The Iona Prep answer came too quickly and too easily for Joe DeSiena’s liking.
The Xaverian head coach had just seen his team pull within a touchdown of the Gaels, the defending CHSFL AAA champion, midway through the fourth quarter and the home sideline began to buzz.
The feeling didn’t last long.
Iona needed just six plays and 1:24 to put the game back out of reach with a 38-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tyrae Woodson-Samuels with Xaverian trying to adjust its defense. It was the first offensive touchdown the Clippers gave up since the first quarter.
“We want to get the three and out,” DeSiena said. “They executed a championship drive.”
There wasn’t a response from Xaverian this time as quarterback Greg Rando was picked off twice in the final minutes of a 28-14 loss to Iona at Kings Bays Friday night.
The first of three Xaverian interceptions came at a critical juncture. The Clippers, who struggled offensively early, scored right before the half when Rando zipped a pass to James Anastasio for a 7-yard score with 22.3 second left and they got the ball back after the break. On the second play from scrimmage, Rando’s pass was tipped at the line by Gregory Gadson, intercepted by lineman George Apostolopoulos who ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown to give Iona 21-7 lead.
“He just came out of nowhere,” Rando said. “I just saw my guy open and tried to get him the ball.”
The person he had no trouble getting the ball to was Anastasio. Rando found the senior on a post over the middle for a 25-yard touchdown on fourth down with 7:36 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Iona (2-2, 2-1 CHSFL AAA) lead to 21-14. Anastasio, who told the coaches of the opening in the defense, was able to hold onto the ball after take a big hit from behind.
“He is one of my favorite targets,” Rando said. “It’s just great to have a receiver like that who can think on the run and find the holes.”
Xaverian (2-2, 1-2) didn’t has an answer early for Iona running back Jeffery Mack, who rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries. The senior broke a 23-yard run for the first score and Woodson-Samuels hit Peter DeSalvo for a 15-yard touchdown to put Iona up 14-0 with 3:23 left in the first quarter. Woodson-Samuels, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 134 yards, put the game away with his 38-yard touchdown run with 6:12 remaining.
“Games like this are good for us,” Woodson-Samuels said. “It just shows we have to have determination and the will to pull it out at the end.”
The Xaverian defense was superb after giving up the two quick scores. It bottled up Mack at the line of scrimmage and Syracuse-bound linebacker Mario Tull made Woodson’s life difficult in the pocket with a sack and a hit in the third quarter that caused him to miss some time.
“They were in attack mode,” Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo. “We were kind of reactionary. They took us out of our rhythm.”
It was something the X-Men never quite found on offense either, as they never got their running game going and were hurt by penalties and drops. Early in the third quarter Xaverian drove down to the Iona 31, only to start moving backwards thanks to a penality and big loss on a Tushaun Plummber run and were forced to punt.
“We know we belong on the field with them,” DeSiena said. “The difference between us is execution.”