Nov 172018
 

After losing their fourth straight game on October 6th, Crusader’s Head Coach, Mike O’Donnell joked with his team that the way they were playing, he was planning on booking a vacation for Mid-November, because unless something changed, he’d be available…Well, now six weeks and six wins later, that respite is going to have to wait at least another week as Archbishop Stepinac will have a state title to defend following their 29-18 come-from-behind victory over Cardinal Hayes in the NYCHSFL Triple-A league finals…The triumph on Saturday night made it four of the past five years (including back-to-back seasons) that the red, white, and blue juggernaut from White Plains finished atop the downstate Catholic landscape.

A tale of two halves, despite only trailing 12-6 at the break, Stepinac would get grossly outplayed during the opening 24 minutes, as defensive struggles on third and long situations would result in their high-powered offense possessing the ball for less than six minutes and only snapping the ball for 13 plays.

Luckily for the #3 seed, one of those plays would be a 64-yard touchdown pass in the last 40 seconds of the second quarter from Joey Carino to Shawn Harris Jr. to cut a 12-0 deficit to only 12-6….This big strike came shortly after junior linebacker, Brendan Wilkins earned a sack on 4th and & goal inside his own 15 that kept the fifth-seeded Cardinals from potentially tacking on a debilitating third touchdown of the half.

Hayes’ points during the opening half would come on their first two drives of the contest, when between the two possessions, they converted on 3rd and/or 4th down on six separate occasions…On their initial series, it was Jeremye Brown-Allen punching it in from the 1-yard line with 8:17 remaining in the quarter after teammates, Jalen Smith (1st down run on 3rd & 8), Tafari Mason (pass reception on 3rd &1), and Sofian Massoud (16-yard scramble on 3rd & 4) all made clutch plays.

The second drive, a 17-plan, 80-yard endeavor, would conclude with the returning All-State QB, Massoud, hitting Smith on a 10-yard touchdown pass.  However, it was Brown-Allen, who had 3rd & 1 and 4th &1 conversions previously, that equally shared in the credit.

We weren’t privy to what O’Donnell said to his troops during halftime, but whatever it was, it certainly lit a fire under them, especially on the defense side of the gridiron…A program that is hailed for the ferocity of its pass rush, when the two teams squared off in week #8 of the regular season, the Crusaders sacked Massoud nine times…But, it was not until the start of the 3rd quarter that this vaunted front-7, consisting of 2017 NYS sack leader, Doug Simmons and nose-tackle extraordinaire, Joe Garbowski (named the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the game) turned up the heat on this chilly fall evening…Consistently applying pressure up the middle during the last two quarters of the contest, Garbowski might as well have been legally declared the Cardinals’ signal caller’s Siamese twin.

Stalemated at 12-6 at around the 4:20 mark of the third stanza, Stepinac would be the beneficiaries of a very short punt that gave them the ball back on the Cardinals 27-yard line…Rolling the dice and foregoing the field goal, it would be Carino’s turn to give his foes from the Bronx a dose of their own medicine, when he scrambled on 4th &9 and hit senior WR, Nick Furio, in the back of the end zone with a 25-yard dart for the equalizer…This was the 21st overall TD hurl of the season for the Somers resident [Carino], but Furio’s first TD grab;  he entered the game credited with just nine catches in 2018.

Coming right back over the top to regain the lead on their next possession was CJ O’Neill’s Cardinals, who needed approximately 1:20 before Massoud played pitch-and-catch with Micheal Escobar from a distance of 15-yards away to make the score 18-12….Massoud had runs of 12 and 35 yards on consecutive plays to put his school inside the Stepinac red zone…These would be the last six points of the night that Hayes would record, as Stepinac would own the final 13+ minutes of regulation, closing the show on a 17-0 streak.

At the heart of the comeback would be none other than Harris Jr…Inheriting the #6 jersey that current Syracuse student-athlete, Trill Williams, made famous last season, the 5’11, 175-pounder from Mount Vernon would make his predecessor proud, as he would catch a 56-yard pass towards the end of the 3rd quarter to move the ball to the Hayes 9-yard line and then on the first play of the 4th, he would take the jet sweep two yards to the house tie the score at 18-18…Nate Henderson’s successful PAT attempt would put Stepinac out in front for the first time all night.

Never ones to quit, Hayes would mount a solid drive on their next possession, advancing the ball to the Crusader 29.  However, a Smith fumble, recovered by Wilkins, would prematurely end their march.

With 6:16 showing on the scoreboard, Stepinac would add a little insurance to their lead, when a 54-yard pass to an out-stretched Eugene Boyd put them in position for Henderson to kick a 25-yard field goal to make the score 22-18.

Each second on the clock moving a little faster for them, Cardinal Hayes would gamble on 4th &6 with 5:20 remaining in the game, as Massoud tried to connect with Mason but the pass would be incomplete, creating a turnover on downs while on their own 47.

Smelling blood and sensing that there were on the cusp of slamming the door, Malik Grant (who rushed for a NYCHSFL record 405 yards in the semifinals) would make up for what was a modest performance by his loft standards when he broke off a 22-yard run to move the ball to Hayes’s 25…Needing just one more big play to seal the victory, Stepinac would get two huge contributions out of Harris Jr. Who caught an 11-yard pass on 4th &7 with 3:23 remaining in the game and then caught a nine-yarder on an identical down for his third TD to make the score 29-18….Not surprisingly, Harris Jr. Was the unanimous choice as the Offensive MVP.

With 1:40 left to play, junior defensive back, Cory Richards, ripped the ball out of the hands of Escobar to set up victory formation for the Crusaders!!!

Archbishop Stepinac will now face the Monsignor Martin (Buffalo regional) champions, St. Francis, in next weekend’s state title game…

Nov 172018
 

 

By Matt Diano

22 up, 22 down…The Kellenberg class of 2019 will finish their varsity careers having never tasted defeat as they repeat as NYCHSFL “AA” champions behind a 41-6 victory over Xavier.

Getting their title defense bid off on an unusual but admittedly effective foot, Kellenberg would recover the opening kick-off on a Kyle Sharkey squib on the Xavier 36-yard line…On the ensuing play, it would be senior quarterback, Matt Sluka, doing what he does best, calling his own number on a QB draw and running the entire way into the end zone for the 36-yard TD to immediately put the Firebirds ahead on the board, 7-0…The 6’3, 205-pounder’s double-A leading 21st rushing touchdown of 2018, the red-headed assassin would just be getting his afternoon started as he would add three TDs in the air and another on the ground en route to being named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game for a second straight finals appearance…Dating back to last November, in two title games, he accumulated 11 total touchdowns (7 rushing, 4 passing).

The Kellenberg lead would double to 14-0 on their next possession of the 1st quarter when the Blue & Gold followed-up a turnover on downs (Paul Taliercio pass break-up on 4th & 7) by Xavier when Sluka connected with fellow 12th grader/future U.S. Naval Academy student-athlete, Danny Wilson, on an 18-yard hook-up over the middle for the touchdown…Known more for his prowess on the other side of the ball, this was only the second catch of the year and the first TD scored by the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Wilson….Prior to the touchdown strike, Sluka had a successful scramble on 3rd & 5 on his own 35 to preserve the drive.

The 2015 champion, Knights, would get on the board with 7:45 remaining in the first half on a 12-yard touchdown carry by Anthony Bruno, but was unable to maintain their momentum as the “Berg” would re-establish their two-touchdown lead in the final moments of the second quarter on another Sluka TD trek…Already enjoying excellent field position after a Paul McGuinness fumble recovery off of a Jake Deakin (Defensive MVP) hit put them in Xavier territory, Sluka twice moved the chain on 3rd & 4 and 4th &1 situations before taking it to the promised land from 16-yards out to make the score 21-6 at the intermission.

Picking up exactly where they left off, the Kevin Hanifan mentored Firebirds came out of the locker room on fire, putting touchdowns on the board on their first three possessions of the second half to record the only 20 points of the final 24 minutes of the Catholic season.

