By Matt Diano:
AAA Champions – Cardinal Hayes
Henry Belin (So; QB; Offensive MVP)—There is a saying in high school and college sports that “no one is a rookie anymore when the postseason rolls around.” In the case of the Cardinals’ 6’3, 200-pound sophomore field general, no truer words could be spoken as it pertains to the way he has taken his game to the next level during the course of the past three weeks in propelling Cardinal Hayes to their first triple-A title since 2016.
Not named to the POTW list at any point during the regular season, Belin has now been selected twice (also selected following the quarterfinals) during the playoffs and in all fairness, probably had a compelling argument to be nominated for all three of his performances.
Completing 28 of 38 pass attempts for 452 yards and six touchdowns, while rushing for 56 yards and an additional TD on 14 keepers during quarter and semifinal round victories over St. Anthony’s and Iona Prep, even before stepping onto the field this past Saturday afternoon for the triple-A championship, Belin had already asserted himself as the breakout headliner of the 2019 playoffs and the future face of the quarterback position in the NYCHSFL…His stellar display on November 16th was just the cherry on top!
The only underclassman of our eight title-game MVP recipients, Belin connected on 12 of his 18 pass attempts for 209 yards and one touchdown (his 20th TD throw of the year) in the Cardinals’ 25-7 victory over two-time defending league and state kings, Archbishop Stepinac…It was the second time in as many opportunities in 2019 that he notched a 200+ yard game in the air against the Crusaders. In the narrow (28-26) week #7 loss, he went 16-for-26, tossing for 272 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
His team trailing 7-0 at approximately the midway point of the opening quarter, Belin was instrumental in squaring the game on Hayes’ third possession, rushing for a 15-yard gain to move the ball into Stepinac territory and then later hitting Jonathan Jenkins on a 14-yard WR screen to advance the Cardinals to the opposing 2-yard line…Both plays set the stage for Zachary Mitchell’s equalizer.
The game still deadlocked at 7 apiece with 2:33 remaining in the first half, Belin put the Cardinals in front, 13-7, by throwing a perfect strike over the middle on 2nd & 13 to the NYCHSFL leader in receiving yards and TD catches, Kuno Mendez, for the 34-yard go-ahead touchdown.
Hayes up 19-7 in the early stages of the 4th quarter, Belin laid the tracks for one final bonus score when he played pitch-and-catch with Jerald Munoz, on a pair of completions totaling 34 yards to advance the ball to the Stepinac 35…A 23-yard run by Sidiki Kone, put the ball inside the red zone and then Tafari Blackstock culminated the drive with the 12-yard TD dash to account for the final tally.
Senior RB, Jalen Smith, who also garnered MVP consideration, posted a game-high 125 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries…In six career playoff games between 2018 and 2019, he has surpassed the century mark four times, racking up 627 yards and four touchdowns on 80 carries.
The Cardinals now turn their attention towards winning the first Catholic State crown for the first time in program history on November 23rd when they head upstate to clash with the Monsignor Martin League champions, Canisius…A rematch of the 2016 state finals won 50-44 by Canisius, both programs had modest regular seasons as evident by the fact that they entered their respective postseasons seeded 3rd [Canisius] and 4th [Hayes] in their brackets, but have caught fire in the month of November, combining to win five in a row, including avenging losses in four of those games.
Nicholas Burgess (Sr; LB; Defensive MVP)—Extending his career by another week, the 5’10, 210-pound Garden Stater, stepped onto Mitchel Field last Saturday with only two sacks this season (per MaxPreps)…By the time the final horn sounded, he had not just increased that number, he had absolutely obliterated it, concluding the afternoon with FOUR QB bags en route to claiming top individual honors on the defensive side of the ball.
The centerpiece (literally as the inside linebacker) of Head Coach, CJ O’Neil’s defensive cohort, Burgess was the catalyst behind a concentrated, suffocating demonstration of determination that saw a lethal Crusader offense accustomed to scoring 40 points, held down to just 7, including a drought that spanned the final 47:22 seconds of the contest.
Consistently plugging the pocket, any time Stepinac QB, Joey Carino, attempted to step up and run, #10 in white was there to personally greet him for a minimal gain or a loss of yards…Not allowing him to ever establish a comfort zone, the Hayes’ “D” also forced the future Albany Great Dane [Carino] into his poorest performance of the year in the air, as he was able to hit on only 7 of his 22 throws for a season-low 108 yards.
