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Blocked punt unravels Royals’ title hopes

By Joseph Staszewski

Christ the King created plenty of late-game magic in its biggest wins of the season. It appeared to be headed down that road again in the championship game only to see one of its earlier victims, Xavier, give it a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side of that magic.

This time it was the Knights, who Christ the King beat with a last-second touchdown pass in the regular season, delivering the miraculous play—ending CK’s bid for a perfect campaign.

Rory Kinsella blocked a Christ the King punt and Jack Abbruzzese scooped it up and returned it 44 yards for the winning score with 1:06 remaining in the game. Guiseppe Orlando picked off David Navas in the end zone on 1st-and-10 from the Knights’ 29 to hand the Royals a 28-25 defeat in the CHSFL Class AA football final at Mitchel Athletic Complex Saturday.

CK, which was in the game for the first time since 2007, beat the Knights 21-15 during the regular season, but could hold on to a late lead.

“The game was in the bag for us to win,” Christ the King coach Jason Brown said. “That blocked punt just killed us.”

He did not second-guess deciding to punt the ball on 4th and 7 from the Knights 47-yard line. Instead, he felt his offense should have been able get one more first down to allow CK to run out the clock after Nicholas Calle intercepted Orlando at the Royals 42 with 2:35 to go. CK had just retaken the lead on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Navas to junior Tosin OyeKanmi with 4:00 to play in the game.

“If we move the ball, the game’s over, they had no more timeouts left,” Brown said. “That’s what cost us the game. We couldn’t move the ball.”

Christ the King, which led 13-6 at the half, refused to believe it wouldn’t win this game until the final play. A 22-yard touchdown run by Ahmad Fernandez allowed CK to retake the lead, 19-14, early in the fourth quarter. It was the lone big play from the Royals, who usually have a dominant running game. Navas also tossed a first-half touchdown to Aron Sanabria.

The Royals’ offense took a hit when star back Siddiq Muhammed, who ran for a score, was ejected midway through the second quarter for throwing a punch. Brown said the referee got the call wrong.

“That hurt us,” he said. “I’m going to send the film to the league. The kid was trying to twist his ankle. He pushed the kid’s facemask to get up and they guy called it punching.”

Xavier hung in the game and took a 20-19 lead on a 7-yard touchdown run from Michael Chiarovano at the 7:04 mark of the fourth. The senior running back was the driving force behind the Knights offense. He carried the ball 30 times for 166 yards, including 127 yards and two scores in the second half.

It was one of the many factors that saw CK’s quest for its first “AA” title since 2007 fall a victory short. It was the imperfect ending to what was the best season by the Royals since then, as it meshed players from last year’s squad with one that reached the “AAA” final on the JV level.

“We may not have won the chip, but we know Christ the King is going to turn it around from here and that is one thing we can be proud of,” Fernandez said.

OyeKanmi vows this one won’t be a one-and-done appearance for the Royals.

“We will back next year,” he said.

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