Facing a 3rd &10 just across midfield with 7:52 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Sluka would find his favorite target, Matt Mongelli, on a 46-yard bomb to make the score 28-6…The TD grab was the ninth of the season for the 6’3, 176-pound WR who calls Flower Hill home.

With the sun setting on what has been a magical journey for this Marianist senior class, Sluka would make sure to get one more name into the box score…Contributing the 70th and final TD of his decorated two-year career under center, #10 would roll out and put a beautiful rainbow pass over the shoulder of senior, Sean Boll, for another 46-yard strike…For Boll, who entered having caught just six balls in his swan song campaign, this reception was his 1st TD of the year.

The outcome no longer in question, junior tailback, Jordan Delucia, would tack on a 57-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the 4th quarter to account for the final tally…The surefire successor to his field general as the focal point of the offense next season, the Bellmore native [Delucia] wraps up an incredible 11th grader year with 18 rushing touchdowns.  He also was the yardage leader in the division with over 1,300 yards.

Nov 172018
 

By Matt Diano

Football, much like life, is a game of adjustments…Down 12-0 at the onset of the second quarter to an opponent [Kennedy Catholic] that swept them by identical 21-7 scores during the regular season, there was plenty of reason for the defending NYCHSFL “A” Division champions, Cardinal Spellman, to doubt themselves…However, true to the “heart of a champion” spirit, the William Cawley led Pilots would not cower and they would not quit…And because of this refusal to lose attitude, they are once again kings of the Catholic football kingdom, following a 19-12 victory this morning at the Mitchel Athletic Complex.

Unable to generate even a first down during the first quarter and a half of competition, things would look bleak for the school from the Bronx until the final minute of the opening half when a combination of a defensive holding call against Kennedy, a pass completion from Aidan Hanley-Piri to Lance Powell, and a long-run by Matthew Forti put the Pilots on the doorstep…Needing just one yard to break the plane, Spellman would put the ball in the hands of their 202-pound junior fullback, Ethan Ortiz, who punched it up the gut to cut the deficit to 12-7 at the break.

An exchange of prolonged drives that occupied the entire 12-minute duration of the third quarter, the top-seeded Gaels (who entered this game a perfect 8-0 against their NYCHSFL peers) looked primed to add to their advantage on their lone possession of the third stanza, but instead would get stymied by a determined Spellman defense, resulting in a punt that buried the returning titlists on their own 12-yard line.

Given the opportunity to seize momentum, Spellman would take advantage, finding immense success by rotating Ortiz, Forte, and Kyle Maysonet on runs up the middle…Chewing up major yardage and wearing down the opposing defense, the Pilots’ three-headed monster ground attack would witness the fruits of their labor 10 seconds into the 4th quarter when Mayonset (who was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player] exploded on a 29-yard TD run to give Spellman a 13-12 lead of which they would not squander.

Channeling their inner-’86 Chicago Bears, the Pilot defense would be impenetrable down the stretch, as they kept the #1 scoring offense in Single-A off the board for nearly three full quarters and bottled up the tandem of Myles Proctor and Seth Surrett (the top-2 rushers this season in “A”), preventing either one from scoring a touchdown for the first time this season against an Empire State opponent.

Speaking of the D-unit, anchored by the game’s Defensive MVP, Ortiz, the Pilots were so stout upfront that on almost every drive of the second half, Kennedy Catholic faced a 3rd and long…And one of these occasions would yield the proverbial backbreaker in the game, when just before the 6:00 mark of the final quarter, it would be junior defensive back, Dylan Williams-Molitor, intercepting a deflected pass and returning it to the Gael 19….One the next play, senior, Salvatore Maida, took the hand-off on a jet sweep and cruised the distance to increase the cushion to 19-12 with only 5:58 still to be contested.

Needing just one additional stop in the last 1:00 of regulation to celebrate for the second straight season, it would be a knocked down pass on 4th & 10 (still on the KC side of the field) by Nicholas Payne, that secured a repeat for Spellman.

Kennedy, who was seeking their first Catholic football title in program history and fell to 8-2 this season, would score all 12 of their points on consecutive drives between the first and second quarters.

Breaking through for the initial TD of the morning for the Gaels would be freshman, Gary Kellogg, who took the hand-off on a misdirection play and ran up the gut from the 2-yard-line to make the score 6-0.  It was the first rushing touchdown of the season for the 5’10, 175-pounder out of Peekskill and he could not have picked a better moment to make it happen…The drive would be previously kept alive when the Gaels enticed an offsides call on 4th & 3rd via a hard count.

Following a hold on defense that forced a Pilot punt, the Gaels wasted little time in doubling their lead when on the ensuing play, it would be Zach Sellinger hitting a wide-open Tyler Outhouse on an all-senior 53-yard strike to make the score 12-0…Much like Kellogg’s aforementioned run, the TD reception for the Cortlandt Manor resident [Outhouse] was the first of its kind this season, as the often run-heavy Gaels entered the game having only thrown nine touchdown passes all season.

Nov 162018
 

By Matt Diano:

A: #1 Kennedy Catholic (8-1) vs. #2 Cardinal Spellman (5-4)

When: Saturday November 17th, 2018

Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex

Time: 10 am

Synopsis

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.

Myles Proctor

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).

Seth Surrett

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.

Ethan Ortiz

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.

Matt Forti

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…

Spellman Champs in 2017

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.

 

AA: #1 (East) Kellenberg Memorial (10-0) vs. #3 (East) Xavier (7-3)

When: Saturday November 17th, 2018

Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex

Time: 1:30 pm

Synopsis

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.

Matt Sluka

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.

Daniel Vittiburga

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.

Matt Geruso

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].

Dan Wilson

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.

Kellenberg Champs in 2017

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.

 

AAA: #3 Archbishop Stepinac (6-4) vs. #5 Cardinal Hayes (4-4)

When: Saturday November 17th, 2018

Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex

Time: 5 pm

Synopsis

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).

Malik Grant

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.

CJ Wise

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.

Sofian Massoud

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.

Jalen Smith

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.

Stepinac Champs in 2017

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!

Nov 122018
 

Varsity Championships at Mitchel Athletic Complex, Uniondale

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Championship – Thomas Murray Trophy (10:00 am)

#2 Cardinal Spellman v. #1 Kennedy Catholic

AA Championship – Joe Lamas Memorial Trophy (1:30 pm)

#3 Xavier v. #1 Kellenberg

AAA League Championship – Michael Cunnion Memorial Trophy (5:00 pm)

#5 Cardinal Hayes v. #3 Archbishop Stepinac

Tickets $7 in advance, $10 at the gate.

Tickets go on sale Wednesday at participating schools

Junior Varsity at Higher Seed

AAA Championship – John Marchassalla Memorial Award

#2 Chaminade @ #1 Iona Prep  (Saturday, November 17 – 10:00 am)

AA Championship

#2 St. Francis Prep @ #1 Kellenberg (Saturday, November 17 – 10:00 am)

 

Nov 092018
 

By Matt Diano:

#1 (East) Kellenberg Memorial (9-0) vs. #2 (West) Fordham Prep (6-3)

When: Saturday November 10th, 2018

Where: Mitchel Athletic Complex

Time: 7pm

Synopsis

A rematch of last season’s title game, which Kellenberg won 54-19, with each week that comes and goes, this Firebirds senior class moves ever closer to finishing their varsity careers with immaculate status…A group of young men who have known nothing but victory for the better part of the past three years (tracing it all the way back to their 2016 Junior Varsity title team that lost just twice), the Uniondale based school rooted in the Marianist tradition has dominated this rivalry during the course of the past calendar year, following up their aforementioned one-sided win in the 2017 title game by pitching a 41-0 shutout over the Rams just two weeks ago in the regular season finale.

