Article by Matt Diano
#1 Xavier (5-2) vs. #4 Kennedy Catholic (3-6)
When: Saturday November 12th, 2022 @7:30pm
Where: Aviator Sports Complex (3159 Flatbush Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11234)
Previous Meeting: 26-6 Xavier on September 23rd (Week #3)
Synopsis: The storybook basement to penthouse tale this season for the Knights of Xavier, in one year’s time, the program has transformed from a 1-8 record to finding themselves on the top line of the AA-2 playoff landscape…
As they look to take that another step towards their first NYCHSFL finals appearance since 2018, they do so with the confidence and knowledge that thus far they have been successful in steamrolling all double-A-2 nemeses thus far, including a 26-6 victory during week #3 over this very same Gael cohort that will be determined to deny them of a fourth trip to ‘ship weekend since 2012 (runners-up in ‘12 & ‘18; Champs in ‘15)…
When you play Chris Stevens and his “old school” Knights, there is no secret sauce or surprises. The calling card is “toughness & grit” on both sides of the line, and if you are going to beat them, you need to find a way to slow down their vaunted single-wing ground attack that is averaging 324 yards and four touchdowns per game in 2022!!
As loaded as they have ever been in the backfield, whether it is Shane Zaletofsky, Mehdi Merah, or Gavin Gallagher, there is no weak link to this chain as evidenced by the fact that all three have rushed for 623 or more yards and no fewer than 6 touchdowns as individuals this season…In the first meeting with Kennedy Catholic on September 23rd, it was Zaletofsky (807 yards + 9 touchdowns on 128 carries this season) and Gallagher (627 + 6) each piling up massive amount of territory, as the former ran for 160 yards/1TD on 23 attempts, while the latter was even mightier, scoring twice and gaining 188 yards on 16 hand-offs…Merah (659, 11 TDs) too was able to cross the goal line, as he rounded out the collective 377 yards/4 touchdown outing by picking up 29 yards on 9 tries!!!
On the other side of the ball, the Manhattan-based brigade [Xavier] received paramount contributions from the likes of Emir Yuksel (50 stops, 5.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 4 pass break-ups), James Franchock (34 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Matthew Scariano (45 tackles, 8 stops for minus yardage, 3 sacks), Marquise St. Cyrus (26 stops, 6 TFLs, 2 sacks), Maseah Young (17 tackles, 4 TFLs), and Robert Allen (24 stops), who united to amass 40 tackles (12 by Yuksel), 10 stops for negative yardage (2.5 by both Yuksel & St. Cyrus), 1 sack (St. Cyrus), and a pair of pass break-ups (Yuksel) to hold the Gaels to just 93 yards in the air en route to limiting them to their second lowest output of the fall!!
The [Dominick] Tassone mentored boys of Somers [Kennedy Catholic], who are no strangers to punching their proverbial tickets to Catholic title contests (“A” runners-up in 2018, “A” champs in 2019) will counter with a more balanced offensive scheme, as they possess talent at all the skill positions…
Fresh off of a 29-20 quarterfinal victory against Holy Cross, KC was propelled by an absolute phenomenal outing from senior running back, Nick Duryea, who dashed his way to a career-best of 205 yards, while tying his high mark of 2 rushing TDs, on a workhorse-like 30 attempts….For Kennedy to reverse their fortune from the regular season, it need cannot be emphasized enough that the 5’10, 180-pounder from Wappingers Falls needs to be at his best….In the previous showdown, he was stifled to the tune of just 6 yards on 4 carries (1TD); those numbers need to increase exponentially in the rematch!!!…He was effective as a target in the vertical attack, hauling in 3 passes for 55 yards!
The “Master of All Trades”, Anthony Castaldi, on the other hand, had a pretty solid showing despite the loss in week #3, as he netted 92 yards on 11 carries, while also throwing for 153 yards (9-of-15 passing)…The emergence of diaper-dandy, Kenneth Dillon (did not play on Sept. 23rd) means that is unlikely we will see Castaldi taking the snaps this Saturday…But alas, that just means he will be freed up to do his magic in other ways…Despite only touching the ball on a handful of occasions (2 rushes for 16 yards; 2 receptions for 70), the 185-pound senior (also hailing from W.F.) notched two scores (1 rushing, 1 as a pass-catcher) to get his last postseason out to a banner start!
Nick Calandros has been reliable from beginning to end of his swan song campaign, as he has registered no fewer than 3 grabs in six of nine appearances this season, including performances of 5 for 82 and 4 for 37 during the regular season loss to Xavier and the quarterfinal dub over H.C.!
With some postseason experience now under his belt (10-for-19, 148 yards tossing, 1 TD), Dillon’s expedited maturity phase could be a wildcard factor!!!
Fully aware of the fact that 48-minutes of smash-mouth football awaits them with the berth in the semis on the line, Danny Duryea, Rob Cross, Mark Theriault, Luis Garcia, James Arefieg, Chris Hutchins, Llogan Raynor, Richard Ponzini, Chris Earle, as well as N. Duryea and Calandros, will all be tasked with answering the call….During week #3, the Duryea duo were responsible for 31 stops (20 by Dan) and 4 TFLs (all credited to Dan), while Cross (9 tackles), Calandros (7 stops), Hutchins (5 tackles), Raynor (5 stops), Ponzini (4 tackles), and Earle (3 stops) all made at least one play that yielded a loss of yardage….Cross and Arefieg registered double-digit tackle efforts in the quarters with 12 and 10 respectively, while Calandros added 5 stops/1 sack/1 interception….The INT by the #5 jersey was one of 5 earned by the Gaels!
