Week #1 (September 8th-10th, 2023)

Marco Aruta (Jr.); QB/RB – St. Peter’s Eagles


After hailing the game as a match-up that would weed out “contenders” from “pretenders” in our GOTW preview, there is no “ifs”, “and”, or “buts” about the fact that the buzz on Clinton Avenue is legitimate as St. Peter’s defended the home soil last Saturday, knocking off the preseason #3 team in the AA-1 division, St. John the Baptist, 19-14!!

Starting the season 2-0 for the first time since 2016, Eagles’ Head Coach, Mark DeCristoforo, showed no hesitation in identifying his junior jack-of-all trades [Aruta] as the main component in his program’s rise from the ranks of “disrespected” to “title sleepers” in a matter of weeks!!

Most certainly an individual who would have been a worthy/deserving selection in week #0 when he accumulated 154 yards of total offense (91 on the ground; 63 via sky) and had a direct role punctuating three separate drives (2 TD runs, 1 TD pass) in the rivalry victory over St. Joe’s by the Sea (43-14), having to wait the extra few days to “receive his flowers” might have been a blessing for the second-year starting field general, as his impact was even pronounced/essential in the statement-making triumph against Cougars on September 9th!

Like the “ice water in the veins” demeanor you seek out in any person in a leadership position, Aruta showed that he cannot be rattled when trailing 14-13 with a little over 5:00 remaining in the game, he’d avoid a potential safety when he scrambled out of his end zone and hit senior WR, Matthew Sweeney, on the run over the middle for a 28-yard completion to give the Blue & Gold some breathing room…

Refusing to accept defeat, even an extended delay (45 minutes) due to lightning could not deter or infringe upon his objective, as he’d make an equally game-changing play down the stretch, turning on the jets (legs) with 4:06 to go for a 31-yard scamper (while facing a 3rd & 7 scenario) to advance the ball from his own 34 to the opposing 35…In doing so, he laid the tracks for junior RB/Week #0 Player of the Week recipient, Jeremiah Williams, to eventually log the game-winner (27-yard rush on 4th & 2) with 1:33 showing on the clock! 

While he would not have the privilege of being the one responsible for banking the game-winner, Aruta did find paydirt twice during the course of the afternoon, as it was his 40-yard cruise on a designed QB draw just off center that squared the game at 7-7 with 2:18 to play in the 1st quarter…

On the second TD of the day for the Eagles, he converted a 3rd & 7 on his own 29 in the last 40 ticks of the 3Q by teaming up with Williams on a 25-yard aerial strike to set up his own 4-yard keeper for the “6” as the horn sounded!   

When all was said and done, Aruta racked up 208 yards of offensive contribution, as the 76 yards he hurled for on 4 of 9 attempts complemented his 16-carry, 132-yard, 2TD resume on the ground!

All cylinders firing thus far, SPB will next go for three in a row when they welcome in Garden Staters, Morris Catholic, for a cross-state clash this Saturday at 1:30pm!

Gary Merrill (Jr.); QB – St. Anthony’s Friars

When the season started, it was anticipated that the Friars were going to enjoy an embarrassment of riches in the form of an epic QB battle to determine whom the successor to 2022 NYCHSFL Offensive POY, Dante Torres, was going to be!  

Through two outings (1-1 split), it seems evident that a clear choice has emerged in the person of the 6’1, 170-pound 11th grader out of Bayport-Blue Point [Merrill]!

His all-world talent already recognized and celebrated on the lacrosse field (currently the #2 overall prospect in the 2025 class following leading Team 91 to a 2023 NLF Summer National crown), in last Friday’s 52-51 shootout victory at home over Cardinal Hayes demonstrated his name rightfully belongs in the upper tier of Long Island football conversations too!!

Still more of an athlete than a polished gunslinger at the infancy stage of his varsity career, it really does not matter how you get the job as long as you put that check mark in the win column….And that is what Merrill seems as if he is going to be able to do a lot of in the coming two years!!