Immensely gifted on both sides of the ball, the Blue & Gold boost the top-rated offense (40.2 ppg) and defense (allowing 12 points/game) in the double-A division and rank 3rd and 2nd respectively with regard to the NYCHSFL as a whole…Just once during their 20-game winning streak have they won by a margin of under 10 points (33-32 over St. Peter’s during week 7 of the 2018 season) and they rectified that situation by defeating that same opponent 48-14 in last week’s quarterfinal round.

Bobby Filshie

Renowned for their legendary land attack, Kellenberg is averaging 286 yards and more than four touchdowns per appearance this season on the ground alone…In the engineer’s seat for this runaway train of an offensive juggernaut is the combo of senior signal caller, Matt Sluka, and junior tailback, Jordan Delucia.  The former is a returning 2nd team All-Stater, whereas the latter is well on his way to becoming the second member of his family to garner All-State recognition (older brother, Jason, was an Honorable Mention in 2014)…And both have been absolute Ram killers during the 2017 and 2018 season…Among the three games, Sluka has rushed for 546 yards (including a career-best 244 during the 2017 regular season) and nine touchdowns versus Fordham Prep….Delucia, whose personal-best also happened to occur against the Rams (226 yards during the last week of the 2018 regular season), would miss the first of two meetings between the two programs last year, but made up for it by running for 125 yards and one touchdown on just four handles in the 2017 title game.  Combined, he has torched FP for 349 yards and a pair of scores between the past two seasons…Both Sluka (140 yards, 4 rushing touchdowns) and Delucia (145 yards, 1 touchdown) are fresh off of spectacular performances in last weekend’s quarterfinal victory over St. Peter’s….Senior, Frankie Roder, is another Firebird who always looks forward to facing the Rams.  The 6’2, 173-pounder hailing from Franklin Square, averaged 109.5 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns last season versus Fordham Prep.

Derek Bufano

Adding to what was already a pretty complicated and troublesome predicament for the visiting Rams is the fact that Sluka has honed his skills as a passer and is now lethal in all areas of the game…Completing just 2-of-8 attempts for a cumulative gain of 74 yards in the two games last season, the red-headed wonder kid from Roslyn really showed off his improved gun-slinging skills two weeks ago when connected on 6 of his 8 throws for 121 yards and three touchdowns.

On the receiving end of those three TD hurls would be the AA leader in touchdown catches this season, Matt Mongelli (2 grabs for 73 yards, 2 TDs), and fellow 12th grader, Bobby Filshie (3 snatches for 27 yards, 1 score).

At the heart of the goose-egg yielding effort on defense on October 28th were seniors, Danny Wilson and Jake Deakin.  As he seems to do each time he puts on that #88 jersey, the Levittown native, Wilson, would make several plays in the backfield for a loss of yardage…Deakin, who was credited with eight stops on the night, also had the play of the night on “D” for KMHS when he turned defensive into offense by returning an interception 45 yards to the house the pick-6.

Fordham Prep, who is fresh off of a 39-point outing (39-12) in their quarterfinal victory over St. John the Baptist may have been beaten up on the last few occasions, but they are hardly a broken team…With an average of 26+ points per game this season, until proven otherwise, we are going to consider that shutout at the hands of the Firebirds to be nothing more than an off day.

Already regarded as one of the most prolific passers in the NYCHSFL, Rams’ senior QB, Derek Bufano, did nothing to hurt his reputation this past weekend in the quarterfinal victory over the Cougars….Completing 15 of his 24 pass attempts, the first-year varsity starter would toss for 248 yards and four touchdowns.

Having big days as pass catchers last Saturday were Jack Goodkin and Owen Loffredo….Goodkin was named a Player of the Week after posting personal-highs in all major receiving categories with six grabs for 147 yards and three touchdowns…Loffredo contributed four catches for 46 yards and was the recipient of the remaining Bufano TD pass…Rams’ top target, Matthew McCarthy, would be held to just 1 catch for 1 yard against the Cougars, but we fully expect for him to return to form for the semifinals…Devin Pettus (2 catches for 12 yards on November 3rd) also brings momentum with him into the championship round of 4.

The FP defense, who will powered by several players who performed at exemplary level last week—-George Gaspar (8 tackles), Jaysen Sanz (5 stops), William Woods (team-high 9 tackles, 1 sack), Arthur Long (2 stops, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble), Goodkin (4 tackles), Jack Andreana (1 interception), etc.—-will need to find a way to stop KMHS from running wild yet again.  If they can keep the damage to within a reason, we truly do think that they have the ability on offense to make this a competitive contest.

 

 

#2 East Holy Trinity (8-1) vs. #4 (East) Xavier (6-3)

When: Sunday November 11th, 2018

Where: Holy Trinity High School

Time: 1:30 pm

Synopsis

The AA equivalent of Iona Prep/Stepinac, much like the anticipated semifinal game in the triple-A division, the first time that the Titans and Knights butted heads (October 13th), the crowd would have to wait until the final whistle before a victor was determined.

A back-and-forth affair that had four lead changes and two ties, the Knights could have elected to even the score at 29 apiece in the closing moments (:20 remaining in the 4th) but elected instead to play for the win by attempting a two-point conversion…With the “w” on the line, it would be Titan senior linebacker, Stephen Collica, making a game-saving stop on the 2pt try to clinch the 29-28 win for Holy Trinity.

And while the setting may shift from Brooklyn to Long Island for the rematch on Sunday, one thing we know will remain consistent is the amount of fight and toughness both schools will bring with them to the field…Combining to win 11 straight games (HT-8, Xavier-3), both of these teams are locked, loaded and ready for another instant classic!!!

Ryan Razzano

No strangers to drama, the host Titans would almost see their postseason ended prematurely during the quarterfinal round, as they required a 4-yard TD pass from Ryan Razzano to Chris Porcaro with 8.4 seconds remaining in regulation to emerge with the 27-26 win over Moore Catholic….In fact, of their eight victories in 2018, four have been accompanied by margins of less than five points.  Thus, while some pundits believe that when you play with fire you eventually get burned, we prefer to take the glass half-full approach and say instead that the ability to repeatedly prevail in tight games is a sign that pressure does not phase this Titan cohort and no matter the circumstances in the 4th quarter this Sunday, they are going to remain patient and poised.

Throwing (literally) a new wrinkle into the offensive scheme during the quarterfinal round (and making us look silly for suggesting that they were one-dimensional), HT would have their greatest success of the season in the air against the Mavericks, with Randazzo setting season-highs for completions (10) and touchdown tosses (3)…Spreading the ball out to four different targets, Jalen Rivers (4 catches for 59 yards), Spencer Nixon (2 grabs for 26 yards), and of course Porcaro (3 snatches for 15 yards) all recorded a TD reception…Sophomore, Jaden Sinclair also added an 8-yard grab during the afternoon…Should the Green & White decide to keep this more balanced strategy intact for another week, it is possible they will be able to catch the Xavier defense a little off guard.  Afterall, having only thrown the ball four times during the initial meeting, it is doubtful that a review of the game film would do the Knights much good.

Now, don’t misunderstand; even though this new-found aerial arsenal is certainly a change of pace option to keep opposing defenses on their toes, we do not by any means expect Holy Trinity to “ditch the girl that took them to the dance”.  Come this weekend, there will still be a healthy dose of hard-nosed, pound-it-out, Big-10 style football where the ground game will be king…In the first meeting, Randazzo would call his own number quite often on keepers, running the ball 18 times for a season-high 158 yards and two touchdowns in the “w” over Xavier…Nixon, who is coming off of a 96-yard, 1 TD performance on the ground against Moore Catholic, also looked quite good back in week #6, as he was second on the team with 83 yards and one score versus the Knights…

On the opposite sideline, Xavier, which we have mentioned countless times is enjoying their most explosive offense season in the past six years, will counter with their own potent running assault…Out-gaining the Titans 305 to 259 on the ground when the two schools faced off during the regular season, a scary notion is that in the subsequent weeks since their loss, the Maroon & Blue juggernaut has actually become even more deadly with their legs, as they have racked up just under 1,200 yards (1,163) and scored 14 touchdowns in the past three weeks.  In their 27-0 blanking of Western Conference regular season champions, Xaverian, Xavier would score all of their points on the ground, running for 265 yards and 4 TDs.