#2 Mount St. Michael Academy (5-4) vs. #3 Xaverian (5-3)
When: Saturday November 12th, 2022 @1pm
Where: MSMA Campus (4300 Murdock Ave, The Bronx, NY 10466)
Previous Meeting: 14-6 Xaverian on October 2nd (Week #4)
Synopsis: The only time thus far in any of our postseason contests (across all levels) in which it was the lower-seeded program that entered with a previous head-to-head victory, when the Mountaineers and Clippers waged war on October 2nd, it was the troops from Brooklyn playing an inspiring and hard-fought game in all endeavors that sent them to a 14-6 triumph during homecoming weekend…
Unlike this aforementioned regular season meeting, Coach Kevin Fountain’s charges will not get to enjoy the added benefit of having the home crowd serving as a 12th man….However, the wave that they will ride instead will come in the persons of Bobby Benoit, Michael Kenny, Spiros Drossos, Freddy Scuteri, and Luca Rumberg on offense, not to mention lockdown defensive personnel— Chris Manzola, Tim Hayes, Chris Duffy, Tommy McMorrow, Andrew Owens, and Dylan Markle among others!
Gentlemen that seem to have a knack for rising to the occasion and performing up the level of competition demanded, in the Clippers’ victory over MSMA during the early stages of the 2022 campaign, it was Benoit connecting with Rumberg on a 12-yard strike in the 2nd quarter that turned a 6-0 deficit into a 7-6 advantage…
Later in the contest, it was Kenny plunging across the goal line (following a punt block courtesy of Tom Terzulli, to close out the scoring…
Markle, who is also an asset at tight end, starred on “D” for Xaverian during week #4, as he was credited with 2 sacks and a pair of TFLs as the catalyst for a unit that allowed the Mount to accumulate just 187 yards of total offense (well below the 297.1 they averaged for the year) while limiting them to their second-lowest point output of the season…
In a later contest (week 7) versus fellow AA-2 semifinalists, Kennedy Catholic, it was the Benois/Drossos tag team (180 yards of pitch-and-catch between the two) helping Xaverian fight back from a 21-0 hole, before Kenny took over with TD runs in the 4th quarter and in overtime!!
Manzola and Owen Conti each picked off a pass, Hayes had a clutch 4th quarter forced fumble, and Duffy/McMorrow/Owens were a wrecking crew that racked up 22 stops among themselves!!
Shifting to the Bronx and the host school, Mount St. Michael Academy, one look at the box score from October 2nd tell you precisely where the adjustments need to be made in order to produce a more favorable result…
In our opinion, the “make or break” person for the Mountaineers will be junior field general, Marc Pearson Jr….Throwing for only 28 yards (4-of-13) in week #3, this was a definitive exception to the rule of what we have come to expect from the #5 jersey….Entering the semifinals having hurled for 1,217 yards and 11 touchdowns, on four different occasions, the 6’1, 165-pound 11th grader has connected on multiple touchdown passes…In six of nine appearances, he chucked for 120+ yards….Thus, even If he has a “normal afternoon” based on precedent, it will go a long way towards avenging the prior loss…
If Pearson does come out of the locker room in the zone, then anticipate any one of the Mount’s three primary targets—Jabril Carter (32 grabs for 624 yards, 7 touchdowns), Kameron Wheeler (20 receptions for 208 yards, 3 TDs), or Kyle Samuels (17 hauls for 196 yards, 2 touchdown catches) to be threats to take over the game…From this trio, only Samuels (2 grabs for 9 yards) was credited with more than one catch; October 2nd was the only outing by Carter where did not have at least one reception….
The one area where Coach Mario Valentini hopes to see the same positive body of work is in the land warfare where his committee of ball-carriers actually succeeded in surpassing the yearly average of 143.8/game….Energized by Franklin Dominguez’s 64 yards/1TD on 15 carries, MSMA’s got complementary displays on the ground from Pearson Jr., Carter, and Jonathan Otoo, who put up totals of 35, 33, and 27 yards respectively….Top rusher for the year, Tyler Bobe (285 yards, 1 TD on 71 hand-offs), was not available; so his return to the equation is yet another key element!
Otoo (44 tackles, 5 TFLs, 2 interceptions), Tyler Cadienhead (40 stops, 1.5 sacks, Malique Outlaw-Butler (40 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), Luis Ferran (26 tackles, Savion Pearson (24 stops), Anthony Hernandez (22 tackles, 1 pick), Zaire Caldwell (18 stops, 2 sacks), and Nico Bustamante (13 tackles, 2 interceptions) will be the ones to watch on defense….Ferran led all Mountaineer hitter with 3 solo stops, while Bustamante logged an interception during week #4…
Our selection for Game of the Week, the Mount will be looking to head to the ship for the first since 2013 (AA runners-up), whereas the Clippers have been there four times during that same span, winning an “A” crown in 2015, and settling for “A” bridesmaid status in 2013, 2014, and 2017!