Friday, November 4, 2016

Xaverian Wins a Wild One Against Catholic Memorial

By Nate Weitzer (@nweitzer7)

WESTWOOD, Mass. – It began as a familiar story. 

Xaverian dominated defensively and used a strong running game to build a 13-0 lead early in the third quarter of a Division 1 South Semifinal matchup against Catholic Memorial.

But the final 20 minutes of this playoff tilt were both exciting and trying for the two conference rivals.

In the end, Xaverian held on for a 34-29 victory to advance to the D1 South Final against another Catholic Conference rival in BC High, but the Knights’ extraordinary effort in defeat is quite noteworthy.

“It was one heck of a football game and a great battle between two teams that really wanted to win,” said Xaverian head coach Charlie Stevenson. “I’m just glad that we came out on top.”

Last year, Catholic Memorial visited the Hawks’ Nest in the same round of the playoffs and lost 28-0, while earning just three first downs in a completely lopsided affair.

So, when the Knights managed three first downs during a scoreless first half and fumbled on the opening kickoff of the second half to set up another Xaverian score, it seemed as though they were destined to wind up on the wrong side of another blowout.

But the Knights decided to re-write that familiar narrative.

Catholic Memorial quarterback Matt Marcantano (14-of-32, 334 yards, 3 TDs; 4 carries, 32 yards, TD) found senior captain Jack McGowan (5 receptions, 138 yards, 2 TDs) over the middle for a 52-yard touchdown strike.

Then defensive end Zack Trombley tipped a Xaverian pass that was intercepted by Ojo Oreoluwa, setting up a Marcantano’s one-yard touchdown run. Six minutes later, Marcantano hit senior Michael Giacobbe for a 53-yard touchdown bomb, as the Knights had suddenly produced 22 unanswered points to take a two-score lead.

Down 22-13 with their fans stunned and all the momentum on CM's side, the back-to-back defending D1 state champs had to dig deep in an unfamiliar situation.

At the same time, Stevenson and his staff didn’t want to change their approach.

“Even though we were down two scores, we didn’t want to panic. We wanted to stick with what we do and the kids did that. We kept the ball on the ground. Our blocking up front and Devin [Piccinin] was the difference.”

Senior tailback Devin Piccinin (27 carries, 193 rushing yards, 5 TDs) ran in his third touchdown of the evening in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, and he continued to put the Hawks on his back by rushing for 46 yards and a fourth score to put Xaverian up 26-22 with just under two minutest to play.

“Our line was blocking amazing and I just followed those boys up the field,” said Piccinin. “We wanted to just keep running the ball down their throats.”

After the Hawks defense made a crucial stop, Piccinin burst through the Knights defense for a 34-yard touchdown to put the game beyond doubt. Afterwards, he reflected on the importance of this comeback going forward.

“This teaches us that we have to play tough all the time,” Piccinin asserted. “We can’t let up even if we’re up, we just have to keep our foot on the gas pedal.”

For the most part, Xaverian held the opposition’s offense in check by shutting down their running game and forcing the Knights to take deep shots down the field.

While CM hit on a few of those big plays, the Hawks never panicked, which is exactly how they’ll have to approach a D1 South Final matchup against BC High next week.  

This close contest marked unchartered territory for a program that entered this season on a 24-game winning streak, but it might bring them closer together in the long run.

Defensive captain Cal Flanders said, “I’ve been with this group a long time and we’ve never had a situation where we had to battle back like this. We were always ahead, and it was a little frustrating, but to see the guys rally and deliver a counterpunch like that was incredible. Everybody bought into what we wanted to do and we played like brothers.”

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