Daniel Vittiburga

Spearheading this never-ending barrage of positive gains has been the breakout star of the 2018 season in the double-A division, Dan Vittiburga….Running for 991 yards and 16 touchdowns (including a 101 and 3 game versus Holy Trinity) during the regular season, the Brooklyn native’s first real taste of postseason football would be a sweat one as he finished the quarterfinal win over the Clippers with a stat line of 150 yards and three more TDs on 31 handles…Junior, Matt Geruso, who has left no doubt that he will be the heir apparent to Vittiburga as the featured member of the backfield next year, just missed his fourth straight 100-yard effort last week, as he “settled’ for 96 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.  In the game against the Titans in Mid-October, it was Geruso and not Vittiburga who led the Knights in yardage, as he gained 125 on 13 attempts…Don’t make the mistake of underestimating Demetrios Demetriades either.  The 6’1, 180-pounder averaged over 11 yards and scored one touchdown on his seven carries (79 yards) against the Titans earlier this year.

With both teams loving to ram the ball down the throats of their opponents, prosperity in the trenches will likely translate into advancement on the bracket…

In the first meeting, Brian Holder (10 tackles), Sinclair (8 stops), Bashiri Clark-Cain (7 tackles, 1 TFL), Collica (6 stops, 1 tackle for a loss), Rivers (5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack), John Stroughn (5 stops, 1 tackle for negative yardage), and Dylan Lewis (4 tackles, 2 hits behind the line of scrimmage) were the most active for Titan Nation.

For the Knights, quarterfinal round POTW selection, Valery Gwardyak (9 tackles, 3 TFL), Langston Williams (10 stops), James Donaldson (9 tackles, 1 stop for negatives yardage), Milton Guzman (7 stops, 1 TFL), Jordan Sosa (5 stops, 1 stop for a minus), Gregory Steffens (5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 pass break-up, 1 forced fumble) and Joseph Maratea (4 stops, 1 INT) would be the headliners…The Xavier defense is riding a streak of two consecutive shutouts.  Therefore, as we have come to expect from a Chris Stevens trained unit, points are going to be at a premium against them down the homestretch.

Nov 092018
 

By Matt Diano:

#1 Kennedy Catholic (7-1) vs. #4 Nazareth Regional (1-7)

When: Friday November 9th, 2018

Where: Kennedy Catholic High School

Time: 7pm

Synopsis

A year removed from seeing their 14-0 lead in the 4th quarter of last year’s semifinals evaporate at the hands of eventual “A” champions, Cardinal Spellman, if there is one lesson that the Gaels know all too well, it is that nothing is ever over until the final horn is blown…With these sentiments in mind, there is no way that the top-seed from Somers are going to make the mistake of counting their chickens before they hatch…But, based solely on the how the first two meetings of the season have gone against their semifinal opponent, Nazareth, there is reason for more than a little bit of optimism if you are Head Coach, Dom Tassone and his KC student-athletes.

Posting victories over the Kingsmen by scores of 28-0 and 26-6 during weeks 2 and 5 of the regular season, the Gaels have hardly been tested against their single-A peers…Owners of both the top-rated offense (25.4 points per game) and defense (11.75 allowed) in their division this season, if not for a loss to an out-of-state opponent from Florida, Kennedy Catholic would be heading into the postseason with an unblemished resume.

Myles Proctor

Boosting the top-2 rushers in the “A” division this season, the Gaels are averaging over 200 yards per game on the ground and are showing no signs of letting up anytime soon…Coined Batman & Robin by us a few weeks ago in the Players of the Week article, seniors, Myles Proctor and Seth Surrett truly are a dynamic duo when they step foot onto a football field…Responsible for 22 of KC’s 28 total touchdowns this season, Proctor (978 yards and nine rushing TDs on 116 carries; 4 catches for 65 yards, 1 TD) and Surrett (628 yards and nine touchdowns on 63 carries; 8 receptions for 72 yards + 2 scores; 1 punt return for a touchdown) have been so off the charts in 2018 that each has individually outscored nearly 2/3 of the teams in their division….In two games this season against their semifinal opponent, Proctor has rushed for 237 yards and two touchdowns, while Surrett has gained 198 yards and added a pair of scores himself.

While there may not be a need to throw the ball much this Friday, if the occasion does call for an aerial attack, look for Eric Volpi (18 catches for 351 yards and a team-leading 3 touchdowns) to be on the receiving end of either Ryan Johnson (23-for-42, 291 yards, 4 TD passes) or Zach Selinger’s (19-for-42, 332 yards throwing, 1 TD pass) passing attempts….Between the two games, Volpi caught four balls for 110 yards, including a 77-yard TD in the first meeting…Brendan Gibson (4 catches for 71 yards, 2 TDs) caught both of his touchdowns this season during round #1.

As if it was not enough of an advantage to have the top two offensive weapons in the league, Kennedy Catholic also happens to feature what is bar none the best front-7 in the “A” division…Led by reigning Defensive Player of the Year/Linebacker extraordinaire, Cole Esposito (97 tackles, 38 TFL, 4 sacks), Wyatt Rumpf (106 stops, 37 tackles for a loss, 3 QB bags), Joseph Eckardt (56 tackles, 19 TFL, 3 sacks), Gary Kellogg (64 tackles, 17 stops for a loss, 6 sacks) and Aidan Bernal (51 stops, 19 negative yardage tackles, 6 sacks), the D-line has not allowed a single running back to cross over the 100-yard threshold this season…When you factor in Clayton Proctor (team-leading 2 INTs, 3 PDs), Bobby Piesco (1 INT, 3 pass break-ups), and several of the names we have already mentioned who have done admirable double-duty along the last line of defense, the “D” as a whole is allowing less than 180 yards of total offense against “A“ foes this season.

Justin McDuffie

As they attempt to pull what would in all likelihood be the biggest upset of the weekend if it were to happen, the Desmond Defritas-guided Kingsmen will need to get big nights out of running backs, Justin McDuffie (156 yards and 3 TDs on 39 carries) and Kevin Fleetwood (77 yards on 22 attempts)…McDuffey has struggled in the two outings against the Gaels, running for a combined total of 12 yards on 8 carries)…Fleetwood on the other hand did enjoy some success during the second go-around, as he rushed for a season-high 41 yards on eight hand-offs.

Dual-threat senior QB, Kenial Densiar (19-for-58, 215 yards) has yet to find his groove in the throwing game, but does lead NR in rushing yards with 191 on 44 carries…Showing some flashes in each aspect of the game (team-high 26 rushing yards in game 1; season-high 5 completions in the rematch), if the 6’0, 156-pounder from Brooklyn can put all of the pieces together in one night, it certainly could be a potential difference maker.

Senior, Teshawn Howard, could materialize as a sleeper…An explosive kick returner who had 50-yard run backs in each of the two games, the 5’10, 160-pounder is also the Nazareth’s leading receiver with 7 grabs for 59 yards this season.

Tasked with the most difficult job (AKA trying to stop the two-headed monster of Proctor/Surrett) will be a front-7 anchored by Elijah Jordan (50 tackles, 2 sacks), Fleetwood (47 stops, 3 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 INT), Brenton Winter (30 tackles, 4 TFKL, 7 sacks, 4 QB hurries), Christian Mazier (23 stops, 3 sacks), and William Etokhana (19 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pick).

 

#2 Cardinal Spellman (4-4) vs. #3 St. Dominic’s (1-6)

When: Saturday November 10th, 2018

Where: Cardinal Spellman High School

Time: 1pm

Synopsis

Bridesmaids in 2015 and 2016, the Pilots would finally earn the right to celebrate at mid-field last season when they defeated Xaverian, 20-18, in the final minute of regulation…And now that they have experienced those feelings of euphoria, there is no way they are going to allow their ascension from “hunter” to “hunted” status to be disrupted without a fight…Commencing their title defense against a Bayhawks team that they have already shutout twice this season (7-0 21-0), if you were a betting man, it would wise to predict that Spellman will be making a fourth straight trip to championship weekend on November 17th.

