,092 yards and 11 touchdowns passing; 111 carries for 1,022 yards and 20 TDs running) might be the most dynamic student-athlete in all of New York State…In his team’s two playoffs wins to advance to the finals, the red-headed assassin has rushed for 217 yards and scored seven touchdowns on 30 carries…Sluka was also the top runner during week #3, gaining 130 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns on just nine attempts…The Roslyn native also set a new career-high with 232 yards passing on 9-for-11 attempts (3 additional TDs) against Xavier in September.
The potency of Sluka alone in the backfield would be enough to drive opposing defensive coordinator’s crazy. But unfortunately for the opposition, he is not even Kellenberg’s most dangerous runner. That honor belongs to junior, Jordan Delucia, who currently leads the AA division with 1,236 yards on the ground (17 touchdowns)…Like Sluka, Delucia proved that he knows how to flip the switch when the stakes are highest, as he ran for 125 yards and one TD on only four carries in the 2017 championship game…Averaging 168 yards and two touchdowns rushing thus far in the play-offs, Delucia will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. When he faced Xavier earlier in the year, he was held to his lowest output of the season, finishing with just 15 yards on seven hand-offs.
Never one you can/should overlook, if we have said it once, we must have uttered it 100x this season; no matter what Frankie Roder’s stat line looks like in 2018 (limited opportunities has resulted in a 318- yard, 4 TD senior campaign after he ran for 800+ and 15 as a junior), you have to consider him a severe threat…The third Firebird to exceed 100 yards in last year’s finals contest (142 yards + 1 score on 19 carries), Roder showed off his explosiveness last weekend in the semifinals when he needed just three touches to run for 66 yards…In the first meeting between our two finalists, Roder finished second on the team with 36 yards rushing on six hand-offs.
Because he had such an impressive game in the air when these two schools met, don’t be surprised if Sluka (who only three two passes in the 2017 title game) get a little more aggressive with his arm this Saturday afternoon…If Coach Hanifan gives him the green light to go vertical, there will be no shortage of targets for the 6’3, 205-pounder dual-threat QB to lock his radar on…At the top of that list of available receivers would have to be Matthew Mongelli, who has posted team-leading numbers in all major categories this season with 17 grabs for 452 yards and eight touchdowns. On the back end of all three touchdowns passes during the regular season meeting with the Knights, Mongelli finished the game with 3 catches for 149 yards…Fellow 12th grader, Bobby Filshie, is making the most of his final moments in a Kellenberg Jersey. He steps on the field this weekend as the team’s leader in postseason catches so far with three snatches for 34 yards…Delucia (15 catches for 271 yards, 1 TD this season) and Roder (2 catches for 49 yards and one score in the quarterfinals) will be weapons out of the backfield.
For Chris Steven’s Xavier squad, circumstance may dictate a deviation from the high-octane, quick strike running game that generated over 28 points per game through the quarterfinal round of the play-off…Unable to play during the Knights’ 7-0 semifinal win over Holy Trinity, if senior running back, Dan Vittiburga (2nd in AA with 19 rushing touchdowns; 3rd with 1,141 yards) is a no-go again this Saturday, it would be a big, but not insurmountable obstacle for the New York City based school to overcome…With #36 in the line-up, the Knights averaged 268.8 yards per game on the ground and scored 30 touchdowns…In his absence, they still had a solid afternoon, running for 168 yards and one score last weekend.
One of the reasons why we feel Xavier can absorb this loss of talent better than most is that they enjoy immense depth in the persons of Matt Geruso, Demetrios Demetriades, and Anthony Bruno…Geruso, who would likely be the #1 tailback on the majority of high schools in New York State, had a fine junior campaign, rushing for 709 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. While he would be held to just 27 yards in the semifinal win versus the Titans, he did have a banner day the previous weekend when he accumulated 96 yards and scored his first postseason touchdown in the quarterfinal “upset” over Xaverian. In the previous showdown between these two programs, Geruso finished second on the team [behind Vittiburga’s 59 yards] with 30 yards on 10 attempts…Demetriades, who was stuffed for –3 yards on three carries versus the ‘Berg in week #3, is fresh off of a semifinal performance that saw him gain 56 yards on three attempts…Bruno may be the biggest surprise/saving grace of them all, as he went from supporting actor (109 yards on seven carries during the regular season) to leading man in the semifinals, as he rushed for a season-high 84 yards and scored the only touchdown of the afternoon in delivering the “w” to his school…Bruno averaged 6.5 yards on his four carries (26 yards total) on 9/22.