His team leading 25-7 in the last 4:00 of the 4th quarter, Burgess’s coverage sack on 4th down on his own 44-yard line was the nail in the coffin, as it halted Stepinac’s last-ditch attempt at a late-game rally.
All in all, Burgess was credited with seven total tackles, four stops for negative outcomes, and the previously acknowledged four-spot in terms of sacks.
Charles Miracle Oguamanam was quite imposing himself, making five tackles, 3 TFL, and sacking Carino on three occasions…Na’Sir Douglas was incredible in the secondary, amassing four successful pass break-ups, including creating a turnover in the red zone when he defended a pass on 4th down late in the first half…Shawn Ward notched sacks on back-to-back snaps late in the 3rd quarter to put himself into the DMVP conversation.
The Cardinal & Gold “D” will need to continue to bring their “A games” this coming weekend, as they face a very formidable and balanced Canisius attack (150 in the air; 201.5 on the ground) that is averaging over 30 points per game.
AA-1 Champions – Chaminade
Donovan Wood (Sr; WR; Offensive MVP)—One of the most explosive student-athletes in the Double AA-1 league in 2019, there were multiple times this season that the 6’0, 175-pound wide out of Manor Park could have been bestowed a POTW nomination…However, perhaps the fact that the distinction came in his final appearance as a Flyer makes the moment all the more special.
Tying his personal-best for receptions in a single game with six (previously set in week #1) in Chaminade’s 29-12 victory over two-time defending champions, Kellenberg Memorial, in the AA-1 title game last Saturday evening, #4 in Crimson & Gold notched the first 100-yard receiving day of his two-year varsity career, finishing with 140. He would also post his third two TD reception game of the year (week #4 versus St. Peters; week #8 over Fordham Prep).
Wasting no time getting the top-seeded Flyers off to a fast start, on his school’s first possession of the title contest, Wood caught approximately a 10-yard pass, but then spun up field and out-raced the Firebird defense to the tune of a 91-yard touchdown to make the score 6-0.
Trailing 12-9 in the early stages of the third quarter and in need of a big play to regain momentum, again it was Wood on the back end of a beautiful toss from fellow senior, Ryan Walsh, winning his one-on-one match-up with the KMHS cornerback and making a leaping grab on a back-shoulder route to put Chaminade back on top for good, 16-12…Prior to the touchdown grab, Wood also had a key catch on 3rd & 7 to preserve what ended up being the game-winning drive.
Serving as the team’s place-kicker as well, in addition to his pair of TD receptions, Wood converted a 25-yard field goal at the end of the 1st half (to give Chaminade a 9-6 lead at the break) and went 2-for-4 on PAT attempts to conclude the day having been responsible for nearly 60% (17 of 29) of the Flyer point output.
Walsh (16-for-20, career-high 250 yards passing, two touchdown throws), Paolo Maggio (personal-bests in catches and yardage with five grabs for 85 yards respectively), and Mario Fischetti Jr. (18 carries for 135 yards and two TD runs) also were given serious consideration for top offensive player honors.
Robert Booth (Sr; DL; Defensive MVP)—An individual that was immensely solid all season long, but really seemed to elevate his performance in the two rivalry games against Kellenberg, the 6’3, 225-pound defensive lineman was so active in flying to the ball during championship weekend that at times, it gave off the impression to those in the press box that there were multiple #51s occupying the DL for the Flyers.
Posting a career-best 13 total stops in Chaminade’s 28-26 regular season win over KMHS during week #6, the multi-sport student-athlete (committed to the United States Naval Academy to play lacrosse) may not have collected as many tackles during round #2 of the Marianist Bowl, but the quality of his efforts were every bit as important, if not more so.
Of the eight total tackles in which Booth was credited, four of these stops were in the backfield and resulted in a significant loss of yards. He also recorded his fifth sack of his senior season, and even added a pass defense to his resume, forcing a punt by getting his arms up and knocking pass a 3rd down pass attempt by Kellenberg field general, Daniel Settino, on the Blue & Gold’s second offensive series of the contest.
In fitting fashion, with Chaminade enjoying the 17-point advantage in the final 3:00 minute of the 4th quarter, it was Booth making one final stand when on 4th & 6th, he created a turnover on down by stopping Settino’s scramble attempt short of the sticks.
