Nick Rizzo has been thinking about Saturday night’s game against Fordham Prep since Kellenberg lost to the Rams in the CHSFL Class AA title game last November.
Every rep in the gym, every grueling lap around the field during the offseason has been with last year’s heartbreaking defeat in mind.
“How can’t you think about that?” he said. “There’s a picture on MSGVarsity.com and all you see is me on my [butt] and the other team celebrating.”
Rizzo helped frame a different picture at Coffey Field, one of Kellenberg celebrating on Fordham Prep’s home field following a thrilling 20-17 victory in a game broadcast live on MSGVarsity.com.
“It feels good to get the ‘W,” Rizzo said.
Rizzo had five catches for 236 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown to put Kellenberg in front 14-6 with 10:40 left in the third quarter.
But his biggest play came with the Firebirds trailing 17-14 with 5:45 left in the fourth when he caught a short slant and took off for 96 yards, setting up Rory Walsh’s 3-yard go-ahead touchdown.
“Nick Rizzo is outstanding,” Kellenberg coach Kevin Hanifan said. “He had four touchdown catches last week and a couple of big plays today. He’s a premier player in this league.”
Rizzo’s touchdown would have just been cosmetic had Adam Roman not come up with a game-saving tackle on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line, stuffing Fordham Prep quarterback James McHale (9-of-18, 110 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) an inch from the end zone.
“That goal-line stand, to me that’s the game,” Hanifan said. “They go in and go up by 10 at that point, we don’t have a chance.”
Fordham Prep actually had a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line and Malik Crossdale (37 rushes, 176 yards) powered forward to the 1. Roman an athletic jack-of-all-trades type, lost his wind on that play and sat out the next two as Crossdale and McHale were each stopped for no gain.
Roman’s number was called on fourth down and as he rushed back on the field, Walsh provided the motivation.
“He said this is the biggest play of the year,” Roman said. “I was thinking about what happened last year so I just went up and made the big play.”
A year ago, Roman was called for a controversial pass interference penalty, one that led to Fordham Prep’s tying score late in a regular season game won by the Rams in overtime, ruining Kellenberg’s Homecoming.
Roman got some personal redemption Saturday and helped seal the Firebirds win when he intercepted McHale at the 31-yard line with 3:05 left in the fourth.
“Those were my two biggest plays ever on the varsity level,” he said.
Kyle Driscoll also had some redemption in the fourth quarter with his 96-yard completion to Rizzo from the Firebirds 1-yard line. On Kellenberg’s second play from scrimmage, the junior was picked off at the 6-yard line by Markell Jones-Francis, who returned it for the game’s first touchdown.
“That was amazing,” Driscoll said of his pass to Rizzo. “I was so fired up, but I had to put behind me what happened the first time I threw a pass from the 1-yard line and it turned out to be a be a big play.”
It was the first of two interceptions by Jones-Francis and the first of three by the Rams secondary. It was also the first of five turnovers for the Firebirds, but that wasn’t a big topic of conversation in the post-game.
That’s because Driscoll rebounded to go 12-of-18 for 356 yards with two long touchdowns, including a 64-yarder to Brendan Fitzgerald with 6:02 left in the second quarter that put Kellenberg (2-4, 2-3 CHSFL AAA) in front, 7-6.
A week ago, Driscoll threw for 297 yards and six touchdowns in a 52-40 loss at St. Joseph by the Sea.
“I was more confident than I’ve ever been going into a game after that game last week because I did a good job,” Driscoll said. “I just had to carry the momentum from last week into this week.”
That’s exactly what Fordham Prep (2-4, 2-3), ranked No. 14 in New York City by MSG Varsity, didn’t do. The Rams won two straight games, including a four-overtime thriller over Xaverian last week, but couldn’t build off that momentum.
“We handed this game to Kellenberg on a silver platter,” Fordham Prep coach Pete Gorynski said. “Busted coverages all night long…I’m near speechless. I really don’t know what to make of this. Cerebral mistakes, physically we didn’t get beat today. Mentally, we got destroyed today.”
Kellenberg, meanwhile, is hoping to use Saturday’s emotional win as a springboard heading into the final two weeks of the regular season.
Revenge has been achieved. Now it’s on to the next goal.
“I think it sets us up to make a AAA playoff run, something Kellenberg hasn’t been able to do in a couple of years,” Rizzo said. “We’re going into Holy Cross next Saturday with a lot of momentum and hopefully we can finish the season strong against Mount St. Michael.”