There’s rarely any drama at the start of the fourth quarter in most St. Anthony’s games. It’s usually time for the second and third string to put the finishing touches on yet another lopsided victory.
But on Sunday at Bayside Athletic Field, the Friars found themselves in unfamiliar territory, trailing Holy Cross with Knights quarterback Yianni Gavalas scrambling toward midfield.
St. Anthony’s linebacker Anthony Leggio had just one thought on his mind: Get the offense the ball back.
“At first I was going off the edge and I saw him tuck the ball,” the junior said. “I just chased him, you can’t give up on a play, and I stripped the ball.”
Teammate Fifunmi Familusi recovered the fumble, a huge play that shifted momentum back to St. Anthony’s for good.
Anthony Duggan went on to score a 3-yard touchdown and the Friars added a late score to survive a scare, beating Holy Cross, 29-19, in a thrilling game between undefeated teams ranked in the Tri-State Top 25 by MSG Varsity.
“We’re taught to run to the ball after every single play,” Familusi said. “It just so happened that one of my best friends was the one that knocked it out for me. I just picked it up and do as I’m told.”
It was one of several big defensive plays St. Anthony’s made, especially in the second half.
“I thought the game was won on defense,” St. Anthony’s coach Rich Reichert said. “Our offense didn’t play well, but our defense rose to the occasion.”
Tim Stackpole had an interception, Pat McHugh batted down a pass at the line on the Knights’ final drive and No. 2 St. Anthony’s (3-0 CHSFL AAA) recovered two fumbles after halftime. None bigger than the one by Gavalas, although it appeared the quarterback might have already been down.
“I think [I was down], but its the ref’s call,” Gavalas said. “It doesn’t matter what I think.”
Shyheim Wingate had the other fumble, but the senior made up for it by picking off backup Greg Galligan for a 21-yard touchdown. Gavalas was unable to connect with Pierrot Senat for the 2-point conversion and No. 19 Holy Cross (3-1, 2-1) led 19-14 with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
The Knights held the Friars to three-and-out on their next possession and Holy Cross took over to start the fourth quarter.
But Gavalas’ fumble at the 44-yard line proved costly, a rare mistake for a polished and poised senior QB.
“I couldn’t tell from where I was,” Pugh said when asked if Gavalas was down before the fumble. “Those things can’t happen at this level. You have to make those plays.”
St. Anthony’s took over at the Holy Cross 44 and grinded out a 10-play drive capped by Duggan’s 3-yard score.
Like Anthony Anderson did last week in Dariyan Riley’s absence, Duggan stepped up big time when Brian Sherlock left the game in the first quarter with a high ankle sprain.
“I had to step up because of Sherlock,” Duggan said. “I’m a team player. It was a good game. I had a lot of fun...I love high school football. It’s the best, nothing better.”
Maston Ellerbe put St. Anthony’s in front 7-0 on a 50-yard run down the sideline on the Friars first play of their second drive. But Holy Cross immediately responded, with Gavalas connecting with Brandon Pelzer on a 12-yard screen pass on fourth down to tie the score at 7 with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
Anderson put the Friars back in front on a 28-yard TD run with 8:14 left in the second quarter, but after Tim LaVelle recovered a fumble, Gavalas threw an 8-yard touchdown to Wingate. Kevin Long blocked the extra point and the Friars led 14-13 with 2:40 left in the second quarter.
Holy Cross was able to do what few others have been able to do in recent years by battling St. Anthony’s for four quarters. But that’s little solace to the extremely competitive Gavalas.
“I’m obviously proud, but a loss is a loss,” Gavalas said. “You want to try to win every game.”
Still, Pugh believes the mistakes his team made are correctable.
“It’s a big game, early in the season and they’re thrown into a big quagmire of pressure and they’re young,” he said. “They’ll overcome that. Now they know what it’s like to play in the big show.”
Contact Dylan Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org
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