The Cathedral high school football team walked away with a ‘W’ in a wild, wacky, wind-blown way.
With 25 seconds left on the clock, Stephon Smith of Cathedral blocked a punt deep in Bishop Ryan territory and the Gaels used that significant change in field position to come from behind for a 15-13 victory over the Celtics at the St. Thomas More field on Friday (Nov. 1). A roughing penalty on the blocked punt advanced the ball to the one-yard line. And from there, Anthony Laughing plowed into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 17 seconds remaining.
The playoff victory advances the fourth-place Gaels to the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior semifinals on Friday (Nov. 8).
In other quarter-finals, the Bishop Tonnos Titans upset the third-place St. Thomas More Knights 17-12 and the second-place Cardinal Newman Cardinals downed the St. Mary Crusaders, 41-15. The first-place Brebeuf Braves had the bye.
Tonnos-Brebeuf and Cathedral-Newman will be the semifinal matchups on Friday (Nov. 8).
“What a crazy game,” said Cathedral coach Rob Ciofani. “Stephon made a big play. He really turned it around for us. He’s a tough, excellent football player.”
Smith, who says he tore his hamstring two days ago, had been thinking about blocking a punt for a long time. “I told myself at the beginning of the year I was going to get one and I did,” Smith said. “I just pushed through the centre and then I jumped.”
Strong wind gusts played havoc with the kicking game. In the fourth quarter, it was the Gaels who had the wind at their back. All the scoring came at the same end of the field, including a point on the kickoff by Cathedral’s Patrick Wilcon after the ball sailed through the end zone.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Ciofani said. “We had strategy for the wind, but when we got here and realized how bad it was, everything changed. We went double tight end and tried to run the ball. From the beginning I knew something dealing with the kicking game would affect the outcome of the game. The wind was unbelievable.”
Bishop Ryan kicker Michael Fortino lost ground in the second quarter when he fielded a low punt snap and, accidentally, his knee touched the ground. That halted play and turned the ball over to Cathedral on the BR five-yard line. Two plays later, Gaels quarterback Tyler Boucher rolled out and tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass just inside the pylon to Brad Byron.
Bishop Ryan opened the scoring on its first possession when quarterback Eric White connected with Stefan Olivieri over the middle for a 50-yard pass-and-run major. The fifth-place Celtics then grabbed a 13-8 lead in the third quarter on a one-yard run by Nicholas Boonstra.
Cathedral put together a long drive – converting on a third-and-10 and then a third-and-13 — in the final few minutes. However, the second interception of the afternoon by BR defensive back Mark Fournier in the end zone turned the ball over with 71 seconds remaining.
The loss was a stunning blow for the Celtics, who also lost 12-8 during the regular-season to the Gaels in a somewhat similar heartbreaking last-minute manner.
“It could have gone either way,” said Bishop Ryan coach John Fleming. “Things just didn’t work out for us today.”
Fleming said he didn’t feel it was the right strategy to give up a safety touch rather than punt in the late stages.
“The way our defence was playing … we trust in our defence,” Fleming said. “It’s a tough call.”
The player who made numerous key tackles and quarterback sacks for the Celtics was lineman Antonio Pugliese.
Ciofani also praised his defence. “Our defence has been a really strong point for us all season,” the Gaels coach said. “Again, they played awesome. Anthony Laughing, who scored a touchdown, also played a great game at middle linebacker. He’s the anchor of our defence.”
In the second half of the doubleheader at More, the Bishop Tonnos Titans outscored the Knights 10-6 en route to the victory. Tonnos had lost its first five starts of the season before finally getting into the win column last week.
Tonnos scored majors on a 28-yard run by Marco Aref and a 21-yard pass from Matt Michalski to Cameron Wright. Joe Radajewski added a 17-yard field goal and a pair of converts.
Santino Gallo booted field goals of 36 and 20 yards for More. The lone touchdown for the Knights came on a six-yard run by Frank Lovasic.
At Newman, the two-time defending champion Cardinals rallied to eliminate the winless Crusaders.
“They were up 14-0 after the first quarter and 14-10 half time,” Newman coach Anthony Macaluso said. “It was a bit of a shock. We turned on the jets in the second half.”
Cardinal Newman touchdowns were shared by Matt Antonucci, Justin Connolly, Mitch Atlee, Vincent DeRosa and Matt Martins. Marcus DiLoreto also contributed a pair of field goals.