The Slipper Stil Fits

Forget the first six weeks of the season. Christ the King sure has. They have proven it hardly matters.
Winless in their first six, the seventh-seeded Royals are shockingly and unpredictably headed for the CHSFL ‘AA’ title game after knocking off No. 6 Kellenberg, 22-21 in overtime, for their fourth straight win last Friday night at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, Long Island.
“This,” quarterback Joe Nuss said, “is the greatest feeling.”
They have the right arm and unexpectedly spry legs of Nuss along with the gutsy decision-making of coach Kevin Kelly to thank.
Nuss was brilliant, running for two touchdowns and throwing for 170 yards. His greatest moment came courtesy of Kelly’s season-on-the-line call.
After Nuss scored from a yard out on fourth down - the fourth successful time Kelly gambled on the make-it-or-break-it down - the CK coach opted to go for the win instead of kicking the extra point in the possession-for-possession extra session.
“We felt like the underdog in this whole playoff bracket, here was our shot to win the game,” Kelly said. “It was a big call. If you get it, it is a great call. If you miss, it’s a dumb call.”
Nuss made the decision a prudent one, finding junior Peter Nwajei in the end zone for the game-winning conversion.
He was given a run-pass option. When the three-sport lettermen - Nuss plays baseball and basketball at the Middle Village school too - noticed the Firebirds (3-7) loading up at the point of attack, he faked a handoff to tailback David Lopez and rolled left.
When Nwajei’s defender sprinted towards him, Nuss lofted the ball over the defensive back’s outstretched arms, putting as much air under it as possible. Nwajei squeezed it, punching the Royals ticket to their first final since winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003.
“I saw the lights, I saw the ball,” Nwajei said. “I thought if I dropped the pass my team was going to kill me.”
The celebration dwarfed the emotional one from the previous week, when CK (4-6) knocked off Queens rival St. Francis Prep in an epic 13-point fourth quarter comeback. Nuss sprinted to the other goal line where Kelly caught him in a bear hug. Wide receiver Danny Manetta embraced his father, Frank, while the joyous Royals wildly celebrated their second upset in as many weeks at midfield.
“Out of control,” Manetta said.
There is plenty of reason to rejoice, even if the Royals are the decided underdogs in the title game Sunday against No. 4 Stepinac. Just one month ago, CK was winless.
From the season’s outset, the coaches promoted a “chisel and hammer” approach, a symbol of hard work to knock down the proverbial wall.
Week 7, it finally paid off in the form of an 18-15 win over Cardinal Hayes Oct. 20. It continued the following week and the one after that.
“We finally started to hammer and chisel the last few weeks,” Nuss said.
Against Kellenberg, that same never-say-die approach paid off. CK trailed by a touchdown twice and lost all the momentum going into overtime when kicker Vinny Lahara pulled a 26-yard field goal four feet to the left at the end of regulation.
“We’re a pretty clutch team the last four games,” Nuss said. “We figured why not be clutch again?”

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