The maestro of 349 yards of offensive production in his first start with the big club (came off the bench, but recorded the only offensive touchdown during the week #0 loss to Delbarton), the midfielder turned gridiron magician showed himself to an escape artist with his legs, as he’d inflict the majority of his damage with on the ground, racking up 227 yards and scoring four TDs on 28 cumulative carries!

Pretty much unstoppable for the entirety of the evening, Merrill was especially potent and trustworthy in the waning moments, as he shined on the Friars’ final drive of the game (trailing 51-44), connecting on 3-for-4 pass attempts (only incomplete being a spike to kill the clock) for 28 yards, and adding 39 yards rushing, including the 1yrd punch-in with 0:17 to go to cement the 9-snap, 69 yards, 1:28 series that pulled STA to within 51-50…He had originally scored on the previous play (a 14-yard keeper where he rolled out in one direct and then cut back and bolted in the other), but because he lost his helmet during the sequence, the officials waved off the touchdown!

Naturally, with a player riding such a hot streak, there was no settling for ties, as Coach Joe Minucci put the ball in the hands of his junior signal caller and was rewarded as Merrill powered his way into the end zone out of shotgun formation for the winning 2pt conversion!!

Merrill’s other TDs occurred by way of a 4-yard QB draw (almost identical to the previously mentioned 2pt try) to draw first blood with 7:54 to go in the 1st quarter; a 49-yard play-action fake and run on the first possession of the 2nd half to increase the team lead to 37-21; and a 1yrd keep (after multiple completions and a handful of 10+ yard runs) at the onset of the 4th quarter to restore a 44-43 edge!

Even when he was not personally scoring, he was the facilitator, it was his 36-yard hook-up to sophomore, Johnny Russo, that was a catalyst to Christian Alfaro’s short TD run to turn a 21-16 deficit into a 23-21 advantage with 5:18 to go before the intermission!!

Mind you, Merrill was so outstanding, that not even acknowledged up to this point is the fact that he probably got cheated out of a 33-yard TD run in the last :20 of the 1st half, as he appeared to walk the tightrope and stay in bounds, but was ruled out by the officials at the Hayes’ 5!

His work with his lower extremities hogging much of the headlines, it ought be noted that he did go 9-for-12 in the air for 122 yards in case anyone wished to accuse him of being a one trick pony!

The defending AAA League/CHSAA State champs now sitting at 1-1 in the standings, when they return to the field on September 16th, they will have revenge on their mind, as try to administer some payback to the Garden State (after the loss to the Green Wave) by challenging themselves versus 2022 NJSIAA Non-Public quarterfinalist/still unbeaten in 2023, St. Joseph’s Regional (Montvale)!

John Munson (Jr.); DL – St. Joseph’s by the Sea Vikings

The 5’10, 215-pounder [Munson] was the visible standout for a SJS starting “D” that were playing fortnight while their opponents, Christ the King were playing checkers…

The end result was a 14-0 shutout on Ryan Memorial Field that evened the Vikings 2023 record to 1-1!!!

Surrendering just 41 yards of total offensive and allowing a modest two 1st downs to be registered against them during their 48-minute collective confinement of the Royals, Joe’s by the Sea has now pitched at least one goose-egg in three consecutive seasons, as they previously did the deed on September 11th, 2021 vs. St. Peter’s, and then again in 2022 over Mt. St. Michael Academy on October 28th!  

Using a “gang tackle” approach where it seemed as if everybody was flying to the ball and getting in on the action, it was such an inclusive demonstration that singling out one specific name was not easy; but Munson did that little extra to separate himself from his peers!!

On CTK’s initial drive of the 1st quarter, he’d post tackles on back-to-back snaps (on 2nd and 3rd downs) to force a punt!!

He then tacked on a sack in the 4th quarter to terminate a banner outing in which he topped all personnel in multiple defensive categories!