The anchor and captain of the Flyer “D”, Booth’s individual accolades were part of a tremendous collective effort by Chaminade on the defensive side of the ball that witnessed them hold a very potent KMHS office (entered averaging over 35 points per game) to the school’s lowest output since the 2016 season…Anthony D’Agostino, Brandon Coward, Aidan Cappellino, Liam McCormick, and Dylan Lomelo (1 INT) were all extraordinary in their own right on Saturday night.
AA-2 Champions – Moore Catholic
Justin Lacks (Sr; RB; Offensive MVP)—What a send-off it was for the 6’1, 215-pound three-time (soon to be four) All-Catholic selection from Staten Island…Donning the Maverick jersey one final time in his storied career, Lacks won his second NYCHSFL crown, earned bookend Offensive Most Valuable Player status during championship weekend, and even ascended to the top of the New York City record book in Moore Catholic’s 28-6 triumph over St. Joe’s by the Sea in the AA-2 title game.
Returning to the same turf at Mitchel Field Athletic Complex that three years earlier saw him run for 138 yards and four scores in leading the Mavs to just their second ever NYCHSFL team title (32-22 over Cardinal Spellman in the 2016 “A” championship, there was no better way to close out the scholastic chapter of his football story than to do it all over again in delivering the hardware to Merrill Avenue as a final testament to his legacy.
Carrying the pigskin 35 times this past Saturday morning, Lacks accumulated 225 yards on the ground and found pay dirt on two separate occasions. It was the fifth 200+ yard running game of the year (8th of his career) for the Mavs All-State tailback, including a 36-carry, 251-yard, 3TD performance in week #7 in the first meeting between these two schools.
The Mavericks trailing 6-0 after surrendering a touchdown to the Vikings on the initial drive of the game, Lacks quickly issued a response and evened the contest when on 3rd & 6, he took the hand-off in the wildcat formation and darted 64 yards to the house for the first of his two aforementioned TDs.
Moore now safely in front by a score of 20-6 early in the 4th quarter, Lacks made history when he took the toss in the backfield and raced 48 yards to the promised land for his 22nd touchdown of the year (67th of his career)…In addition to providing additional insurance, the trek enabled the MC 12th grader to move into sole possession of the New York City career rushing record, surpassing Kadeem Walcott’s (Fort Hamilton) total of 5,400…For good measure, #6 then pounded in a 2pt conversion run to round out a 14-point outing.
Lacks continued to tack on bonus yardage in the waning moments of the title game, capping his tenure with 5,468…His 2019 total of 1,998 yards (8.6 average) rushing was best among all Catholic ball-carriers (all divisions) this season.
Artie Padilla (Sr; LB; Defensive MVP)—The cream of creams for a Maverick defense that concluded the 2019 season as the top-ranked unit in the NYCHSFL (regardless of division) by allowing just 15 points per game, Padilla was at the heart of a unified shutdown effort that held St. Joe’s by the Sea nearly 30 points below their season average (35.8 entering the AA-2 finals) and bottled up Vikings star signal caller, Jackson Tucker, limiting the dual-threat weapon to 178 yards of total offensive production (averaged 283+).
Equally involved and dominant in disrupting the passing game (Tucker threw for a season-low 87 yards and was intercepted two times) and stuffing the ground attack (the Vikings mustered just 104 yards rushing after averaging 235.2), the 5’10, 212-pound senior linebacker was unblockable in his pursuit of any and all SJS ball carriers, recording five of his seven total stops behind the line of scrimmage…Applying so much pressure to Tucker from the outside that he might as well have been his conjoined twin, Padilla logged his third consecutive two sacks performance…To boot, he even had a forced fumble [that Sea was fortunate enough to dive on].
Reflecting upon his body of work as a whole in his swan song campaign, there is no doubt that Padilla is worthy of serious consideration for league Defensive Player of the Year merit…Having amassed 140 total tackles (2nd in NYS) and 8.5 sacks in 2019, he sits atop the AA leaderboard in both categories.
If not for Padilla’s outstanding showing in the AA-2 finals, Anthony Perlongo (5 tackles, 2 stops for a loss, 1 sack, 1 blocked punt), Matt Heineman (6 stops, 1 sack), or Michael Peraino (6 tackles, 1 TFL) could have all been named as Defensive MVP on November 16th.
