By Adam Martini
The St. Francis Prep Terriers entered the CHSFL ‘AAA’ championship game at Hofstra University hungry for a title. Their opponents, the St. Anthony’s Friars, were downright starving for redemption.
The top-seeded Friars rushed their way to a 28-14 win and first championship since 1995 — when they beat St. Francis 29-0. It was a cathartic win for the Friars, who have appeared in eight of the last nine championships, but dropped the last couple to the Monsignor Farrell Lions by a total of seven points.
St. Anthony’s dominated the early stages of the game behind the running of John Fiske. He opened the scoring on a 15-yard touchdown run up the middle to finalize a five-play, 52-yard drive at 8:03 of the first. Later in the quarter, he answered a St. Francis touchdown with a five-yard burst to make the score 13-6.
“It was very important for us to get off to a good start,” Fiske said. “We know [St. Francis] likes to grind it out and we wanted to force them to put it in the air.”
Fiske rushed for 77 yards on eight carries in the half and finished the day with 98 yards and two touchdowns. His two exceptional runs set the tone for the game. The Friars nearly doubled the Terriers’ rushing output for the game, 354-178.
“I thought our kids played an excellent football game,” St. Francis coach Vince O’Connor said. “We just couldn’t overcome the consistency of their running game.”
The Friars’ league-leading ground game was just getting warmed up. Garvin Pierre rushed for a game-high 110 yards on 22 carries and scored the game-breaking touchdown late in the fourth. The triple threat of Pierre, Fiske and Jimmy Rennert (73 yards) accounted for nearly all of the Friars’ offense.
Turnovers also cost the Terriers dearly. Usually the beneficiaries of turnovers, the Terriers lost three fumbles, including one by senior Chris Zambrano on the Friars’ two-yard line in the second. St. Francis also had a drive halted when Peter Trombino intercepted a pass intended for Jason Philip in the left corner of the end zone.
“Turnovers were the difference in the game,” Zambrano said, no doubt thinking about his uncharacteristic fumble. “If we didn’t turn the ball over, we would have won.”
Early on, it appeared as if the Terriers might be able to hang with the Friars. Peter Mazzurco (7-for-18, 114 yards) tossed an eight-yard scoring pass to tight end John Kay, who hauled the ball in despite having a defender draped on his back. The touchdown made the score 7-6 with 4:19 left in the first. By halftime, however, the lead ballooned to 19-6.
The Terriers made their last stand in the fourth. Mazzurco rolled out of the pocket and hit Brian Forman for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 5:11. A two-point pass to Kay in the back of the end zone closed the score to 22-14.
Forman finished an outstanding season and high school career with 57 yards rushing and two catches for 46 yards. Natale Modica led the Terriers ground game with 72 yards on eight carries.
“We knew it was going to be a tough football game,” St. Anthony’s head coach Rich Reichart said. “Everybody did an excellent job.”
In the third, a 32-yard field goal by Philip Elia concluded a long Friars’ drive to make the score 22-6. More importantly for St. Anthony’s, it erased 8:03 from the clock. The Friars’ running game showed its dominance again, chewing up yards and time on the drive.
As the quarter unfolded, a light drizzle blanketed the field. But all the rain and eventual post-game tears couldn’t wash away a remarkable season by the Terriers. They bounced back from a 1-3 start to win six consecutive games, including a double-overtime thriller against Iona Prep in the semifinals to earn a shot at the title.
“I have never been more proud of a team,” said Zambrano, who exemplified his team’s heart and spirit. “[The loss] hurts a lot, but the way we came together is something I’ll never forget.”
Reach contributing writer Adam Martini by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.