Adding to the intrigue of this game is the fact that on the other side of the ball, you have the statistically #1 defense in AA [Kellenberg] matching up with what is without question the hottest defense over the course of the past three weeks [Xavier].
The Firebirds, which surrendered only 12.8 points this season, will turn to the likes of Danny Wilson, Jake Deakin, Paul McGuinness, Thomas Cipolla, Thomas Brzezinski, and Matthew Leahy among others to stymie the Knights’ ground attack…The future U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman/reigning Defensive Player of the year, Wilson, led all Firebirds with nine tackles during the first meeting…Deakin was not far behind with seven stops of his own…McGuinness and Cipolla (POTW selection yesterday), who combined for 11 tackles and four sacks in the semifinal victory over Fordham Prep last weekend, each made three tackles against the Knights in round #1…Brzezinski contributed seven tackles and a sack during week #3; and Leahy emerged with a 5-stop performance.
With only 22 pass completions this season, we are not anticipating much of an aerial attack from the Knights. But if they do get creative and try to catch Kellenberg off guard, Peter Taliercio, Zacarias Estrella, Alain Telfort, and Stephen McAllister, will dutifully patrol the ”no fly zone”….Taliercio had an interception during the previous encounter.
As it pertains to Xavier, which has not surrendered a single point in their last 12 quarters, the key will be to maintain their tough run defense (limited Kellenberg to their second lowest amount of ground yards w/204), while simultaneously correcting whatever went wrong in the secondary during the first engagement…
Tasked with the first objective will be the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons, Valery Gwardyak (68 tackles, 9 TFL, 2.5 sacks), James Donaldson (56 stops, 4 tackles for a loss, 1 sack), Milton Guzman (49 tackles, team-high 11.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries), Kevin Connelly (45 stops, 4 tackles for negative yards), John Walsh (42 tackles, 6 stops for a loss, 2 sacks), Jordan Sosa (37 stops, 11 TFL, 2 QB bags), and Giovanni Bernie (36 tackles, 6.5 stops for minus yardage, 2.5 sacks)…Gwardyak made 10 tackles (1.5 TFL) during the first meeting…Donaldson (13 tackles in the semifinals) was credited with six stops versus KMHS….Guzman, who was another of our Player of the Week picks following a 10-tackle, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery effort last weekend, made four stops against KMHS on September 22nd…Connelly, Walsh, and Sosa all made five tackles in during the first exchange and Bernie kicked in with four additional stops.
After coercing HT Titan quarterback, Ryan Razzano, into an 8-for-20, 103-yard, 1 INT game in the semis, the Knights’ last line of defense, anchored by Demetriades (team-high six pass break-ups; tied for the lead with 2 INTs) and Joseph Maratea (1 INT, 4 pass defenses) will need to be just as effective this Saturday.
Safety, Langston Williams, is a bridge between the front-7 and the defensive backfield. His 61 tackles this season trails only Gwardyak on the Xavier leaderboard. He made six stops during the initial meeting in September.
When: Saturday November 17th, 2018
Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex
Time: 5 pm
In world that too often gets wrapped up in seeding and whatnot, when you look at this match-up for our final title game of the day, you cannot help but think that, perhaps these weren’t the heroes we deserved, but rather the ones that we DO need right now…For every parent, teacher, coach, etc., when you try to impart the lesson about the importance of perseverance and not quitting, you can point to this game as inspiration.
A combined 2-6 at the halfway point of the regular season, very few, if anybody would have predicted this match-up way back in early October. But alas, that is the great thing about sports; on any given day, you can go from basement to penthouse in the blink of an eye.
