Salute to the MVPs-Title Game POTW

AAA (Cardinal Hayes Cardinals)

Kenneth Antoine (Offensive; Sr.; RB)

In a decorated four-year varsity career ripe with individual achievements, the only thing missing on the resume of the 6’0, 190-pound tailback from Harlem [Antoine] was the team hardware to accompany all of his personal feats!!!

Last Saturday night, in the final game of the 2023 NYCHSFL Championship triple-header on the campus of Fordham University, t#22 made sure that he checked that box as well, carrying the pigskin 16 times for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns to propel the Cardinals to the program’s seventh overall Metro Catholic crown (third in the AAA division; first since 2019) behind a 30-29 victory over the Gaels of Iona Prep!

Completing his three-game postseason saga having accrued 330 yards and four ground scores on 46 attempts (7.2/per), it did not take Antoine very long to make his presence felt in the title contest, as he would be the one to cap off the successful opening driving of the evening when he found a hole up the middle and pounded his way across the goal line from 10-yards out to hand Hayes’ the immediate 7-0 advantage 2:32 into the 1st quarter!!

His second TD trek of the night proved to be even more impressive, as he would be met in the backfield by an IP defender for what could/should have been a tackle for negative yardage; but instead, through pure talent and will, he’d bounce off, find daylight and then race 27 yards to paydirt to break a then 14-14 deadlock with 3:34 remaining in the 3rd quarter to put the Cardinal & Gold cohort back on top, 21-14!!!

His two-TD affair in the ‘ship now giving him 16 on the year in his swan song campaign (to go along with 1,357 yards), Antoine is not even close to hanging up the scholastic pads and cleats!! 

Up next for him and C.H. will be the Turkey Bowl where they will square off against Mount St. Michael Academy (AA-2) in a clash of 2023 champs for Bronx bragging rights on Thanksgiving day!!!….

In the 2022 edition of the traditional rivalry, it was Antoine exploding for a hat trick (runs of 1, 2, and 14) on land to earn his first POTW distinction of his career….He is now a three-time selection, having previously garnered the honor in week #5 of the 2023 regular season!

He then will have the opportunity to try to lead the Cardinals to their first CHSAA State title when they collide with Monsignor Martin dynasty, St. Francis [Hamburg], on a date still to be determined! 

Blake Belin (Defensive; Jr.; DT)

A “Belin” being named as the Outstanding Player of the title game hardly came as a shock to anyone!!!!

However, if we were to poll the pundits in advance of November 17th, our gut feel is that the majority would have said that the exploits would have belonged to junior field general/NYCHSFL AAA Offensive Player of the Year favorite, Rich!!!

Instead, it was the beast wearing the #96 jersey, Blake, that deservedly traveled back to the family’s Harlem home with a little extra luggage in tow following an extraordinary effort on the defensive side of the ball!!! 

Possessing the God-Given athleticism to complement his incredible measurables (6’3, 280), it is impossible to miss the three-year varsity starter on the DL, as it is his knack for blowing up plays in the opposing backfield that has secured him collegiate interest from the likes of power-5 conference programs such as Syracuse, Minnesota, Duke (where his older brother, Henry, currently plays QB), Maryland, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Boston College, etc…

This past weekend, he was in top form as he racked up a 5-stop, 1 TFL, 1-sack performance to raise his playoff totals in each category to 14, 2, and 2 respectively (50, 10, and 7 for all of the Fall season)!!

More essential than just the immensely impressive raw numbers would be the timing and significance of his signature contributions, as his premier highlight occurred with 9:01 to go in the 4th quarter when on IP’s first snap following forcing a turnover on their own 1-yard line, it was Belin bullying his way into the backfield and stuffing an attempted run by the Gaels in the end zone to record the 2pt safety that turned a then 21-21 tie into a 23-21 lead for Hayes!!

Not only putting points on the board, but doing everything within his power to keep them off, another marquee play by “Big Blake” transpired at the conclusion of the 1st half, as he’d collect the sack on the last snap to prevent IP from even getting off their toss try from just outside the red zone!!

The ultimate compliment we can bestow upon the 11th grade stud is that he was an “evaluator” for those around him, as the front-7 as a unit played considerably more inspired in limiting Iona Prep to 115 yards on the ground after previously surrendering 364 rushing yards in the 46-35 loss during week #6 to the same opponent!

Blake joins his aforementioned older brother [Henry], in being named as a Championship Saturday Most Valuable Player….In 2019, the elder sibling went 12-for-18 for 209 in the air (1 TD toss) as part of the 25-7 triumph over Archbishop Stepinac!!  

In both instances, it was a Cinderella Story come true, as the 2019 Cardinals entered the playoffs seeded 4th; and the 2023 squad was an even larger underdog, sitting on the #5 line of the bracket!


