Fordham Prep-21; Xavier-14
An affair that was settled by a goal-line stance in the final half minute of regulation, it was junior DL, Patrick Keeley, getting low and stuffing Knight star tailback, Mehdi Merah (entered having rushed for 1,100+ yards and 17 scores this fall), on the 1-yard line to create the turnover on downs that sealed a 21-14 comeback victory for the Fordham Prep fans on home soil (Coffrey Field)!!!
The triumph, which was their third in a row (including the virtual game played during Covid in 2020) and their sixth in the past seven renditions improved the Rams record in the head-to-head rivalry to 55-41-4!
Receiving tremendous efforts on both sides of the ball during the final 24 minutes of action, the gents from the Bronx climbed out of a 14-10 hole at the half when they struck for the 11 unanswered points of the contest between the 3rd and 4th quarters!
The eventual game-winner occurring on the first snap of the 4th quarter, it was senior QB, Matthew Moorehead (who missed much of his swan song because of injury), hitting fellow 12th grader, Jake Brodick, on a 20-yarder TD connection with 11:54 to go to vault the Maroon & White into a 19-14 advantage. A successful 2pt dump off to Jack McKillop tacked on the bonus to make it a full 7pt lead…The touchdown pass, the second of the morning of Moorehead, added to his already established legacy within this tradition, as he has now hurled 7(!!!) TDs in his past two appearances (career-best 5 in 2022)….Brodick also had a 12-yard reception on 4th &5 that sustained the march!
Prior to the heroic hook-up between the outgoing standouts (Moorehead & Broderick), McKillop ripped off runs of 23 (4th & 1) and 8 yards on back-to-back carries at the midway point of the 3rd quarter to set the table for senior place-kicker, Winston Oddo, to drill a 28-yard field goal on FP’s first drive of the second half to cut the deficit to 14-13!!
The offensive personnel always being the ones to attract the glory, not enough good things could/should have been said about the way that the “D” rose to the occasion and pitched a shutout for the last 26:02 of the contest!
Both of Fordham Prep’s scores in the 2nd half coming directly following induced punts, it was the junior linebacker combo of James Rice and Sean Rooney teaming up to deny Xavier’s ground attack on 3rd &5 to allow their school to take over possession right around midfield (their own 46) en route to the winning series!
Earlier, it was senior DL, Nicholas Dimitri, coming up with the big QB bag on 3rd down to force the Knights to boot it away and afford FP the luxury of starting in solid position (own 42)…The McKillop runs, followed by the Oddo FG soon resulted!!
Patrick Sohr turned defense into offense 2:03 into the 1st quarter when following an ill-timed fumble, he’d blast in the backfield and make the stop in the end zone for a safety to give FP the initial 2-0 lead!
Speaking of turnovers despite falling short on the scoreboard, major respect has to be shown to the likes of Xavier student-athletes such as Tomas Diaz (stripped Kailer Sato on the 1-yard line after a pass completion on the 1st drive of the day), Liam Travis (punched out the ball to create another fumble inside the red zone), and Hayden Lambert (INT) who halted the first three possessions of the game for Fordham Prep by earning takeaways!!!
Finding their offense during the second stanza, the Chris Stevens mentored brigade accounted for two of the three total “6’s” put on the board, as it was the already recognized Merah pounding his way into the house from a 1-yard out for his 18th TD of the year to give XR the 7-2 edge with 11:12 to go in the half…..Moving 34 yards in 4:06 on nine snaps, a short punt from FP, aided by a 13-yard run by Sean Kull served as a catalysts…
Coming right back over the top to regain the 10-7 advantage were the Rams who after moving the chains earlier (3rd &9) on an 11-yard exchange between Moorehead and Will Wood, delivered an even more clutch sequence when facing 3rd &15, it was junior tailback, Lucas Ocasio, on the back end of a 64-yard screen pass to paydirt with 8:03 before the intermission…Wood hauled in the 2pt conversion attempt!
Kull responded in the last 4:02 before the break when he’d do a little bit of everything, including, but not limited to an 18-yard halfback pass to Brian Rudolph; runs of 28 and 16 yards, etc., to lay the tracks for his eventual 2-yard TD run to put Xavier back in front, 14-10!
Kull’s TD run was actually the 2nd time in a matter of minutes that he’d make a trip to the promised land, as he’d exploded for a 63-yard touchdown trek on the 1st snap of the possession; but a holding penalty negated the impressive run!
The host Rams threatened just before the two schools retreated to the locker room, getting as close as the opposing 30 before Xavier DE, John Ratigan, secured the sack on 4th &10 to produce the T.O.D.!
After missing out on the honor a season ago, Moorehead was a much-warranted MVP choice!
The win for Fordham Prep closed out a 6-5 campaign; while the hard-fought defeat dropped AA-1 semifinalists, Xavier, to 7-5!!
Cardinal Hayes-42; Mount St. Michael Academy-10
Make it a 10 in a row for Cardinal Nation as it was the visitors from Grand Concourse [Cardinal Hayes] extending their claim for bragging rights when they peeled off 35 straight points between the 1st and 2nd quarters to come away with the 42-10 victory over their hosts from Murdock Ave [Mount St. Michael Academy] in a clash of 2023 Metro Catholic titlists (Hayes the triple-A champs; the Mount seizing the AA-2 hardware)!!!