A rematch of the 2016 triple-A championship game won by the Cardinals, 41-39, on a broken up two-point conversion pass, if the 2018 installment is even half as exciting as its predecessor from two season ago, then those in attendance are in store for a real treat this Saturday night.
Collectively winners of eight of their last nine games, both teams are bringing a wealth of momentum with them to Mitchel Field this weekend…Stepinac, who has advanced to the finals five straight seasons and will be seeking their fourth crown during this span (2014, 2015, 2017) have peeled off five straight “w’s”, whereas Hayes, in their third championship weekend appearance in the past four years, have won three of their last four games, with the sole loss being at the hands of this same Crusader squad, 23-20, in week eight (October 28th).
For the defending league and state champs [Stepinac] out of White Plains, the key(s) to victory will be to get the ball into the hands of either Malik Grant or Shawn Harris Jr. as early and often as possible…Two of, if not the two most explosive players in the entire NYCHSFL, both possess “take it to the house” potential on every single instance where they are grasping the pigskin…Grant, who made a name for himself when he rushed for 130 yards in last year‘s state title contest, just has a knack for elevating his performances based on the significance of the game. Running for 170 yards and two TDs in the quarterfinal win over Christ the King, the 5’10, 190-pounder out of the Bronx was just getting warmed up. In the semis, he would establish a new NYCHSFL record when he accumulated 405 yards and scored three times on the ground in avenging Stepinac’s previous loss to Iona Prep. The overall top rusher in the New York Catholic league (all divisions) with 1,284 yards, Grant settled for 79 yards on 14 carries in the regular season finale between these two schools, but is sure to blow that number out of the water this weekend…Harris Jr., who had his coming-out party in that 2016 finals loss (6 catches for 109 yards) also has propensity for shining brightest when the stakes are the highest. The runaway leader on the team in all major receiving categories this season (49 catches, 989 yards receiving, 9 TD catches), in the two postseason games played by the Crusaders, he has made 14 catches for 327 yards and four touchdowns. When he last faced this Hayes’ cohort, he recorded five catches for 85 yards in the win.
While Grant and Harris may be the proverbial showstoppers, there are several other student-athletes that bring “home run” potential with them every time they don the red, white, and blue jersey…With 761 yards of total offense in his senior campaign (486 as a rusher; 275 as a pass catcher), CJ Wise the quintessential all-purpose tailback. In the quarterfinal victory over Christ the King, Wise finished with 70 yards rushing (on 10 attempts) and added another 16 yards on three catches. Last weekend, he contributed 50 yards to the winning cause in the semis, rushing for 20 (4 hand-offs) and catching a 30-yard pass…After making only eight catches during the regular season, the play-offs have brought the best out of senior WR, Eugene Boyd as well. Highlighted by a two-catch, 52-yard, 1 TD effort in the quarterfinals, Boyd has three grabs for 57 yards in the postseason.
After praising him in the semifinal preview for the growth he has shown during the second half of his junior season, quarterback, Joey Carino, did not let us down, as he completed 9 of his 12 attempts for 177 yards and two touchdowns (both to Harris) in last weekend’s win over Iona Prep. This clutch showing came on the heels of what was his best game of the season in the quarterfinals where he tossed for 265 yards and three TDs versus CTK…And even though it has only been three weeks since he last faced Hayes (7-for-19, 117 yards, 2 TDs/1INT), we feel that the confidence he has added during the postseason will propel him to a monster day should he be afforded the freedom to air it out…With 301 yards and four touchdowns (including 40 and 1 in the semis) rushing this season, Carino is also a complementary piece in the ground attack.
On the opposite sideline, when you look at the 2018 Cardinals, you cannot help but have feelings of déjà vu back to the aforementioned 2016 title season in the Bronx…Another situation where CJ O’Neill’s team got off to a slow start (0-3), even though the names and faces have changed in the time that has past, it is the attitude that has stayed firm…When you put on the Maroon & Gold, you do so with the understanding that no matter what is thrown at you, you will overcome and you will not go gently in November.
