Holy Cross coach Tom Pugh was not sure what to make of his young team. Sure, the Knights were going to be fast and athletic, but exactly how good they would be was anybody’s guess.
And the expert were betting against them.
“Nobody picked us,” Pugh said.
That may change after Holy Cross knocked off highly touted Xaverian, 15-13, in a Catholic High School Football League Class AAA game yesterday afternoon at Bayside Athletic Field in Queens. The Clippers, ranked No. 2 in the city by our sister publication, the New York Post, had their high-powered offense kept in check by the Knights defense, which allowed only seven points on the day.
“This is a big win to turn some heads,” quarterback Yianni Gavalas said.
The seventh-ranked Holy Cross squad (2-0, 1-0) got a safety in the first quarter on a high Xaverian snap into the end zone and stopped the Clippers three times on fourth down conversions. Lekeith Celestain had an interception in the end zone by outleaping Xaverian receiver Sean Binckes late in the second quarter. He also added three catches for 55 yards.
On consecutive fourth downs in the first half, tackle Dimeji Bamishile batted down a Kearney pass at the line and stopped him with just a half yard to go.
“That was a good test for them,” Pugh said of his defense. “But you can’t beat speed if you don’t have speed. We are lucky.”
Up 15-0, Xaverian (1-1, 0-1 AAA) scored a touchdown on a blocked field goal attempt that Carmine Colletti ran back 70 yards for a score midway through the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think I would have normally gone for that field goal, but I thought it was a kill shot, because it would have been 18 and that’s three scores,” Pugh said.
Xaverian then pulled within 15-13 on a 1-yard run by Zach Kearney with 2:50 left in the game, but the Knights were then able to run out the clock.
A host of penalties kept the Clippers, who also blocked a punt, from ever getting into an offensive rhythm. Laray Smith rushed for 113 yards on 22 carries.
“We could never get into a flow,” Xaverian coach Joe DeSiena said. “It was an untimely mistake, a penalty, a bad snap, a safety as result of a bad snap. Then the safety comes back and bites you.”
Holy Cross built on the safety when Gavalas hit Pierrot Senat for a 10-yard TD pass to make it 8-0 with 3:54 left in the first half. Gavalas completed 12-of-18 passes for 149 yards. Jordan Francklin punched in a 2-yard run to help extend the lead to 15-0 early in the third before the Knights survived a scare late.
And that had the underdog squad holding their heads high.
“Everybody predicted against us,” Celestain said. “We had something to prove.”