A Pilot squad that does not rely on just one or two superstars in order to carry (literally or figuratively) them to victory, what makes Spellman so effective on offense is that their willingness to utilize all of their depth enables them to always have fresh personnel handling the pigskin.

Matt Forti

Showcasing five unique individuals who have run for 100 or more yards this season, and a sixth who is just three yards short of the century mark, William Cawley’s offense is a lot better than the 10 points per game that it averaged in 2018…At the forefront of the nearly 174 yards per game that they are gaining on the ground this season is senior, Kyle Maysonet, who ranks 3rd in rushing yards (behind Proctor and Surrett) with 430 on 83 attempts.  Maysonet would lead all Pilot runners during the first meeting between these two schools, accumulating 40 yards on 21 carries…Matthew Forti, the top runner during round #2 with 80 yards and one TD on seven carries, is second on the team this season with 278 yards…Myles Bideau (18 carries for 153 yards), Salvatore Maida (13 hand-offs for 120 yards) and Meki Howell-Browne (60 yards on 5 carries), would all join Forti in having significant performances during the rematch, as all three finished with identical 40-yard efforts in the October 6th affair…Aidan Hanley-Piri (101 yards on 35 attempts), is the fifth and final member of the 100-yard club…Ethan Ortiz, who ran for 11 yards on his only try between the two games, currently sits at 97 yards rushing in his senior season.

Speaking of the fab frosh [Hanley-Piri], he will head in to his first postseason game as the #1 passer in the “A” division…Connecting on 28 of his 78 attempts, his completion percentage (35.9) may leave a little something to be desired, but when he does hit his target, it has yielded big gains as evident by the 428 yards he has thrown for in his rookie campaign…Combined, he has gone 6-for-22 for 120 yards and 1 touchdown against St. Dom’s….On the back end of half of those strikes was the team’s leading receiver, Lance Powell (12 catches, 263 yards, 3 TDs), who made two grabs for 47 yards in the initial head-to-head and then followed it up by catching a 45-yard touchdown pass in game #2….Forti, who recorded a pair of snatches for 30 yards in the first meeting, is the only other Pilot student-athlete with multiple catches in the series.

Representing the nucleus of the D-Unit that has held the Bayhawks scoreless for 72 straight minutes is Ortiz (101 tackles, 1 sack), Forti (72 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs), Zoilo Carmona (61 stops, 3 QB bags), Nathaniel Colon (53 tackles), and Bideau (40 stops, 4 sacks)…Ortiz made 33 tackles (including a 20-stop performance during game #2) in the two contests, while Forti and Carmona would contribute 21 and 17 stops in the series…Colon, who also had an interception in the first game, had a pair of 5-tackle showings to end the regular season home-and-home with 10 total stops…Bideau recorded three sacks in two games.

Hoping to play spoiler and prove how hard it really is to beat the same foe three times in the same season with be a St. Dominic’s cohort that despite being 0-2 in the series, really did not play particularly poorly in either meeting.

Shutout in five of their seven appearances in 2018, when you look at the talent on the Bayhawk roster, it kind of makes you scratch your head.  On paper, there is no reason why this team should have only scored 28 points in total.

Will Ford

Jack Rooney (59 yards on 10 carries in game #1) and Will Ford (74 yards on 12 attempts during game #2) both have the skill set to march the ball down field on the ground…Alternating under center, both would complete 50 percent of their pass attempts as well, with the former going 6-for-12 for 42 yards in game #1, and the latter compiling similar numbers (5-for-10, 48 yards) in the second showdown.

Alfonso Iacono (3 catches for 32 yards in the series) and Niko Whitcoamb (2 grabs for 14 yards in the initial meeting) both appear to be sure-handed, reliable receivers.

And the defense, anchored by all of the above, as well as Thomas Kahl, Timothy Riordan, Dom Camera, and Mykael Morring, demonstrated what they are capable of doing when they limited Spellman to just 68 yards on the ground in the 7-0 loss on September 14th…That rushing total increased to 244 during the week 5 encore, so we know that controlling the running game will be a main focus for Robert Ploth’s “D”…Rooney and Whitcoamb would be credited with double-digit tackles on each occasion, with their totals for the series being 27 and 25; Rooney added a sack and three QB hurries during game #1….Kahl and Riordan would post 15 and 14 stops between the two games…Camera’s six tackle/1 sack display during week #2 was key….And Morring was his usual steady self in the middle of the DL, averaging five tackles per game versus the Pilots.

Nov 082018
 

By Matt Diano:

#1 St. Anthony’s (7-1) vs. #5 Cardinal Hayes (3-4)

When: Friday November 9th, 2018

Where: St. Anthony’s High School @Cy Donnelly Field

Time: 7pm

Synopsis

Regular season champs now in back-to-back seasons for the Friars of St. Anthony’s High School, going all the way this postseason has a much greater meaning than ever before…Triple-A titlists a remarkable 11 times in a span of 13 years from 2001-2013, the South Huntington school has not hoisted NYCHSFL hardware in their past four attempts, including a loss in last year’s finals to Archbishop Stepinac…And, with long-time Head Coach/legend Rich Reichert, set to hang up his whistle and clipboard at the conclusion of the 2018 season, you know there is added pressure to send their mentor out on top.

Undefeated this season against in-state competition (their lone loss was to an opponent from Maryland), the Friars possess an offense that at times can look invincible…Averaging 41 points per game this season, which includes a season-best 56 (56-32) that they put up in the week #6 match-ups with this same Cardinals opponent, St. Anthony’s welcomes a high-scoring shootout because in their opinion, they have the best artillery in NYS.

Greg Campisi

At the or rather under the center of it all is their three-year starting quarterback, Greg Campisi, who has been nothing if not magical during his swan song campaign…An individual who is garnering serious Hansen Award (Suffolk County Player of the Year) hype and should be in the conversion for the overall NYS Player of the Year, the 6’1, 175-pound Harvard-bound student-athlete can do anything and everything on a football field…The purest form of the term “dual-threat QB”, Campisi has accounted for 34 touchdowns this season, completing nearly 60 percent of his throw attempts (127-for-212) for 1,982 yards and 23 touchdowns.  He also ranks among the top rushers (regardless of positions), having carried the pigskin 93 times for 846 yards and an additional 10 touchdowns….When these two storied programs met on October 12th, the Friar signal caller went 14-for-22, hurling for 302 yards and tossing four touchdown passes.  He tacked on another 77 yards on the ground to give him 379 yards of all-purpose production.

An offensive that is capable of moving the ball on the ground but just prefers to utilize the aerial pass in order to get their wealth of playmakers into open space, when #11 drops back to hurl, he is blessed to have five capable targets, all of whom are threats to take it to the house at any given moment…Leading the Friars in all receiving categories this season has been senior, Daniel Parker, who has made 34 grabs for 626 yards, and eight touchdowns.  During the first-meeting, Parker would have a modest game by his standards, catching four balls for 52 yards + 1 score….Fellow senior, Kyle Angus, who next to Campisi, has asserted himself as the Friars most versatile weapon (864 yards of total yardage; 15 touchdowns) had his only multiple TD reception game of the season against Cardinal Hayes, as he brought two of his three catches on the night to the promised land to finish with 115 yards receiving.  He would also run for three touchdowns (5 carries, 68 yards) en route to being named as a NYCHSFL player of the week following the victory over the Cardinals.  For the season, Angus trails only Parker with 33 grabs for 505 yards and five touchdowns.  On the ground, he is averaging six yards per carry, accumulating 359 yards and scoring 10 TDs on 60 attempts….Greg Randall, who tied Parker for most catches during the game back in Mid-October with four grabs for 84 yards, is yet another 30-catch option for STA, as he has enjoyed a banner junior year with 30 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns…Rounding out the list of available pass-catchers with 15 and 12 grabs respectively this season are Makhai Murphy (15-253-5) and Jaden Jernigan (12-146-2).  The former was not credited with a reception in the first meeting, whereas the latter had his finest game of the season, making three snatches for 47 yards and scoring once.

