WESTWOOD, Mass. -– Just when you think you’ve seen the best out of Xaverian’s defense, the Hawks just keep dialing it up another notch.
Three weeks ago, three blocked punts led the Hawks to a 49-13 rout of then-No. 1 Bridgewater-Raynham. Last week, the Hawks’ defense put down the clamps in the second half as they blew out Catholic Memorial, 43-7.
Under gray, drizzly skies this afternoon at the Hawk Bowl, Xaverian held Brockton’s vaunted triple-option attack to just 70 yards of total offense, sealing the game late with a 57-yard interception return to come away with a hard-earned 14-0 shutout victory.
“I thought our defense played really outstanding, they really bailed us out today,” Xaverian head coach Charlie Stevenson said. “We had trouble getting our offense in gear, we’d make a play and then we wouldn’t make a play.”
The Hawks (4-1) took their initial lead late in the first quarter, starting at their own 45 and stringing together a nine-play, five minute drive that was punctuated by a 21-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Jake Farrell. The right-handed junior saw pressure coming from his front side, rolled to his left and found a running lane open up, sprinting up field for the scoring scramble.
After that, the Hawks played it conservatively –- mostly feeding the ball to running backs Shayne Kaminski (17 carries, 64 yards), Kenny Kern and Noah Sorrento –- and let the defense take over.
And boy, did they take over. Led by junior defensive end Joe Gaziano (four sacks, two tackles for loss, interception) and Dan Benvie (sack), the Hawks dropped Boxers (2-3) quarterback Pat Burke for six sacks on the afternoon. The Boxers have been known to create confusion at the point of attack with its “Flex Bone” option scheme, but there were no such tricks today, as the Hawks routinely filled the interior gaps and muddied what has been at times a pretty crisp three-headed backfield.
Perhaps most impressive was the Hawk defense’s ability to get off the field quickly. Brockton had just two first downs on the afternoon and crossed the 50-yard line into Hawk territory just twice, both times coming in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks sealed it late in the fourth quarter when Burke’s screen pass attempt was broken up, then returned 57 yards to the house on a tip-drill pick-six. Sorrento was there to greet the Brockton running back in the right flat, squaring up his shoulders as the back attempted to haul in the pass and slamming into his midsection. The ball took a high bounce off of the player’s shoulder pads, and Kerns was there to pluck the ball out of the air and take it down the left sideline to paydirt.
“I’m really happy with the way our guys hung in there,” Stevenson said. “They [Brockton] are a really physical team. They’re getting much better from week to week. When I see the way they played early on to now, they’re playing very very well defensively.”
Brockton has allowed just 20 points in its last two games, but its offense has some kinks to work out following a second straight shutout loss. The Boxers have not scored a point in the last eight quarters, and have produced just 182 yards of offense over that same timespan.
Joe of all trades: Of all the Swiss Army knives in Stevenson’s drawer this fall, Gaziano might be the sharpest. Few athletes in the Catholic Conference have demonstrated as much versatility as the 6-foot-3, 230-pound five-technique end.
Offensively, he had one of the most impressive plays of the game at tight end, hauling in a 21-yard pass from Farrell in which he used his long outstretched arms to wrestle the ball away from two Brockton defenders dogging him all over. He also factored into the running game, setting the edge for the Hawks’ stable of backs.
In special teams, Gaziano is everywhere. His punts at times can pin the opposition deep, and he registered a touchback today kicking the ball off. In the return game, he is a constant threat to block a punt (the Hawks registered another one today), and also excels at blocking for returners.
Defensively, his prowess is already well-known. He is a rangy player with a long, athletic frame, that they take full advantage of. In one second-half play, Gaziano got hang time as he leaped high to pick off a middle screen from Burke. Gaziano is also called on occasionally to drop back into pass coverage from the defensive end spot.
“Gaziano is a beast,” Stevenson said. “Gaziano had a great game today, he picked off the screen pass they tried and sacked the quarterback at huge times –- it’s not just that he had a sack, [he had them] at huge times in the game. He’s a good player for us, and I’m glad he’s going to Xaverian High School again next year. He’s just getting better week to week.
“We certainly were concerned about their perimeter game, we didn’t want to let their speed guys outside, so he was coming up field a little more than we normally do. He’s such a good athlete that he can do that kind of stuff and come back down inside if we need him to. As you guys know, he’s a jack of all trades.”
XAVERIAN 14, BROCKTON 0
BR 0 0 0 0 --- 0
XB 7 0 0 7 --- 14
Jake Farrell 21 run (Matt Rogers kick) :06
Kenny Kern 57 interception return (Rogers kick) :47