A back-and-forth contest for much of the opening 12 minutes, Head Coach, CJ O’Neil’s birds only led 14-10 at the end of the 1st quarter, as it was actually the Mountaineers drawing first blood when after recovering a fumble/mishandle off the opening kickoff, it was senior PK, Daithi O’Connor, hitting from a distance of 19 yards to hand MSMA the early 3-0 lead just 2:40 into the morning!!
It did not take the explosive Cardinal offensive attack long to respond, as on the ensuing possession, it would be runs of 33 and 22 yards by Kenneth Antoine (3 touchdowns in the 2022 edition of the tradition) that enabled Hayes to cross midfield (onto the Mount 34) before All-Purpose junior field general, Rich Belin, continued to further bolster his mind-blowing statistical totals (3,974 yards + 43 touchdowns entering today) in 2023 when he connected with Reid Jones on a 30-yard over the shoulder hook-up for their 7th TD hook-up of the year (26th touchdown pass overall for the #3 jersey) to propel the “road warriors” (won all three of their ‘23 postseason games in hostile or neutral territory) to the 7-3 edge with 8:09 remaining in the 1st!
Belin was just getting started dealing, as the homerun ball to Jones was the first of a trifecta launched by the Harlem resident on Thanksgiving morning!
A rare trade-off of blocked kicks kept the score unchanged for the next few minutes, as it was C.H. senior DB, Ray Boyd, spoiling a long KO return (to the enemy 11) by 2023 AA-2 Defensive MVP, D’Angelo Cabrera, when four snaps later, he fired off the corner and got a paw on the pigskin to block O’Connor’s 28-yard FG try!!!….Blake Belin stuffed Offensive title game star, Carl Shaw, for a loss on 1st down and Giovanni Downer applied pressure on 3rd down to induce an incomplete pass!
Next it was the special teams unit from the Mount making their presence felt, as Ali Shobayo got a fingertip on a Hayes’ rugby-style punt attempt to enable Mt. St. Michael to take over on the opposing 33!
On the next play from scrimmage, reigning Double-A-2 Offensive Player of the Year, “The Ferrari”, Marc Pearson Jr., scrambled and then thew the final touchdown pass of his scholastic career (7th of the fall) when he chucked a perfect ball into the waiting arms of Travis Agoanya for the 33-yard strike that briefly put MSMA back on top, 10-7, with 5:11 to go in the 1st!
Truly unstoppable when he gets into a groove, Belin added his second and third touchdown darts of the day on Hayes’ next two drives, as the first of the pair was culminated by an 8-yard slant over the middle to Cleveland Charlton (11th TD grab of his senior year) as the clock dipped below 3:00 to go in the opening stanza , while the latter came courtesy of a 10-yard diving pitch-and-catch to Eli Garcia (5 TD snatch of 2023) with 10:14 showing on the clock in the 2nd quarter as the cushion grew to 21-10!
[Reid] Jones had catches of 50+ on each series to serve as a catalyst and enhance what we are confident was a career-high outing in terms of reception yardage!!
In three Turkey Bowl appearances, Belin has now collected seven touchdowns, as he posted 1 +1 displays (TD pass/TD rush) in both 2021 and 2022
With the CHSAA State title game still awaiting them on December 2nd, the Cardinals would begin to phase in some reserves on the rest of their possessions and would be rewarded by such depth as junior, John Weaver, capitalized off of a short punt (MSMA 27) by finding a hole for a 24-yard on 2nd down to move the ball to the opposing 1. He took it the remaining yard on the following snap to bump the margin to 28-10 (8:11 to go before halftime)…
Corey Rock’s interception (returned to the Mount 16) shortly thereafter laid the tracks for senior Mohamed Traore to get into the box score, as the 5’9, 170-pounder recorded his first score of 2023 on a 16-yard halfback draw up the gut with 7:29 to go in 2Q (missed PAT; 34-10)…
Abdoul Bah cashed in the final TD of the showdown in the last 90 seconds (1:27) before the “brief pause”, as he jumped the route on a MSMA 15, registered the INT, and then raced to the house to complete the pick-6!….For the sake of fun, Hayes pulled a trick out of the bag, as they utilized a fake PAT in to a toss to Belin, who then hit a wide open Jones for the 2pt conversion!
While the 3rd and 4th quarters did not witness any additional scoring, that does not mean there were not some marquee plays, as Boyd complemented his FG block from earlier by blocking a punt towards the quarter #3….
Weaver came darn close to banking his second TD of the game, as he’d turn on the jets for a 35-yard run at the onset of the 4th quarter; but unfortunately, the touchdown would be erased by a holding penalty….
Directly after the hold that took the TD off the board, Antwan Harvey was the recipient of a swing pass/WR screen that went for 33 yards and advanced the ball inside the Mt. St. Michael 12…
Nicholas Palmer created a T.O.D. for MSMA when he dragged down a Cardinal ball-carrier on 4th & long!
Still one more to go [State title game] before they lower the curtain on 2023, Cardinal Hayes improved to 11-2 this season by virtue of the dub….
On the other sideline, Mountaineer legend, Mario Valentini, who will “ride into the sunset” as the champion he is (we will remember his “real final game” as the AA-2 finale last week) after 45 years servicing the program (40 as HC) saw his squad conclude the fall with an 8-3 resume!