|With a 17-0 win over BC High on Friday, the Xaverain Hawks advance to their fourth consecutive D1 Super Bowl|
By Matt Feld (@mattyfeld612)
Call it a dynasty.
For the past four seasons the Xaverian Hawks have thrived on environments like the ones they played in on Friday night. With the wind howling inside the Hawk bowl on a frigid night, the Xaverian defense seemed primed for a heavyweight performance before they even stepped foot on the field.
Sure enough, in front of a packed crowd that included NBC’s Sunday Night Football truck, the hallmark of the Hawks unbridled success over the last four seasons shined once again, as their defense shut out BC High for the second time this season en route to a 17-0 victory.
The win clinches a spot for Xaverian (9-1) in the Division 1 State Final for the fourth consecutive season and improves their record to 43-3 over those four seasons.
Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson said the team has simply bought into the winning pedigree.
“I think that our guys really believe in what we’re doing,” said Stevenson. “They buy into the system and that is what it is all about.”
Top-seeded Xaverian held a slim 3-0 lead at halftime, but with the way their defense – spearheaded by Cal Flanders, AJ Ryan, and Mekhi Henederson – was working, the score may as well have read 30-0.
In the first half, BC High’s offense managed just 47 yards of offense. Yet based on the way the final two quarters unfolded, that production seemed like an onslaught.
Over the final 22 minutes the Hawks defense held the Eagles’ offense to a total of 13 net yards from scrimmage, with 15 yards coming via a personal foul. Every time BC High quarterback Connor Cady dropped back to pass out of the spread offense the Hawks defensive line seemed to be on his back before he could even set his feet.
The pressure was quite simply relentless. Even when Cady was able to avoid the pressure and spin away from the outstretched arm of a Hawks lineman, he more often than not had to simply throw the ball away along the sideline for an incompletion.
Behind Flanders, the Xaverian defense finished with seven sacks on the night for a combined loss of 58 yards.
Flanders said it was all about making sure the Eagles felt uncomfortable running the ball, forcing them into obvious passing situations.
“We knew if we shut down their great running back (Danny Abraham) and Cady we would force them to pass,” said Flanders. “We were just pumped up to get after the passing attack. We played our best football of the year probably.”
The key possession of the game undoubtedly came early in second half.
After BC High’s defense forced a three and out to begin the third quarter, the Eagles offense took over at midfield trailing 3-0.
BC High’s offense – on the verge of taking a lead for the first time all night – went nowhere.
An incomplete pass followed by a handoff stuffed at the line gave BC High third down and 10.
The Eagles never got another shot, as the snap went over Cady’s head on the following play and trickled back towards the 32-yard line to force a punt.
To cap it all off the punt was shanked and went out of a bounds just two yards past the line of scrimmage, setting the Hawks up deep inside BC High territory with a chance to put the game on ice for all intents and purposes.
Despite their first half struggles, the Hawks were ready to take full advantage this time.
A Madison Cronin scramble on a broken play brought Xaverian down to the Eagles nine-yard line.
All evening long the Eagles were fixated on Hawks starting running back Devin Piccinin, so when they put in Ikechukwu Irabor the Eagles’ defense could not help but be a tad perplexed.
Sure enough the decision paid off, as Irabor went untouched from nine yards out on a counter to put Xaverian in front 10-0.
“That was the key score that broke it open,” said Stevenson. “They are looking at Devin (Piccinin) and then we throw in (Irabor) and he can walk in there. That gave us some breathing room and allowed us to settle in.”
From then on the Hawks relied on their simple ground and pound running game to take them the rest of the way.
Piccinnin (25 carries, 125 yards, 1 TD) was the recipient of a number of tosses and screens to the outside. By the time the ball is in his hands the Xaverian offensive line was already in motion, getting out and blocking the Eagles’ linebackers and strong side defensive backs to clear room for the tailback.
A three-and-out, capped off by Flanders’ second sack, gave Xaverian field position at the BC High at their own 34 yard line.
On third-and-11, Cronin hit Irabor on a screen pass for 15 yards. Two plays later -- after an 18-yard pass from Cronin to Henderson brought the Hawks to the 23-yard yard line --Piccinin took control.
The senior running back broke a run down the left side for nine yards before busting one on a toss the left for a 14-yard touchdown putting the Hawks up 17-0 and all but sealing the win.
“All I had to do was find a hole,” said Piccinin. “We went to a power (formation) and once that happened we just simply shoved it down their throats.”
The win tops off what was a dominant stretch at home this season at the seemingly impenetrable Hawk Bowl.
In total, Xaverian held opponents to just 43 points over six games at home this season. Against BC High they allowed a grand total of zero over eight quarters and only four first downs.
Colin Lama – who sealed the Hawks season opening win against Everett – said the Hawks season at home came full circle on Friday night.
“It's amazing to be going to the state finals again for the fourth year in a row,” said Llama. “Whoever we play will be our toughest opponent of the year no doubt, and we wouldn't want it any other way. Our defense here all season long has been spectacular and as long as we can carry that over we will be fine.”
One of the more remarkable things about Xaverian’s defense has been its ability to travel. Over the course of four road games the starting unit gave up just 28 points and shutout Catholic Memorial in West Roxbury.
If that is a sign of things to come once the state finals arrive, then there is no question the Hawks when December 3rd rolls around will be hoisting their third consecutive Division 1 State Championship trophy.