Senior, Cameron Holmes, played the most complete game for the Mavericks, as he scored a touchdown on both sides of the ball, catching a 15-yard pass on 4th down to snap a 6-6 tie and give MC the 12-6 edge 15 ticks into the 2nd quarter…Holmes later turned defensive into offense when he registered a 29-yard pick-6 at the onset of the 4th quarter to up the advantage to 20-6.
A Champions – Kennedy Catholic
Clayton Proctor (Jr; QB; Offensive MVP)—A season ago, an injury robbed Myles Proctor of the privilege of playing in the “A” title game; the result of his absence was a hard fought loss to Cardinal Spellman…On Sunday, November 10th, younger brother, Clayton, made sure that even if it was a year later than anticipated, there would be celebration in the family home…He delivered on his promise!
Emerging with what may have been the greatest individual single-game effort of the 2019 Catholic football season, the 5’10, 170-pound field general out of Yorktown Heights left “everything and then some” on the field in catapulting (he literally dove) top-seeded Kennedy Catholic to their first team title in program history, 39-33 (OT) over the rival Pilots.
A surefire candidate, if not the consensus front runner, to follow in his brother’s footsteps and win the “A” Offensive Player of the Year award at the Communion banquet next month, [Clayton] Proctor’s dual-threat capabilities were never in question, as evident by the fact that he was both the #1 passer (765 yards + 6 TD throws) and a top-3 rusher (665 yards and seven touchdowns) in the division…However, despite his mighty impressive track record, he managed to outdo even himself in ensuring that the hardware would be Somers bound.
More than doubling his regular season average of 204.3 yards of total offensive production in the championship contest, Proctor was deadly with all of his limbs, rushing for a career-best 275 yards and four touchdowns on 36 carries (7.6/per), while simultaneously flinging the pigskin for an additional 145 yards and one score on 12-of-18 in the air…The 30 points that he PERSONALLY had a hand in generating was more than any of our other three championship-winning schools were able put up in their respective triumphs on November 16th.
The Gaels trailing 7-0 late in the first quarter, Proctor recorded the first or his five scores when he connected with Bobby Piesco (2 catches for 31 yards) on a 17-yard TD pass to even the score at 7 apiece.
Approximately five minutes later, he let his legs do the talking on another equalizer, as he took the ball in on a 3-yard keeper to tie the score at 14-14.
With 6:12 remaining in the game, Proctor gave the Gaels their first lead of the night when he again called his own number, this time from 7 yards away to put KC on top, 23-20.
TD #3 on the ground/his fourth overall came with 3:09 still on the clock on a six-yard draw to make the score 30-20.
After an absolutely mind-blowing sequence of events witnessed Spellman score two touchdowns and then Kennedy respond with a game-squaring field goal with :01 on the clock, the game went to overtime.
Regaining possession after a clutch defensive stand by the KC defense yielded no points, Proctor fittingly had his hero moment, transforming a broken pass attempt into a 12-yard scramble, which ended with him diving at the pylon for the winning touchdown.
Aidan Bernal (Sr; OL/DL; Defensive MVP)—On an evening where the cumulative point total may suggest defensive struggles on both sidelines, the constant and consummate playmaker for the Gaels was their senior two-way linemen [Bernal].
A POTW selection in week #5 when he forced a fumble, intercepted a pass, and racked up 10 tackles in a 28-12 victory over Spellman, Bernal used the “A” finals to pick up where he left off in being a consistent menace to the Pilot offense.
Suiting up for the last time on his home field, the “captain and heart of the line” as hailed by Head Coach, Dominick Tassone, made sure he went out in memorable fashion, setting a new career-high with 15 total stops, tying his personal-best of six tackles for a loss (originally set in an Oct. 11th non-league game versus Woodlands), and tacking on a sack.
A young gentleman who most certainly has the respect of the rival Pilots, Bernal has been so good throughout his career when playing opposite them that it goes without saying that his graduation will likely bring a smile to the face of the Cardinal Spellman staff…According to MaxPreps, during his four years as a member of the KC varsity, he compiled the following stat line against Spellman: 51 tackles, 16 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 INT.
One of the hardest and busiest student-athletes on the field most weekends, he also serves as the linchpin of the OL as the starting center…For this reason, he shares in Proctor’s huge day!