By Daniel Martin
The belly was a beast.
St. Francis Prep returned to its traditional run-first “belly” offense in football this season, shedding the spread set it used the last few years and ran all over Cardinal Hayes. The Terriers ran 55 plays, all but nine of which were on the ground, amassing 339 total yards.
“We were, basically, looking for high tempo and to run it down their throats,” running back Justin Guerre said. “It was just toughness, bringing the old St. Francis style, you know.”
It was enough to earn a 41-34 win over Cardinal Hayes in a Catholic High School Football League Class AA-A game at Mitchel Field Saturday night. Guerre carried the ball 13 times for 97 yards and scored three touchdowns.
“We wanted to run it until they stopped us,” assistant Coach Richie Carroll said.
Legendary Coach Vince O’Connor, in his 59th season as head coach watched from the press box. He fell on the sideline trying to avoid a collision in SFP’s season opening loss to Washingtonville in a non-league game last week and is still recovering.
Like O’Connor’s club, Cardinal Hayes (1-1, 0-1) centered its offensive game plan around the ground game, leaning heavily on running back Patrick Heumegni, who scored three rushing touchdowns and also had an 89-yard kick return for a score.
“[Heumegni] is a dynamic football player,” Cardinal Hayes head Coach C.J. O’Neil said. “He’s going to make things happen above what we ‘X and O.’”
The game got out to a quick start, with St. Francis Prep (1-1, 1-0) leading 34-28 at halftime. Despite the start, another score did not come for either team until the 11:02 mark of the fourth quarter when St. Francis quarterback John Hurley hit receiver Joey Troina for a 40-yard touchdown to help put the Terriers up 41-28.
“The defense that we were playing against was so focused on the run game,” Carroll said. “So we did a little play action and there [the touchdown] was.”
Cardinal Hayes answered back immediately with a long drive that was punctuated by a three-yard touchdown run by Heumegni to pull Hayes to within seven. A quick St. Francis possession gave Cardinal Hayes one final shot to tie the score, but a fourth down tackle for a loss by Terrence Stackpole gave possession back to the Terriers, who were able to run out the clock on an impressive first win.
“We’re looking forward to getting better and better,” Guerre said. “We didn’t score many points in the second half, so we have to work on that, but we just have to keep the high tempo going.”