AA-1 (St. John the Baptist Cougars)

Maxwell Bowers/DJ Lisbon (Offensive; Jr/Sr; QB/WR)

Fittingly named as Co-Recipients of the Offensive Most Valuable Player Award following the Cougars’ 28-14 victory over top-seeded Moore Catholic in the Double-A-1 title contest, this pitch-and-catch tandem worked in unison so well last Saturday that like much like the best combos in history (Abbott & Costello; Burns & Allen; Starsky & Hutch; or whatever your personal preference might be), you could not praise one without also giving much deserved kudos to the other!

Two individuals that commenced the 2023 campaign with diametrically opposite expectations given their status on the depth chart (Lisbon the known commodity/star at WR; Bowers a 3rd string signal caller), no one is going to remember where they started; all that the history book is going to read is that both were heroes on the largest stage!

Their first attempted exchange going sour (INT that later led to the Mavericks scoring to a seize the initial 7-0 lead), this singular mishap was the only flaw on an otherwise immaculate afternoon that saw the 6’4, 190-pounder out of Westbury be on the back end of five of Bowers’s six completions (6-of-10, 95 yards, 2 TDs) for a sum of 65 yards and both TD hauls!!!

Answering the Mavs’ previously cited touchdown on the ensuing possession, #14 hit #11 on a bubble-screen on 3rd &9 for the first of their two TD hook-ups to even the game at 7 apiece with 2:46 remaining in the opening quarter!

The scoreboard unchanged as the clock dipped below 6:00 to go in the 1st half, the duo registered their longest connection of the day, as they converted a 3rd & 11 predicament on the MC 47 when Lisbon made a leaping grab for a 33-yard gain to move the ball inside the red zone as a precursor to Luka Skoda’s 1-yard TD run a few snaps later to send SJB into the intermission enjoying the 14-7 edge!

The symbiosis a constant variable from beginning to end, the act picked up right where it left off in the 3rd quarter as St. John the Baptist further padded their cushion, when Bowers tossed a 10-yard slant to Lisbon for the “6” on 3rd &7 to cap off a 3:30+ drive to make it a 14pt margin (21-7) with 7:12 remaining in the third stanza!!!

The partnership being the crux of their shared MVP selection, both also reveled in special and/or impactful solo contributions, as Bowers (career-high 102 yards on 15 keepers) recorded his first TD with his legs this fall when on 3rd &6, he lowered the shoulder and pounded his way 12 yards up the gut to tack on some insurance (28-7) with 11 ticks before the end of the 3rd quarter!  

Lisbon, who was seldom utilized on “D” this year, came darn close to registering his third overall touchdown of the game when he picked off a pass (created by a Jovan Bonilla tip) and raced 44 yards to the house for what appeared to be a pick-6 with only 2:33 to go in regulation…Unfortunately, a block in the back penalty negated the TD return, but did permit John the Baptist to take over possession and exhaust the rest of the clock!!!

Bowers wrapped up his junior year having been responsible for generating 1,073 yards and 8 touchdowns of offensive production, as he hurled at a 55.8% success rate (43-of-77) for 683 yards and 7 TD chucks while accruing an additional 390 yards (1 TD) by way of 55 keepers/scrambles!!

Lisbon was a clear team triple-crown winner in all receiving categories as his stat line was vaulted to 34 receptions for 593 yards, and 8 touchdowns snatches!! 

Snapping a three-game losing streak (2012, 2014, 2021) in Double-A finales, St. John the Baptist claimed their first overall league title since 2013 (“A”) and the school’s ninth in whole (4x AAA—1980-1982, 1984; 4x A—2001, 2002, 2010, & 2013)!

Luka Skoda (Defensive; Jr.; RB/LB)

Over the course of the past three months, we have made numerous references to “play-makers” that have the ability to single-handedly change and/or influence the outcome of big games…

And with full and warranted respect to every student-athlete given this label, the 6’1, 210-pound 11th grader from Long Island [Skoda] might be in a company of his own in terms of the value and irreplaceable attributes that he brings to the table for the Cougars!

Named to the POTW list for a second consecutive week, Skoda was well on his way towards being a no-brainer All-League Selection, if not an All-State caliber team member on the defensive side of the ball!!

If he had chosen to just specialize on one side of the ball, his impact would still be indelible and worthy of praise!

But alas, during the postseason, he selflessly put the interests of the team above himself, embracing a much more active role in the offensive backfield…And it was this gesture that made all the difference for SJB as the #2 seed transformed from a program that looked vulnerable during the regular season into a juggernaut that went rather unchallenged during the playoffs, as they racked up a margin of 90-40 (30.0 to 13.3 average) in besting the #7 (Christ the King), #3 (St. Peter’s), and #1 (Moore) seeds by score of 35-12, 27-14, and 28-14!!!

A person that could have just as easily been named the Offensive MVP of the championship game in recognition of establishing a career-best of 145 yards (and the 1TD mentioned above) on 18 hand-offs, Skoda’s emergence as a backfield terror was apparent in every one of his postseason appearances, as he grew from a complementary/change of pace back that ran for 84 yards + 2 touchdowns from weeks 0-9 into a primary power-back that averaged 73 ypg and scored five total touchdowns in the AA-1 playoffs!!! 

