By Joseph Staszewski
Kedar Hunter’s chest was pounding and it wasn’t from reflecting on one of the best performances of his Holy Cross career. A big halftime lead was trimmed to just five points and Chaminade was lining up for its third onside kick attempt in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.
“I was scared,” the senior running back said. “My heart started pumping.”
Michael Marden finally put the game away and put his teammates at ease. The 5-foot-6 defensive back leapt about as high as he could and held onto the ball tight as he was hit by two Flyers. It allowed Holy Cross to finally run out the clock on a 26-21 win over Chaminade in a CHSFL Class AAA game at the Bayside Athletic Complex Sunday. The victory ends a three-game losing streak for the Knights.
“I was pretty high,” Marden said. “When I came down everyone was on top of me. I just did not let go of the ball.”
After taking a 26-0 lead into halftime, Holy Cross (3-4, 2-4) began playing its second unit on both sides of the ball late in the third quarter. Flyers quarterback Joseph Anile ran in a 10-yard touchdown with 2:15 left in the game and Chaminade (0-7, 0-6) recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Three plays later, Sam Abbate punched in a 2-yard TD to make it 26-14. This time Nelson Perez recovered the onside kick, but quarterback Kevin Durkan fumbled shortly after and Ryan Fitzsimons returned it the Knights’ 4-yard line to set up another scoring run from Anile that trimmed the lead to five with 1:20 left in the game.
“They scored again, but now we can just kill the clock, but our quarterback fumbled the ball,” Holy Cross Coach Tom Pugh said. “Now it’s dangerous.”
Dangerous is exactly what Hunter was on both sides of the ball.
The elusive 5-foot-7 back ran behind a textbook block from Michael Lana down the left side line for a 30-yard touchdown on Cross’ opening drive. He finished off the next one with a 12-yard dash that he broke left with 25.3 seconds left in the first quarter.
If that wasn’t enough, on Chaminade’s next play from scrimmage, he picked off an Anile pass that was tipped by Perez and ran it back 40 yards for a touchdown to extend the Holy Cross lead to 20-0 before the first quarter ended. Six ball carriers combined for 170 yards on the ground.
“We go over it in practice,” Hunter, who ran for 49 yards on three carries, said. “The linebackers tip it up, the DBs catch it. It’s a daily routine.”
Added Marden,” Game of his life right there.”
The Knights and Flyers traded turnovers as Steven Murphy collected an interception and Peter Ciuffo ripped the ball away from Devon Cajuste, who was shaken up on the play, for a turnover. The Stanford-bound senior was nursing a sore left arm after being hit earlier in the game while playing free safety, according to Pugh. He spent the whole second half on the sideline with an ice pack, but the injury was not thought to be serious.
Cross added another touchdown right before that half. Yianni Gavalas contended with Adrian Paljevic over the middle for a 15-yard score that extended the lead 26-0 with 11.1 seconds to go. Hunter’s second pick was of the highlight variety. He skied up high, with teammate Shyheim Wingate running underneath him, to pull in an Anile pass.
“Did you see how high he got?” Pugh said. “He is unbelievable. He is very athletic. He runs a 4.3.”
The win couldn’t have come at a better time for the Knights, after a heartbreaking loss on the goal line to Holy Trinity last week. Mount St. Michael visits Bayside for the regular season finale which will provide Cross time to build momentum going in to the ‘AAA’ playoffs.
“We are getting our act together,” Pugh said. “We thrive on staying in the pack and then November when the leaves start to fall, that’s when we start to hit.”