Joe Kelcourse (pictured) jukes a defender during one of his team-high 20 carries on Saturday at St. John's Prep. Photos by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
It doesn't matter the weather, the time of year, or the records. The only thing that matters when arch rivals Xaverian and St. John's Prep play football is coming out with a victory.
On Saturday, the Hawks (4-0, 3-0) traveled up to Danvers looking to stay unbeaten. A win against the Eagles (2-3, 0-3) would set up a makeup game against also-unbeaten Catholic Memorial (3-0, 2-0) next Saturday that would serve as the championship game of the Catholic Conference. Xaverian and CM were originally scheduled to play on April 3, but the game was postponed due to COVID protocols.
St. John's Prep took the ball down inside the red zone to open the game. Xaverian's defense held Prep to a field goal attempt but the kick was blocked by senior Vincent Gilchrist, keeping the game scoreless. Xaverian took over at their own 15 and methodically marched down the field, thanks to a pair of long runs by junior running back Joe Kelcourse (20 carries, 164 yards, two touchdowns). Senior running back Thomas Garland capped off the drive with a four-yard touchdown run to give the Hawks a 7-0 lead with 5:29 to play in the opening quarter.
After the two teams exchanged punts, some special teams magic by sophomore return-man Michael Oates allowed the Hawks to double their lead. Oates fielded a punt from his own 31-yard line, broke up the middle seam and cut to his right before dashing 69 yards untouched for the touchdown, giving the Hawks a 14-point edge at the end of one quarter.
The Xaverian defense forced a three-and-out by Prep to open the second quarter, but a muff recovered by Prep at the Xaverian 11-yard-line immediately set the Eagles up with a red zone opportunity. The Eagles moved the ball down inside the two-yard-line but were stuffed on fourth down, thanks to a tackle in the backfield by Gilchrist, allowing the Hawks to take back over at the three. Xaverian senior quarterback Mike Berluti hit junior wideout Carlo Crocetti for a 42-yard gain down the far sideline on the second play from scrimmage following the turnover on downs, setting the Hawks up in Prep territory. However, back-to-back penalties would stall out the drive and force Xaverian to punt. Senior running back James Guy Jr. then led Prep down the field before finishing off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run, trimming Xaverian's lead to 14-7 at halftime.
Xaverian took the ball to begin the second half and Berluti immediately went to work, hooking up with Crocetti for a big gain into Prep territory followed by a 12-yard screen to Oates out of the backfield to move inside the red zone. Berluti capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run on a read option to the right corner of the end zone, extending the lead to 21-7 with 7:51 to play in the third.
Prep quarterback Victor Harrington responded by hitting junior wideout Jackson Delaney on a go-route to set up the Eagles at the Xaverian goal line. Xaverian's defense would hold its ground, however, batting away a play-action pass by Harrington, followed by stuffing three straight rush attempts to turn the ball over on downs. The defensive stand allowed the Hawks to maintain their 21-7 lead at the end of the third quarter.
After Xaverian moved the ball down inside the red zone on their next possession, Kelcourse gave the Hawks some breathing room with 9:15 to play in the fourth quarter by taking a hand-off up the middle and gashing through Prep's defense for a 21-yard touchdown to make it 28-7. Harrington got Prep right back in the game with a 33-yard touchdown to Delaney on Prep's next possession.
With the lead trimmed back to 14, the Hawks responded accordingly. Kelcourse delivered the dagger with 6:36 remaining, taking a handoff at the Xaverian 49, cutting to his left and then dashing down the near sideline for a 51-yard touchdown. An interception by Henry Fleckner on Prep's ensuing possession allowed the Hawks to take over at midfield and run out the remainder of the clock, and Xaverian came away with the 35-14 victory.
The Hawks will take on Catholic Memorial next weekend for the conference championship. At the time of print, time, date and location are still to-be-determined.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.