Commanding the Cardinals offense is returning All-State signal caller, Sofian Massoud….No stranger to making the big play at the necessary moment, it was actually a then freshman Massoud denying Stepinac the 2pt conversion in the waning moments of the 2016 title game….And, despite owning just a 1-2 record against the Crusaders as the starting quarterback, he has continued to be a thorn in their side, completing 58.4 percent of his passes for an average of 280 yards and seven total TD hurls. In the most recent match-up during week #8, he went 16-for-33 for 254 yards and tossed three touchdowns…The 6’2, 175-pounder who is said to be drawing the attention of multiple Ivy League schools, has performed well in the play-offs thus far, connecting on 23 of 33 tries for 258 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 52 yards and another TD in the upset win in the semifinals over top-seeded St. Anthony’s.
Much like Boyd for Stepinac, one of the catalysts for Hayes’ unexpected rally to title weekend has been the development and/or realization of abilities for a trio of Cardinal senior wide-outs—Tafari Mason, Micheal Escobar, and Angel Tamarez…With the team’s top receiver, Jalen Smith (46 catches, 626 yards, 7 touchdowns) embracing more responsibility in the running game (214 yards, 2 touchdowns in the postseason) down the stretch, there has been a need for the remaining members of the corps to step up and assert themselves as impact targets. That call to duty has been answered and then some…Making just 15 catches during the regular season, Mason has already been credited with eight grabs for 63 yards (2 TDs) in two postseason games. During the first meeting between the two schools, Mason had a 3-catch, 52- yard, 1 TD performance…Escobar, who led all Cardinals with 107 yards and 1 touchdown (3 grabs) receiving during week #8, has snatched seven balls for 83 yards and one touchdown (the game-winner in the semifinals) the past two weeks….Tamarez had a 14-yard TD catch in the quarterfinal victory over Monsignor Farrell and did enjoy a solid showing the last time Stepinac and Hayes hooked up, making four catches for 48 yards with one TD….Let it be known that even when he is focusing on being a ball carrier, Smith has still been a viable option as a pass-catcher, logging three grabs apiece in each of his two postseason games for a total of 84 yards. Smith caught five balls for 42 yards on October 28th.
The final piece to what the Cardinal faithful hope will be a championship-winning puzzle on Saturday night is Jeremye Brown-Allen….The primary option in the running attack for much of the 2018 season (727 yards, six touchdowns on 124 carries), the 5’11, 170-pounder from the Bronx is to be commended by how well he has adjusted to splitting carries with Smith…Brown-Allen is fresh off of his third 100+ yard rushing display of the season, as he handled the ball 20 times for 109 yards and scored the first TD of the game in the semifinal triumph on the road over the Friars of St. Anthony’s.
More than ever, look for the war in the trenches to be an invaluable factor in determining a winner…In the first meeting, the Crusaders, led by Doug Simmons (13 tackles, 4 sacks), Kevin McKenna (12 stops, 3 sacks), Kevin Gray (17 tackles, 2 sacks), and Joe Garbowski (5 stops, 2 sacks) all took up residency in the face of Massoud, sacking him 11 times and adding five QB hurries…Gray was the Defensive MVP in the 2017 title contest following a 10-stop, 1 sack, 2 QB hurry evening.
On the flip side of the coin, Chyon Pearsall (22 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack in the postseason), Sidiki Kone (14 stops, 4 tackles for negative loss, 1 sack in two play-off games), Maurice Sherrod (15 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack), Michael Tetteh (11 stops, 1 TFL), and Christian Zapata (6 stops, 3 negative yardage tackles) have all looked outstanding in the month of November…Joel Atuahene, was the top tackler for the Cardinals during the regular season meeting with eight stops.
Returning four starters—James Prince, Jonathan Mucciolo, Ajani Cornelius, and Shadi Rabadi—on an offensive line that has helped to generate 9,619 yards and 96 touchdowns the past two seasons, we feel that Stepinac may have a slight edge along the line, but do not want to underestimate a very determined and locked-in Cardinal unit. After all, Hayes won the total yardage battle in the first meeting (315 to 238).
Best of luck to all teams competing tomorrow!