Defensively, his stat line may not have as abundant/off-the-charts as previous outings (5 solo tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 QB Hurries), but it was the realization that he is/was/and will be the heartbeat of the “D” that ultimately won him favor!!!

His presence alone on the field (78 total stops, 19 TFLs, 7 sacks, 14 hurries, 2 pass break-ups) forces opponents to overcompensate in the hopes of limiting his damage, thus affording teammates the opportunities to be the ones to shine in the box score!!!

With #7 providing the attitude, the Cougar D-Unit thrived, as they limited the highly prolific MC offense (entered averaging 32.5 points versus divisional foes in 2023) to just 14 points, as the usually smooth machine was met with nothing but struggles in all capacities, as they went just 12-for-28 in the sky (148 yards; 2 INTs) while chewing up just 156 yards on land (64 of which came on one sequence)….

AA-2 (Mount St. Michael Academy Mountaineers)

Carl Shaw (Offensive; Jr.; RB/DB)

Flipping a switch and/or jumping levels during the 2023 postseason, as good as the 5’9, 165-pound hometown [Shaw] hero (Bronx) had been for the entirety of his junior year, he was operating at an entirely different speed this past Saturday on the Fordham University campus!!

Riding the wave of momentum created via a 13-carry, 72-yard, 2TD rushing effort in the semifinal triumph over Kennedy Catholic on November 11th, Shaw escalated his performance to an even higher degree in the AA-2 finale, as he’d strike for a trifecta on the ground to personally be responsible for generating 18 of the Mountaineers’ 34 points in the 34-3 victory that sent MSMA Head Coach, ario Valentini (stepping away after 45 years representing the school; 40 as HC), out with the fifth Metro Catholic crown of his tenure!!!

Exploding for 34 unanswered points (after a 29-yard field goal with 1:18 to go in the 1st quarter enabled the Clippers to temporarily grab a 3-0 advantage), it was the standout in the #7 jersey [Shaw] getting the ball rolling and sparking the Mount offense when he followed up a 22-yard connection between Marc Pearson Jr., and Travis Agoanya, by punching the ball into the end zone from 1yrd out a few snaps later to notch the first of his three rushing touchdowns and turn a 3-0 deficit into a 7-3 edge with 7:57 remaining in the opening half!

That cushion having grown to 13-3 (18-yard TD Pass to Nelson Perez), Shaw made it three straight Mountaineer possessions punctuated by a TD when he added his second score of the afternoon approximately 90 seconds before the halftime break on a 4-yard trek to increase the lead to 19-3!

The hat trick was completed on the second offensive series of the 3Q for Mount St. Michael, as Shaw piggybacked off of a pair of long aerial completions (18 yards to Perez; 32 yards to Jonathan Otoo) by cashing in from 4-yards away with exactly 2:00 remaining in the stanza to help his team further pull away (27-3 following a successful 2pt conversion by Otoo)! 

Shaw’s three touchdown demonstration (on 12 carries for 47 yards) swelled his fall sum to 14 on the ground overall and he will still have Thanksgiving (Turkey Bowl) to continue to inflate that quantity!!!!

As an added bonus, he also dished out six totals hits (4 solo, 2 assisted) in helping the MSMA defense pitch a shutout for the final 38 minutes!!     

D’Angelo Cabrera (Defensive; Sr.; DB)

POTW status becoming routine for the 5’8, 150-pound senior [Cabrera], his title-game vitae procured him a THIRD accolade of his swan song (previously weeks 2 and 7), as he had a direct role in disrupting/blowing up at least two Clipper possessions!

With the contest still scoreless at right around the halfway point of the opening quarter, the Mountaineers dialed up the pressure on the pass rush, allowing Cabrera and Jaire Edwards to both arrive at the opposing QB at identical times to share the QB bag for a 7-yard loss (create 2nd and 17) and push Xaverian back across midfield (drive started on the MSMA 44)…A 3 and out later ensued!!!!

In the waning moments of the third quarter (the outcome pretty much decided; 27-3), Cabrera banked his signature play of the day when in response to a reception by Xaverian WR, Chris Conti, he’d rip the ball free, scoop it up, and then parade 34 yards undeterred to the promised land to turn “D” into “O” to round out the scoring (34-3) and put a bow on the  for the Blue & Gold coronation!!!

All in all, he wrapped up championship weekend credited with 5 tackles, from which four came as a soloist!!

As the Mountaineers attempt to snap a nine-game winless streak in their rivalry with the [Cardinal Hayes] Cardinals this coming Thursday, it need not be said that Cabrera is going to be one of the senior anchors called upon to try to slow down a dynamic and balanced Hayes’ cavalcade that has scored 29 or more points in every appearance in 2023 (average of 39ppg)!!!