By Matt Diano:
“AAA” Finals: #2 Archbishop Stepinac vs. #4 Cardinal Hayes (Nov. 16h, 2pm @ Mitchel Athletic Complex)—Something of a rite of passage in the NYCHSFL, no triple-A postseason would be complete without the annual showdown between the Crusaders and the Cardinals…Meeting in the playoffs for the sixth straight season (4-1 in favor of Stepinac; 2-1 in the championship games), including a rematch of the 2018 finals (won 29-18 by STEP), whenever these two storied programs lock horns, the game never fails to live up to the hype…Such was the case on October 19th, when the two teams were so evenly matched that the outcome was not decided until the final moments of regulation when Enda Kirby drilled a 30-yard field goal to propel AS to the 28-26 triumph…In that game, the two-time defending league and state titlists from White Plains would earn the “w” despite getting a modest, by his high standards, performance out of two-year starting quarterback/University of Albany bound Joey Carino. A 60% completion passer who tossed for 172.4 yards per game this season, the Somers resident went just 11-for-25 for 108 yards + 1 TD last month (added 55 yards and one additional score on 18 carries). While these numbers are quite respectable for the typical high school quarterback, because he has spoiled us all in the past and set a precedent, It goes without saying that we have become accustomed to the kind of displays that he showed a season ago in last year’s title game, completing 10 of 16 for 254 yards and three touchdowns…In the “absence” of their usual domination in the sky, Stepinac was outstanding in their work on the ground, averaging just under 6 yards per carry on 40 attempts (240 yards) and scoring twice. At the forefront of the rushing attack was junior, Kyle Benjamin, who posted a season-best 117 yards and scored once on 11 hand-offs… Jayden Jenkins (38 yards on 10 tries) and Kevin McKenna (30 yards on two carries) were also effective as ball-carriers…Benjamin (66), Jenkins (48) and McKenna (22) accounted for 136 of Stepinac’s 220 yards running in their 43-6 semifinal win over Christ the King last Saturday…Known more for his defensive prowess, reigning POTW selection, Cory Richards, tallied a season-best four catches for 44 yards in the win over Hayes during the regular season; the 5’9, 163-pound senior was even more electric in last week’s semifinal round, taking both of his catches to the house to end the game with 60 yards receiving…McKenna (2 catches for 18 yards) had the lone TD grab during week #7…Quiet (1 catch for 20 yards) against the Cardinals a few weeks ago, you can never overlook Stepinac’s top target, Quentin McCauley (23 catches for 487 yards and 8 TDs as a senior). In the 2018 State title win over St. Francis (Buffalo), McCauley had a three-grab, 55-yard, two-TD outing, so we know that he is at his best when the stakes are highest…Blessed with a very experienced defense led by the top-3 tacklers in the 2018 league finals—McKenna (15 stops), Mekhi Green (10 tackles), and Zach Barnes (10 tackles, 2 pass break-ups), not to mention Richards (2 stops, 3 PDs, forced and recovered a fumble in the 2018 finals), the #1 rated (14.9 points allowed) unit will also rely on the likes of Brendan Wilkins (12), Da’vaine Cushnie (9), Rafael Fasolino (8), and Nick Tuliapano (2) among others who combined for 31 tackles and 2 sacks during week #7…For the Cardinals, who seem to be making a habit out of reaching the title game as a low seed (made it as the #5 last year), confidence has to be at an all-time high following their 45-34 conquest over previously unbeaten/#1 ranked team in NYS, Iona Prep, in last Saturday’s semifinal round…With each subsequent week taking the snaps, sophomore QB, Henry Belin, is emerging more and more as a clear-cut star for Hayes…Connecting on 16-of 26 throws for 272 yards and two touchdowns versus Stepinac during the regular season, Belin has taken his game to the next level in the postseason, completing 73.7% (28-for-38) of his passes for an average of 226 yards and six touchdowns in two playoff games in 2019…If the coming of age of Belin is the #1 reason why the Cardinals step onto the field on November 16th believing that they can do anything on offense, then the secondary rationale has to be the return of consummate playmaker, senior RB, Jalen Smith…Announcing his presence as a difference maker in last year’s AAA playoffs, the gentleman in the #23 jersey has rushed for 100+ yards in three of his four career postseason appearances, including a 17 carry, 105-yard night (added 40 yards + 1TD receiving on 3 grabs) during last year’s championship contest. Smith did not play on October 19th, so there is no telling whether or not having him would have reversed the outcome…But, if there has been one positive that has resulted from him being on the shelf for a few weeks, it is that several teammates did and continue to elevate their efforts in the backfield…Sidiki Kone and Tafari Blackstock combined to rush for 125 yards and two scores in the loss to Stepinac and have maintained their tenacity, gaining 53 and 65 yards (1 touchdown apiece) respectively last week in the takedown of the top-seeded Gaels…Zachary Mitchell is only two weeks removed from a 13-carry, 106-yard, two-touchdown showing in the quarterfinals against St. Anthony’s…Out wide, there has been no bigger story than junior Kuno Mendez…Recording at least one TD in six straight games (including four in the postseason), the 5’9, 170-pound 11th grader has shot to the top of the NYCHSFL leaderboard in yards (1,041) and TD receptions (10). His 53 receptions is 2nd in the Catholic League (behind Monsignor Farrell’s Christian Tait) and ranks 3rd in NYS. In the first match-up versus the Crusaders, he registered 8 grabs for 143 yards and one score…Yahya Kone and Damon Barnes have both asserted themselves as solid options at WR…Kone had a 3-catch, 70-yard, 1TD display in week #7 and quite active last week, making four catches for 34 yards and another touchdown against Iona Prep…Barnes, like his counterpart Richards, was a Player of the Week selection after catching a season-high 3 balls for 15 yards in the semis…Anticipate many of these same names and faces doing double-duty, as [Sidiki] Kone (9 stops, 3 TFL, 2 sacks), Blackstock (8 tackles, 1 stop for negative yardage), and Barnes (8 tackles) all stood out on ”D” when the schools met during the regular season…Nicholas Burgess (15 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) and Na’Sir Douglas (7 stops, 1 TFL) factored prominently in the October 19th box score too.