Defensively, the key for the Friars will be to get solid play out of their secondary…Playing against a Cardinal squad that featured a returning All-State quarterback in Sofian Massoud, you know that the ball will be thrown early and often by the Cardinals.  Therefore, Nick Espada and Murphy, who are tied for the team-lead with three interceptions apiece, as well as James Errante and Nicholas Alvarado, will all need to be alert.

On the opposite sideline, the name of the game for Head Coach CJ O’Neill and the Cardinals will be execution…Too many times during the first match-up, Hayes would be on the cusp of doing something big on offense only to have their drive derailed by a turnover deep in opposing territory.  If the Cardinals have any chance at all of pulling the upset and avenging their previous loss, it will be necessary for them to play “clean football”.  Because when they do protect the ball, good things seem to happen for them.

Gaining over 500 yards of total offense in the October 12th loss, if you are the visitors from the Bronx, you know that you should be able to march down the field and put points on the board.

Massoud especially should feel rather confident, as the 341 yards (21-for-32 passing; 3 TDs) he tossed for against the Friars were among his career-best days…Adding to the swagger that he will need to bring with him to the field on Friday is the knowledge that he is currently playing his best football of the season.  In his team’s quarterfinal victory over Monsignor Farrell, the 6’2, 175-pound junior threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth TD.

Tafari Mason

Speaking of peaking at the ideal time of the year, WR Tafari Mason, is fresh off of a two-touchdown game against the Lions and continues to become a bigger contributor to this Cardinal attack with each subsequent appearance.   When he faced STA during the regular season, he had a quiet 2 catch, 31-yard evening.  However, based on what we have been seeing from him down the stretch, we are fully expecting to see a much more impactful performance on November 9th. 

Also expected to be on the back end of many a Massoud completion this weekend will be two guys who had extraordinary efforts in the previous loss to the Friars—Jalen Smith and Angel Tamarez….The top-2 receivers on the team, as identified in last week’s quarterfinal preview, Smith had one of, if not his best game in the Maroon & Gold during week #6, making eight grabs for 136 yards and scoring twice….Tamarez too would be mighty impressive, making six catches for 100 yards and one TD.

Honored as a Player of the Week following his breakout performance during the opening weekend of the postseason, the Cardinals are going to need to get the same stellar display out of Maurice Sherrod on the defensive side of the ball…Credited with eight tackles, 1 sack, and 3 QB hurries last weekend, the senior two-way lineman (also plays OT) is going to have to make a habit of being a pest to Campisi all night during the semifinals…Joel Athuahene (2) and Micheal Tetteh (1) combined for three sacks against the Friars and will also need to turn up the pressure in order to disrupt the usually cool as a cucumber Campisi.

Let it be known that St. Anthony’s has never lost a home game in which Campisi was the starting quarterback.  Hence, the odds will no doubt be stacked against the road warrior Cardinals in their bid to return to the AAA finals for the second time in the past three seasons.

 

#2 Iona Prep (7-1) vs. #3 Archbishop Stepinac (5-4)

When: Saturday November 10th, 2018

Where: Iona Prep High School @Mara Field

Time: 1:30 pm

Synopsis

An absolute barn-burner that was settled on an unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt in overtime by Stepinac (36-34 IP) when the two schools met on September 15th, to call this Saturday’s rematch one of the most anticipated games anywhere in New York State would actually be a bit of an understatement…A clash of two Lower Hudson perennial powerhouses, not only will the berth in the AAA finals be on the line, so too will be a year’s worth of bragging rights.

Trailing 28-14 late in the 4th quarter during week #2, the second-seeded Gaels would use a combination of their elite passing game (60-yard TD to Matt Panker) and a huge pick-6 by Jimaar Edwards, to pull off the comeback…Given a second life, Iona Prep would lean on tailback, Frankie McFadden, in the extra frame and they would be rewarded for the confidence they showed in their super sophomore, as he would account for all eight their points by finding the end zone on an 11-yard TD run and then following it up with a successful 2pt conversion.

The defending league and state champion Crusaders would get within 36-34 when Mekhi Green scored from shortage yardage.  However, their opportunity to extend the game to a second overtime would be denied when junior field general, Joey Carino, was stopped short of the goal line on a designed roll out keeper.

The outcome of this game would unleash a chain-reaction in which the two teams would travel in different directions…Iona Prep would go on to win their next three games en route to earning a top-2 seed…Stepinac on the other hand would drop three in a row, putting them in the unenviable position of needing to claw their way back (which they did, closing out the regular season with three consecutive wins)…But alas, no matter the path they have taken to reach this point, all that matters on November 10th is that both enter the game playing grade-A ball and all signs suggest it will be another classic in New Rochelle.

Derek Robertson

Iona Prep QB, Derek Robertson, who leads the NYCHSFL in all passing categories with 2,328 yards and 28 touchdowns on 184-for-282, takes the field fresh off of a five-touchdown passing effort in the Gaels’ 42-21 quarterfinal victory over Chaminade….During the first meeting between these two schools, he would complete 20 of 32 attempts for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns….And While Panker (5 catches for 130 yards during week #2) would be the one on the back end of the play to turned around the momentum, fellow senior, Sean Fleming, would also have a strong showing, making 5 catches for 52 yards and the other TD reception…Fleming was a POTW selection this week after making nine catches for 71 yards and establishing a new personal best for TD receptions in a single-outing with three in the win over the Flyers…Camari Glasgow, would be the third Gael to post a 5-catch game during the second week of the regular season, as his stat line against Stepinac was 5 grabs for 38 yards.  A Percy Harvin type receiver who can make his presence felt just as efficiently as a ball carrier, Glasgow had a highlight TD run during the quarterfinals, going 70+ yards for the score.   He also was credited with two catches for 27 yards on November 3rd….Ryan Soules and Alex Williams, both made two catches for 18 and 23 yards in the win over A.S.

McFadden, who gained 80 yards and scored two touchdowns (including the previously referenced game-winner) on 17 carries versus Stepinac, continued to the consistent complementary piece that Head Coach, Joe Spagnolo, needs him to be, as he kicked off his postseason by running for 56 yards on 12 carries. His 822 yards on the ground rank him 4th in AAA this season, but he remains tied for the TD lead with 10….Jayden Lambert, who did not take a single hand-off in the first meeting, has really emerged the past few weeks as a trusted option out of the backfield for IP.  In back-to-back wins over Chaminade in the regular season finale and the first round of the playoffs, he has seen his involvement on offense increase tremendously, as he has gone from carrying the ball just twice in the entire month of September to nine carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the past two weeks.

Despite the head-to-head loss, if you are Stepinac Head Coach, Mike O’Donnell (who just picked up career win #200 in the 51-13 quarterfinal triumph over Christ the King), you really have to take the field with some semblance of confidence.  After all, despite playing on the road with a then inexperienced quarterback and without the services of your top running back, you still managed to almost come away with the “w”.

Leading the majority of the game (including a 14-0 edge at the intermission), when Stepinac looks back at the film, they probably should not see a loss, but rather, a missed opportunity…Because they were so in control for large parts of the contest, they know they have the studs necessary to get revenge.

One big difference between then and now that the Crusaders will be banking on, is the maturity and overall development of their junior signal caller, Carino….Competing in just his second varsity start when they played IP at the onset of the 2018 season, the 6’2, 190-pounder did not perform poorly (15-for-23 passing, 162 yards, 1 TD/1 INT; 61 yards rushing and 1 touchdown on the ground), but he also was not yet at the level in which he is currently operating…Stepping onto Mara field riding a streak of three-straight multiple-TD passing games, the Somers resident was the best we have ever seen him during the quarterfinal round, as he connected on a career-best 73.7 percent of his attempts (14-for-19), tossing for 265 yards (2nd highest total of the year) and three touchdowns against the CTK Royals.