Thomas Costanzo (had a hit for a two-yard loss following a 1st down to stifle the little momentum Christ the King had going), Dean Coscia (pass break-up on 3rd & long to force a punt on their foe’s opening drive of the 2nd half), and Anthony Lavezzoli (created a turnover on downs when he broke a pass on 4th & 15 with 9:31 remaining in duration) also were at the center of highlight/possession-altering plays….Teddy Ikonomou, Anthony Maniscalco, and Salvatore Buscemi, were equally recognized in in the game summary published by SILive.com!

Freddy Scuteri (Sr.); RB – Xaverian Clippers

The first student-athlete from the Brooklyn based campus [Xaverian] to garner POTW honors since week #8 of the 2021 season, the 5’7, 165-pound resident of Queens [Scuteri] proved that absence truly does make the heart grow fonder…Because after watching the display he put on in his school’s 42-7 victory over Kennedy Catholic on the night of Friday, September 8th, there is nothing but love for the gentleman in the  #4 jersey!!

Sidelined during a week #0 non-league loss (21-13) to Long Island Lutheran, the compare/contrast within a matter of eight days leaves no doubt just how instrumental/invaluable/irreplaceable Scuteri is to the success/objectives of the squad!…He has distinguished himself as the engine that is power to power the machine this fall!!!

Hitting the hole with conviction and then using his natural agility and 4.6 speed to stockpile big gainer after big gainer, the highlight of Scuteri’s 204-yard, 2-touchdown (on 19 carries) masterpiece came when he darted up the middle, made a man miss, and then cut down the visiting sideline untouched to strike for a 69-yard touchdown run!!

Scuteri also showed his muscle in tight situations as after being ruled down on the doorstep (9-yard trek), he’d punch the ball across the goal from close range to account for his other score of the evening!!!

The Clippers are going to require another monster outing from their senior RB in week #2 as they ready themselves to square off with AA-2 co-favorites, Holy Cross, under the Friday Night lights (Sept. 15th)!

Jayden Simpson (Jr.); WR/KR – Holy Trinity Titans

When the game is champion vs. champion, it is the duty of those exclusive, top 1% student-athletes to be the ones to rise to the occasion and put their respective school/team on their backs on the path to Victorville!!!

In Hicksville, NY, the Titan faithful are grateful that they have one of those rare specimens in the person of the 5’10, 165-pound junior [Simpson]!!! 

The margin of triumph for last year’s AA-1 kings being two touchdowns (28-14) in their Saturday matinee versus 2022 AA-2 titlist, Xavier, God was not the only one supplying lightning on September 9th; the lad in the Green & White #3 jersey brought his own electricity to the party as he exploded for a pair of 70+-yard scoring plays to propel HT to a win on home turf over a very determined nemesis Knights!!!

Taking over the game on both offense and special teams, between the many hats he wore during week #1, Simpson flirted with the 300-yard milestone in terms of yardage accrued!!   

As a traditional pass-catcher, he’d be credited with 4 grabs for 153, highlighted by a 74-yard WR screen where he hauled the pigskin in on his own 25, made a sharp cut to evade two tacklers, avoided an attempted diving swipe at his ankle by a third Knight defender, and then out-raced EVERYONE to the promised land to transform a 7-7 tie into a 14-7 Titan in the 3rd Quarter!!

Trinity clinging to that 7pt lead (21-14) midway thru the final quarter of action, Simpson, who has a reputation for being dangerous in the kick-return aspect of the sport, delivered the backbreaker/clincher when he immediately answered a Xavier TD run by taking the ensuing kickoff 88 yards to the house to account for an insurance TD and round out the scoring! 

For Good measure, he tacked on 10 yards rushing on a pair of carries to further bolster his sensational vitae!

Winning a wild 45-42 affair in overtime as part of the 2022 Battle 4 the Bridge challenge, HT will need another magnificent effort out of Simpson as they attempt to improve to 2-0 in as many showdowns with their rivals from NJ, Immaculata!….Both teams enter the weekend unblemished, with the former Titans at 2-0 in the standings, while the latter Spartans are off to a 3-0 start (after a humbling 4-6 campaign last fall)!