Senior Thomas Garland (27) sets the edge while blocking on punt coverage. Photos by Mike Flanagan.
By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The No. 3 Xaverian Hawks traveled to West Roxbury on Saturday to square off against the No. 1 Catholic Memorial Knights in the game of the year in Massachusetts High School football. With both teams entering unbeaten, the winner would clinch the Catholic Conference championship.
Despite Xaverian's Mike Berluti pooching the game's opening kickoff to about the CM 35, Carson Harwood fielded the ball and busted a long return along the far sideline down to the Xaverian 18 to immediately set up the Knights inside the red zone. However, it was Xaverian senior linebacker Noah Canty that made the play of the drive, breaking through the line of scrimmage and making a tackle-for-loss on an option play by CM on a third-down-and-short. Jack Sokol came on and hit a 33-yard field goal to give the Knights a 3-0 lead.
Berluti led the Hawks right down the field on Xaverian's first possession, handing off for multiple chunk gains to junior running back Joe Kelcourse. A quarterback keeper by Berluti on a read option went for 29 yards down the near sideline to put Xaverian in the red zone. Two plays later, Berluti hit a streaking Henry Fleckner in the back of the end zone on a play-action seam route, giving the Hawks a 6-3 lead with 6:10 to play in the opening quarter (PAT no good).
The game remained 6-3, Xaverian, until 6:54 remaining in the second quarter. A big 33-yard run by Harwood set up CM in Xaverian territory. The Knights upped the tempo and plowed their way down to near the goal line before Kyle King capped off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run to reclaim the lead for CM at 10-6.
A huge 53-yard run by Kelcourse on Xaverian's ensuing possession set up the Hawks at the CM five-yard line with the chance to take the lead just before the half. On second down and goal, however, Berluti scrambled out to his right and lobbed up a ball intended for senior tight end Vince Gilchrist at the right pilon. Berluti's pass was tipped in the air and intercepted by a tiptoeing Zach Mitchell in the back right corner of the end zone, resulting in a touchback. The game entered halftime with CM still in front 10-6.
Xaverian received the opening kickoff of the second half, but a fumble by Kelcourse on the first play from scrimmage set up CM with a first-and-goal from the eight-yard line. Harwood punched home an eight-yard touchdown run on the first play of the ensuing possession for CM as the Knights extended their lead to 17-6 with 11:46 to play in the third quarter.
Following a punt by Xaverian, Harwood ripped off a 73-yard touchdown to give the Knights a commanding 23-6 lead with 4:41 remaining in the third (PAT no good). Down but not out, Xaverian got a response drive from Berluti, who hooked up with Fleckner for a big 41-yard gain on a jump ball down the near sideline to move the ball into plus territory. A three-yard touchdown run by Kelcourse on fourth-and-goal capped the drive, getting the Hawks back to within two scores at 23-13 with 3:09 to play in the quarter. Xaverian's defense forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball for Berluti and the offense near midfield. Berluti quickly move the Hawks into plus territory with a 24-yard gain on a screen pass to Kelcourse. Following a pair of first down completions to Canty and junior wideout Carlo Crocetti, Kelcourse punched home his second touchdown of the day, this time from four yards out, to make it a 23-19 game at the end of three quarters (PAT no good).
A muffed punt by CM following a three-and-out by Xaverian gave the Hawks the ball at midfield with the chance to take lead with a little over six minutes remaining. However, CM would force the Hawks to punt. After Xaverian's defense forced CM to a three-and-out, a fumble on the punt return by Crocetti gave the Knights the ball back with the chance to kill some clock with just over four minutes remaining. Xaverian's defense did its job and prevented a first down conversion, getting the ball back for Berluti and offense with 1:06 to work with from their own 24-yard-line.
A pass-interference call on a ball over the middle intended for Crocetti gave the Hawks a first down at their own 40. Berluti then hit Fleckner on a 17-yard out-route to move the ball into CM territory. With under 30 seconds to play, Berluti scrambled out to his left before firing back across his body to a leaping Canty at the 10-yard-line, giving the Hawks a first-and-goal. After a spike on first down to kill the clock, Berluti lofted up a jump ball intended for Crocetti in the back right corner of the end zone. CM defensive back Devon Marshall leapt over Crocetti and snagged the ball for the game-winning interception. CM took over possession and knelt to the 23-19 victory and their second consecutive Catholic Conference title.
For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.