Another undeniable change between week 2 and the semifinals will be the involvement of starting tailback, Malik Grant….Hampered during the initial battle and limited to just two carries for eight yards, even without him in the line-up, the Crusaders still were able to generate 369 yards and four touchdowns on the ground…Add him and his AAA-best 879 yards running to the equation and only God knows how explosive Stepinac will be with their land attack this weekend…Surpassing 100 yards in four of his past five appearances, the offensive star of the 2017 State title game showed once again that when the postseason starts, he goes the extra mile, running for 170 yards and two touchdowns in the quarterfinal win last Sunday.

Filling the void in Grant’s absence during the first meeting was the aforementioned Green, who ran 30 times for 202 yards in the loss…Since the return of Grant, Green’s numbers have diminished a bit, but that seems to be more a case of lack of touches rather than a falloff in ability.  We have no doubt that if he gets his #21 called, he will be ready to pick up where he left off against this Gael defense.

A potential x-factor in the game will be another option out of the backfield, Kevin McKenna.  Known more for his ferocious play on the defensive side of the ball at LB, McKenna would get some carries early in the 2018 season and did quite well, averaging 7.3 yards on 11 chances.   In the game against Iona Prep, he gained 49 yards on five carries and scored twice.  But, like Grant, he has not been a focal point down the stretch.  So, it remains unseen whether or not they will go back to the well and try to capitalize on a strategy that was successful in the past.

One final RB that is worthy of our attention is CJ Wise.  The opposite of Green and McKenna, the Harlem resident has actually seen his role increase the deeper into the season we have gone…Getting just three carries for 15 yards during week #2, Wise has since posted a pair of 100+ yard games in the month of October and is coming off of a 10-carry, 70-yard showing last weekend in the championship round of 8…Wise, who had four catches for 40 yards versus Iona Prep, is second on the team this season in receptions, so he will be a threat as a pass-catcher too.

Shawn Harris

While all of the young men listed so far for the Crusaders are immense talents, if you want to talk game-changing potential, then the man you need to know about is none other than Shawn Harris…The caliber of student-athlete that fans flock to see because of his dynamic skill set and ability to go all the way every time the ball is in his hands, the LoHud Super-11 selection is like a smaller version of Bo Jackson.  Simply put, he knows and does everything exceptionally well…Whether it is as a spot ball carrier, an every down receiver, or a kick/punt returner, he is lighting in a bottle and the more times A.S. can feed him the pigskin, the exponentially higher their chances of winning improve…Held to his lowest output of the season with just one catch for 5 yards when these schools squared off previously, Harris has made no fewer than three grabs in any game since and is really shifting into a new gear of late, scoring three TDs in two of his team’s last three contests.   In the quarterfinal win over Christ the King, he had a 38-yard TD run and added a pair of long TD receptions…Kudos to the Gaels for containing him once.  But, if they hope to dethrone the defending kings, they are going to have to prove that they can do it again!

Defensively both teams are going to have questions to answer…For the Gaels, victory will mean playing considerably tougher against the run.  While it is no easy task to have to contend with the likes of Jonathan Mucciolo (reigning POTW selection), Ajani Cornelius, Shadi Rabadi, and James Prince in the trenches, the Iona Prep front-7 are going to need to win their fair share of these battles.  If they let Stepinac have another 370-yard showing on the ground, it could spell doom for them.

Stepinac on the other hand is going to need their vaunted pass rushers to all show up…Per the stat sheet from September 15th, there was not a sack recorded in the game by the Crusaders…This cannot happen a second time around.  Robertson’s field vision is too good and he has too many available targets to be allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket like a sniper and throw darts all afternoon.

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.

Nov 032018
 

By Matt Diano:

#1 (West) Xaverian (5-3) vs. #4 (East) Xavier (5-3)

When: Sunday November 4th, 2018

Where: Aviator Sports Complex

Time: 6:30 pm

Synopsis

A match-up that only came about because of the league’s decision to honor the centuries old Turkey Bowl tradition that prevents Fordham Prep and Xavier from playing prior to Thanksgiving, if you are the top seeds out of the Western Conference, Xaverian, I am sure this news did not necessarily sit well with you.

Advancers to championship weekend in four of the past five years [2016 being the exception] while competing in the Single-A classification, Mike Jioia’s Clippers have not skipped a beat in their first season among the double-A ranks.

4-1 in league games this season, it became evident as early as opening weekend, when they knocked off the defending runners-up, Fordham Prep [12-9] that the talent was present for 2018 to be a memorable one for the boys from the Brooklyn.

Relying on a very balanced attack on offense, the Clippers are not a team that will automatically blow you away by piling up big numbers and scoring a plethora of points (average only 16.3 ppg), but they have developed a formula that works for them and until proven wrong, you have to respect the perennial success they have been able to achieve during the past half-decade.

Roberto Auguste

Incorporating a two-headed monster attack on the ground, Xaverian has split their carries this season between two upperclassmen, senior Roberto Auguste, and junior Shane Greene….The former, who was the recipient of the “A” Offensive Player of the Year award a season ago, has rushed for a team-leading total of 326 yards on 79 carries and has scored a pair of touchdowns….Greene, who is in his first season on the Clipper varsity, has lived up to the hype, running for 319 yards and a team-best six TDs on 80 hand-offs…Growing stronger the deeper into the season we go, the 5’11, 190-pound 11th grader [Greene] has rushed for 100+ yards in two of his past three games and five of his six scores came during the past three weeks.  Hence, he brings a lot of momentum and positive energy to the field this weekend.

Returning starting signal caller, James Resker, has adjusted quite well to the higher level of competition, as he needs just one more TD pass and approximately 220 yards to equal his strong sophomore season under center.  His stat line heading into the quarterfinals reads as follows: 55-for-97 throwing for 780 yards and six touchdowns…Some of his favorite targets this season have included senior tight end, Jason Perlstein (19 catches for 353 yards and a team-leading 3 touchdowns), as well as Justin Wolf (17 grabs for 203 yards and two TDs) and his younger brother, Thomas Resker (10 grabs for 164 yards and 1 score).

Shutdown defense has also been a huge part of the winning equation for Xaverian, as they have allowed 10 or less points in three of their five victories this season…Excluding the 31 points they surrendered in a loss to an out-of-state opponent, the Blue & Gold platoon has given up 20+ points just twice this season.

As they prepare themselves to face the never relenting land attack from the visiting Knights, it will be essential that leading tackler, Derrin Hansen (46 tackles, 1 sack), Brian Langan (34 stops), Brandon Ramrattan (32 tackles), Christian Appel (30 stops, 1 sack), as well as the already mentioned Greene (34 tackles, 1 sack) all rise to the occasion.

On the opposite sideline, you have a Xavier squad that has made a ritual of pulling first round upsets…Underdogs the past two seasons, the Chris Stevens trained cohort shocked the Catholic football world when they knocked off heavily favored top-seed, Christ the King, two years ago.  Last season, they prevailed in the #4 vs. #5 game, beating Holy Cross….So, suffice to say, the idea of going on the road to play to play a higher seed is not the least bit daunting to them.

The most explosive version of the Knights since the 2012 team that hoisted the AA hardware, Xavier averaged over 28 points per game this season while running for 2,154 yards and 26 touchdowns.

Daniel Vittiburga

Powered by the breakout senior campaign of two-time Player of the Week selection, Dan Vittiburga, the Knights have scored 40+ points in back-to-back games and are playing their best brand of football down the stretch…Second in both yards (991) and touchdowns scored (16) on the ground in double-A, since October commenced, the Brooklynite has been the most unstoppable player in the NYCHSFL, rushing for 100+ yards in four straight appearances and accumulating 13 total touchdowns since week #5.

