Senior defensive tackle Noah Eldridge (55) flexes in celebration following a tackle-for-loss during Xaverian football's 49-13 season-ending win against St. John's Shrewsbury on Friday. Photo by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
To say its been an non-ideal way to end their high school playing careers would be the understatement of the century for Xaverian football's class of 2021.
Entering the fall with a surplus of college-bound talent, the Hawks were one of the favorites to win the Catholic Conference, as well as the Division I Super Bowl. Unfortunately, COVID changed all of those plans. After the entire season was pushed back to the spring and playoffs were eliminated, the Hawks were forced to play a condensed six-game schedule.
Following a 4-0 start that featured wins against BC High (28-12), Malden Catholic (28-14), Brockton (42-7) and St. John's Prep (35-14), the Hawks dropped a 23-19 heartbreaker to Catholic Memorial on April 17 to miss out on the Catholic Conference championship.
On Friday, the Hawks hosted St. John's (Shrewsbury) for their season finale looking to send off their seniors properly. Also worthy of note, the Hawks entered angry and motivated after a 58-26 home defeat to St. John's the last time these two schools met on October 18, 2019.
Senior captain and quarterback Mike Berluti drove the Hawks into the red zone on the game's opening possession. The Pioneers (2-3) held their ground and forced the Hawks to settle for an unsuccessful 37-yard field goal try by Berluti. A 44-yard punt return by sophomore Michael Oates following a three-and-out by the Pioneers set up the Hawks at the St. John's 11-yard-line. Two plays later, Berluti punched home an eight-yard rushing touchdown on quarterback keeper, giving the Hawks an early 6-0 lead with 7:15 to play in the opening quarter.
Xaverian's defense again forced the Pioneers to a three-and-out on St. John's next possession, giving the ball back to Berluti and the offense at midfield. On the first play of the series, Berluti hit senior tight end Noah Canty for a 41-yard gain on a crossing route to set up a first-and-goal. On first-and-goal, Berluti hit fullback Vince Gilchrist on a play-action bootleg out to the left. Gilchrist cruised into the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown to double Xaverian's lead to 12-0. Berluti hit senior wideout Henry Fleckner on a slant for a successful two-point conversion to make it 14-0 with 6:13 to play in the quarter.
St. John's picked up a pair of first downs on their ensuing series before the Hawks forced another punt. Berluti began the next drive with an eight-yard run on a quarterback option before connecting with Fleckner twice for gains of nine and 17 to set up a first-and-goal. On third-and-goal from the two, Xaverian pulled off some trickery. Berluti handed off to Oates on a jet-sweep, who pitched the ball back to Fleckner in the backfield. Fleckner rolled out to his right and lobbed up an easy touchdown to Berluti in the left corner of the end zone to make it 21-0, Xaverian, with 1:55 remaining in the quarter.
St. John's drove into Xaverian territory on their next possession, but a big tackle-for-loss by Gilchrist, followed by a drive-ending sack on fourth down by sophomore defensive end Matthew Defeo, forced a turnover on downs at the Xaverian 34. Berluti went right back to work for Xaverian, hitting Fleckner for a gain of seven and senior running back Thomas Garland for 13 on a screen-pass before handing off to junior running back Joe Kelcourse for a run of 17. Two plays later, Berluti lofted up a perfect ball to Fleckner on a go-route for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 28-0 with 8:08 to play in the half.
The Pioneers fumbled the return on the ensuing kickoff and the ball was recovered by the Hawks at the St. John's 12 to immediately set up Xaverian's offense inside the red zone. Following a powerful first down run by Kelcourse moved the ball inside the one-yard-line, senior running back Anthony Ferrara punched home a one-yard touchdown run to make it 35-0 with 7:13 left before halftime.
St. John's finally got on the board on their ensuing possession as Jacques-Thomas Durocher hit Jake Newsham for a 61-yard touchdown to make it 35-7. In response, Berluti ran an almost flawless two-minute drill for Xaverian, handing off to Kelcourse for a 18-yard gain followed by connecting with Fleckner for eight and Gilchrist for three to set up a first down inside the 35. Following a sack by St. John's, Berluti kept the drive alive by completing an 18-yard slant to Fleckner for a first on third down, followed by a spike to kill the clock with 32 seconds remaining before halftime. On the very next play, Berluti faked a handoff to Kelcourse on a play-action before hitting Canty out in the flat. Canty broke a tackle and outran the coverage to the right pylon for a touchdown to make it 42-7 Xaverian at halftime.
After the Pioneers received the second half kickoff, Fleckner delivered the dagger by intercepting Durocher near midfield and running the ball back 52 yards for a pick-six to push the lead to 49-7. The Hawks took their 42-point lead into the fourth quarter. St. John's cut into Xaverian's lead with a late touchdown, but the Hawks stuffed the two-point try. Berluti and the offense were able to chew the remainder of the clock as the Hawks came away with the 49-13 win to conclude their season.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.