“AA-1” Finals: #1 Chaminade vs. #2 Kellenberg Memorial (Nov. 16th, 5:30pm @ Mitchel Athletic Complex)—The rematch of the October 12th Marianist Bowl that all Long Islanders wanted to see, when the Crimson & Gold [Chaminade] faced off with the Blue & Gold [Kellenberg] during the regular season, the two programs were so evenly matched that the contest was ultimately decided by the Flyers’ ability to break up a 2pt conversion pass attempt in the last 70 seconds of regulation to hold on for the 28-26 victory…Junior tailback, ”Super” Mario Fischetti Jr. was the catalyst on offense for Chaminade in week #6, rushing for a career-best 262 yards and tying his personal-high of four touchdowns on 22 carries. He has shown no signs of slowing down either, as he has run for over 100+ yards and scored at least one touchdown in all subsequent appearances, including last week’s AA-1 semifinal against Fordham Prep, when he collected 157 yards and 3TDs despite only playing in the first half…So as to prevent the Firebirds from stacking the box, Coach Dolan will be counting on senior QB, Ryan Walsh, to be a tad more effective in the air this Saturday. In the first meeting, Walsh connected on just 1 of 8 attempts (to one of the NYCHSFL’s leading receivers, Donovan Wood) for 7 yards. However, his semifinal performance (7 for 12, 70 yards in the air) was more reminiscent of the Rockville Centre resident’s talents…Boosting the top defense in AA-1, when competing against a once in a generational talent like KMHS senior running back, Jordan DeLucia, it is imperative you win the battle of the trenches. In the initial match-up, Aidan Cappellino (14 tackles), Brandon Coward (13 stops), Robert Booth (13 tackles), Liam McCormick (10 stops), Vincent Fowler (8 tackles), and Brendan McCabe (8 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack) all did layman’s work in “containing” DeLucia to just 150 yards on the ground (also had 75 yards receiving on 3 grabs; and threw a TD pass)…Dylan Lomelo (10 tackles, 1 PD) had a blocked PAT early in the game that forced Kellenberg to have to go for 2 at the end… Kevin Cudahy (6 tackles, 1 pass break-up) was the one to knock away the aforementioned two-point try to seal the “w” for the Flyers…On the opposite sideline, the two-time defending League champs, Kellenberg, which fought back from a 19-0 deficit in their 36-32 semifinal win over St. Peter’s, possesses the more diverse offensive attack. Because he is a returning All-Stater and ranks in the top-4 in NYS for rushing yards, total yards, and total touchdowns scored, it is easy to paint #7 [Delucia] as a one-man show. However, when you do that, you risk sleeping on some very impressive personnel…In his first season taking the snaps, Dan Settino, has been outstanding, hurling for close to 1,500 yards and tossing 15 touchdown passes, including a solid outing versus Chaminade that saw him complete 13-of-21 attempts for 215 yards and two TDs….Maximus Mongelli, who is fresh off of a 5-catch, 126-yard, 3TD game in the semifinals, Kyle Sharkey (4 grabs for 20 yards last week), and Joe Foley (2 catches for 9 yards in the semifinals) hauled in TD receptions versus the Flyers in week #6…Sharkey (6 tackles), Bo Jules (6 stops, 1 sack), Tim McGrath (3 tackles, 1 sack), William Ligarzewski (1 sack), and James Risso (1 INT) all performed well on defense during the first get together between the two sister schools…Suiting up for the last time as a KMHS student-athlete, expect to see DeLucia adding toughness and speed to the “D”.