Also riding a hot streak of his own into the postseason is junior, Matthew Geruso…A player of the week honoree after establishing a new career-high of 157 yards rushing in the regular season finale against St. Francis Prep, the 5’10, 185-pounder who hangs his hat in Hoboken, has reached the “magic 100” in three consecutive contests, gaining 386 and scoring three of the 586 yards and four touchdowns he has compiled in his rookie year on the varsity.

Demetrios Demetriades, who only been asked to carry the ball 25 times this season (255 yards + 2 TDs) could be an X-factor…Two weeks ago in the win over Mount St. Michael, he ran for 127 yards on four carries.  Hence, even if his touches are short on quantity, they are guaranteed to be massive on quality.

At the center of a front-seven that will look to lock down Auguste and Greene will be Valery Gwardyak (51 stops, .5 sacks), John Walsh (35 tackles, 2 sacks), Milton Guzman (32 tackles, 1 sack), Jordan Sosa (31 tackles, 2 sacks), and Frank Bernie (28 stops, 1.5 QB bags)…The no fly zone that will be determined to make life difficult on Resker will be comprised of Evan Murphy (team-leading two interceptions) and Demetriades, who topped all Knight defensive backs with six pass break-ups during the regular season…Langton Williams (50 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PD), Kevin Connelly (35 tackles, 3 PDs), and Joseph Maratea (33 tackles, 4 pass defenses) solidify the secondary.

 

#2 (East) Holy Trinity (7-1) vs. #3 (West) Moore Catholic (6-2)

When: Sunday November 4th, 2018

Where: Holy Trinity High School

Time: 1:30 pm

Synopsis

Proof that one year really can make a difference, a season ago the Titans and Mavericks combined to win just three games, with neither earning a postseason berth to the double-A playoffs.

Now, with the hosts [Holy Trinity] sitting at 7-1 and the visitors [Moore Catholic] a misleading 6-2, both of these programs have undeniably climbed out of the basement and have their eyes laser focused on the penthouse.

Both league finalists in 2016, Holy Trinity would have to settle for runner-up honors in AA, while Moore Catholic would be crowned kings of the single-A division on that November afternoon…And, with both schools showing more than a few glimpses of championship brilliance during the 2018 regular season, the fact that the journey will end for one of these title contenders makes this clash one that cannot be missed.

Holy Trinity, under the tutelage of Head Coach Tony Mascia (in his 33rd season of service; 29 as a coach; four as a student-athlete), could not be any more on fire at the moment, as they rebounded from week #1 loss to Kellenberg to win their next seven in a row…During this stretch, the Green & White warriors have been putting up 36.6 points per game on offense and have allowed just 18.4 in the midst of the winning streak.   With the one exception coming in a 29-28 victory over Xavier on October 13th, the Hicksville based school has allowed no more than 14 points since the fifth week of the season.

A program that has enjoyed an extremely rich tradition of being able to dominate with their running game, if there was one reason we could cite as the catalyst behind this 180% reversal of fortune, it would be the stellar play of the offensive line in conjunction with the development of several Titan tailbacks from one season to the next…Increasing their rushing totals from 624 yards and four touchdowns in 2017 to 2,081 yards and 31 TDs in 2018, it is no wonder that Holy Trinity is back among the upper echelon where they belong.

Ryan Razzano

Aided by an O-line that boosts two player of the week picks this season, John Stroughn (week 2) and Elijah Tobin (Week 7), individuals such as Ryan Razzano (transferred in for his senior year after McGann-Mercy announced they would be closing), Spencer Nixon, and Jalen Rivers have all elevated their level of performance…Razzanoo, who has also contributed 389 yards and five touchdowns in the air as the starting quarterback, leads HT in all major rushing categories in his first and only season at the helm.  Notching a pair of 100-yard efforts, he has rushed for 598 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 110 carries…Nixon, who set a career-high with 155 yards in a week 7 victory over St. Francis Prep, is slowly but surely catching up, as he has gained 456 yards and punched the ball in on six separate occasions and his 77 total hand-offs…Rivera, the team’s #1 receiving target out of the backfield (16 catches for 230 yards and four TDs) has been used sparingly as a ball carrier (35 carries for 206 yards and a pair of scores), but showed his value in week #3 when he posted a 97-yard/1 TD performance against St. Joe’s by the Sea….Making these feats all the more impressive is that for the most part he was not the feature back until halfway into the season.

Just days away from going head-to-head with a Maverick squad that features the statistically best running back in the entire NYCHSFL [Justin Lacks], the Titans know that Stroughn (58 tackles, 12 TFL, 8 sacks), Rivers (42 stops; 3 tackles for a loss; 2 sacks, 1 INT), Nixon (27 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks), Tobin (16 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 sacks) as well as Brian Holder (43 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 1 sack), Bashiri Clark-Cain (24 stops, 4 TFL, 2 sacks), and Reggy-Ryan Cadet (24 stops, 9 tackles for negative yardage, 2 sacks) cannot afford to bring anything less than their proverbial A+ efforts…Jaden Sinclair (25 tackles, 2 PDs) and Kenneth Kroez (23 stops, 1 pass break-up) could hear their names called throughout the day while manning the defensive backfield.

Turning our attention to Lacks and his Moore Catholic teammates, it truly has been a “tale of two cities” for the Mavericks during the past three weeks…Dropping back-to-back outings in weeks 6 and 7 to Fordham Prep and Xaverian with their 6’0, 215-pound superstar out of the line-up due to injury, there is little question that had Lacks not been shelved, MC would have been favored to win the Western Conference.   An absolute juggernaut when at full-strength, prior to the absence of their junior playmaker, Nick Giannatasio’s team was putting nearly 37 points per game on the old scoreboard.  In the seven quarters he missed, the team only mustered 30 points total…That number climbed all the way back to 63 when he returned for the season finale against SJS.

Justin Lacks

Blowing away the field despite missing almost two full games, the US Army All-American top-600 prospect still has compiled a 1,100-yard, 17-touchdown season.  As noted above, he puts him atop the NYCHSFL regardless of classification.

Should Lacks need a series off on Sunday afternoon, the Mavericks can rest easy as they have a more than capable second option in the person of Mausari Miller….Another member of that 2016 title team, Miller is known for his prowess on the defensive side of the ball (linebacker), but is quite adept on “O” too as demonstrated by the 512 yards and six touchdowns he scored in his final scholastic season…Fellow 12th grader, Joe Randazzo, who was just honored as a POTW selection this past Thursday, is regarded more for his blocking than his ball carrying skill, but could get a spot hand-off every now and then.  He averaged 4.7 yards/touch on his 15 carries to finish the year with 70 yards and 1 TD.

Having established that both combatants this weekend are especially potent on the ground, let us be forthcoming in stating that the obvious difference is that unlike the host Titans, who only attempted 49 passes this season, Moore Catholic will keep opposing D-units more on their toes because of their willingness to go aerial as a change of pace…Now in his third-year under center, senior signal caller, Vincenzo Scarola, has asserted himself as a respected pocket passer, setting new career-highs with 881 throwing yards and 10 TD strikes…When Scarola does drop back to throw, more times than not you can bet the pigskin will find its way into the hands of either freshman, Dashawn Lawton, or junior, Cameron Holmes….The only receivers to catch touchdown tosses this season, Lawton has 29 total receptions for 572 yards and 5 TDs in his debut year, while Holmes has grabbed 16 balls for 305 yards and a team-high seven scores.

Identical to Holy Trinity’s goal on defense, the mission at hand for Miller (68 tackles, 5 TFL), Artie Padilla Jr. (61 stops, 6 stops for negative yardage), Sixx Johnson (61 tackles), Holmes (48 stops, 3 sacks, 2 INTs), Tedi Kushi (43 tackles), Randazzo (35 stops, 1 INT), Deonte Jackson (32 tackles, 1 Sack), and Nashaun Defy (25 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss) is to own the trenches and smother the Titan land attack before it has a chance to breathe.