For Cinderella Royals, clock strikes midnight

As the seventh seed in the CHSFL ‘AA’ playoffs, Christ the King was not expected to be playing football Sunday afternoon.
In the opening round, the Royals were supposed to lose to St. Francis Prep, the second seed. In their next engagement, No. 6 Kellenberg was the heavy favorite.
However, each week they prevailed, finding new and more inventively creative ways to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. There were fourth-down completions, shocking comebacks, and a make-or-break two-point conversion.
“No one,” quarterback Joe Nuss said, “ever gave up.”
The Middle Village school, known as Goliath in high school basketball circles, had become local football’s David.
CK, however, had no slingshots left in the final. They used up their quota the previous two weeks. The proverbial clock struck midnight on their Cinderella-like out-of-nowhere journey over the last month.
No. 4 Archbishop Stepinac jumped on the Royals from the opening kickoff, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives en route to a 47-12 throttling at Hofstra Stadium.
“One bad play turned into another and another and another and they kept capitalizing,” lamented senior wide receiver Danny Manetta, later adding “It kept coming. We didn’t stop the bleeding after the first hit.”
The Royals turned the ball over four times - never a good idea, no matter the stage. To start the second half, the Crusaders returned two CK turnovers - a Nuss interception and William Hunter fumble - to the house on successive plays, pushing the lead to an insurmountable 41 points.
“I don’t want to remember this,” Nuss said. “This is the worst feeling.”
Even at halftime, the outcome was all but determined. Stepinac led 34-6 behind their dynamic one-two punch of Rashaad Slowley and Maurice Easterling. The two seniors gashed the Royals for four rushing touchdowns in the first half. The lead was 21 points with 3:32 remaining in the first quarter.
“We came out a little flat,” CK coach Kevin Kelly said, “and against a good team like Stepinac, it’s going to come back to bite you.”
The Royals’ only chance to gain momentum came on the very first drive. Stepinac drove 63 yards in five plays, but Slowley appeared to fumble at the CK 3-yard line. The ball skidded out of the back of the end zone, only Slowley was ruled down by contact. He scored on the next play.
“This,” Kelly said, “basically wasn’t our day.”
Maybe it was the lopsided result, accepting the eventual ending, but the Royals held their heads high after the final horn. Few tears were shed.
Obviously, CK wanted to win their first ‘AA’ title since capturing back-to-back crowns in 2002 and 2003, Kelly’s first season. Just getting to play on the CHSFL’s grandest stage on Hempstead, Long Island on the blustery November afternoon was nevertheless a victory in itself.
“We had a great turnaround,” Manetta said. “I’m going to miss these guys to death. I saw them more than I saw my own family.”

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