“AA-2” Finals: #1 Moore Catholic vs. #2 St. Joe’s by the Sea (Nov. 16th, 10:30 am @ Mitchel Athletic Complex )—Another battle for community bragging rights, whereas the AA-1 title game will be a clash of Long Island, AA-2 will feature the top-2 teams on another island, STATEN ISLAND!!! The clear #1 and #1A teams this season in their division, the top-seeded Mavericks are the owners of the top-rated offense (36.3 ppg) and were 2nd on defense (16.6 points allowed per contest), while the #2 Vikings were right on their heels on both sides of the ball, scoring 35.1 and permitting 17.8…Those making the trip across the bridge to be there in person are in for a treat, as both rosters are stacked with dynamic playmakers on each side of the line of scrimmage…No matter the victor, you are guaranteed to get your money’s worth as both schools are vying for their first titles in the Double-A Division…Moore Catholic, who last reached championship weekend three years ago when they seized the “A” crown, have the distinction of being the only team to beat Joe’s by the Sea this season, which they did by a score of 36-26 on October 20th…In that game, All-Everything senior running back, Justin Lacks (who was the Offensive MVP of the 2016 finals) went off in a big way, rushing for 251 yards and three touchdowns on 36 carries…Approaching the final act of a scholastic career that has produced over 5,200 yards and 60+ touchdowns on the ground, the 6’1, 215-pounder, who just picked up a scholarship offer from Long Island University, will be determined to go out with a bang…Fellow senior, signal caller, Nick Heineman, has every reason to feel encouraged following what may have been his finest showing of the season in the semifinal win over St. John the Baptist. Connecting on 8 of 14 attempts in the air, Heineman tossed for season-bests in yardage (244) and touchdowns (4; all in the 1st quarter). Against the Vikings in week #7, he struggled a bit with accuracy (4-for-11), but did throw two TD passes and averaged 22 yards per completion…Adding to what seems like an endless list of weapons on offense for MC Is their two-headed monster at the WR position—Cameron Holmes and Anthony Perlongo…Both fresh off of great performances last week in the win over SJB, the former caught four passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns, and the latter complemented with four grabs of his own for 88 yards and a pair of scores. In the first meeting against SJS, Holmes was on the back end of both of Heineman’s TD strikes (distances of 63 and 18 yards), ending the day with three grabs for 78…Artie Padilla (14 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 PD), Justin Francis (9 stops, 1 sack, 1 PD), Ashton Padilla (8 tackles, 1 fumble recovery), Matt Heineman (8 stops), and Stephen Gerwer (5 tackles, 2 pass break-ups) joined Perlongo (16 tackles, 1 sack) and Holmes (8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 PDs) in wreaking havoc on defense last month…On the opposing sideline, Joe’s by the Sea will counter with an Offensive Player of the Year candidate in junior field general, Jackson Tucker…Responsible for 2,551 yards (1669 throwing, 882 rushing) and 29 touchdowns (19 via air, 10 on land) in 2019, the 5’10, 175-pound 11th grader is the NYCHSFL’s equivalent to Lamar Jackson in terms of his ability to take over and influence a game. In the loss to Moore a few weeks ago, Tucker was still quite remarkable, hitting on 12 of 16 passing for 123 yards and adding 110 yards and two TDs on 17 chances. JT was every bit as good in his school’s semifinal win over Holy Trinity, totaling 284 yards (152 passing, 132 rushing) and three touchdowns…Held to just 55 yards (excluding Tucker’s contribution) on the ground in week #7, if the Vikings hope to avenge their only blemish, they will need to the likes of Kyle Gaor (51 yards and 1 TD on 14 carries), Jacob Stewart (1 hand-off for –5), Cristian Clavell (did not carry the ball in the first meeting), and Corey Tehe (no carries in week #7) to provide a second wave of attack on the ground. Gaor ran for a season-best 90 yards on six carries last weekend…Joe’s by the Sea is by no means at a disadvantage out-wide either, as they see MC’s duo and raise them a quintet—Vincent Vazquez, Justin Alexander, James Speciale, David Maj, and John Sciulla….Speciale (42 yards), Maj (25), and Sciulla (35) all made three catches against the Mavericks during the regular season, while Alexander was credited with one catch for 7 yards. Vasquez led the team with 22 receptions this season…Gaor (2 catches for 35 yards, 1 touchdown in the semis) is dangerous as a target out of the backfield…Devin Malvasio (9 tackles), Aidan Ryan (8 stops), Chris Gulemmo (8 tackles), Nick Nebel (7 stops), and Jesse Addesso (2 tackles, 4 pass break-ups) were all bright spot defensively on October 20th.