WESTWOOD, Mass. – After his Hawks had won, Xaverian head coach Charlie Stevenson stood at midfield.
His team, down the field near the goal line, was waiting on him to deliver his postgame remarks. Instead, Stevenson was at midfield talking to a member of the opposing team. He held a hand to the side of Connor Walsh’s helmet, lightly tapping it to the syncopations of words he spoke. He asked the BC High tight end whether he was, in fact, a senior, and then quipped that he was relieved he’d never again have to coach against the 6-foot-3, 225-pound, two-way player.
“He had a great game, a great season and a great career,” Stevenson said of his interaction with Walsh. “I told him to have a great college career as well. I just wanted to tell him he’s a great player.”
Xaverian and BC High struggled to a 3-3 at the end of regulation in Saturday’s Division 1 South semi-final between the old Catholic Conference rivals.
At the game’s end, bad luck seemed to follow BC High at every turn. The Eagles had an opportunity to salt away the clock and attempt a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation time, but a fumble on a botched handoff returned the ball to the Hawks inside of the 2-minute warning.
Even when the Eagles had the chance to force a second overtime, the 2-point conversion pass fell to ground, following a near incredulous effort by Walsh to make what would have been a circus catch.
Sometimes there are greater forces at hand in football.
Stevenson alluded to the divine during the postgame. After dealing with a health issue in recent weeks, which even forced the 20-season veteran from the sideline, missing a regular-season game last month, a reflective Stevenson said he’d been asking a lot from the man upstairs of late.
The Hawks won, 11-9.
Stifling defense: Both offenses struggled to find pace through the first half, with both offenses combining for just 223 yards of offense through the first 22.
While the only points of regulation were scored in the first half, with Xaverian’s Matt Rogers connecting on a 22-yard field goal before the Eagles’ Matt Johnson snuck one over the crossbar from 32 yards out in the second quarter, BC High was fortunate to be locked in a tie game after the Hawks forced two turnovers.
The Eagles’ opening drive of the game was derailed by Joe Gaziano’s strip-sack, at the BC High 34-yard line. BC High’s second drive didn’t fair much better, as Xaverian junior defensive back Ernest Simon intercepted Sean Holleran.
The Eagles came away with a crucial pick as well in the fourth quarter, when Will Johnson hauled in a tip-drill interception, halting a Hawks drive which had entered BC High territory.
However, the most crucial turnover of the game unfolded nearing the final minute of regulation. A botched handoff by the Eagles resulted in a loose ball, which Gaziano (2 sacks, FF, FR) quickly pounced on with 1:03 remaining. The giveaway came after the Eagles had marched 54 yards on seven plays, with senior running back Ismail Asongwed (16 carries, 92 yards) accounting for 52 of those yards on rushes.
“The defense was outstanding,” Xaverian quarterback Jake Farrell said. “Again, we let up under ten points, or even under seven points in a game, they get one field goal. They weren’t moving the ball on us that much.
“Our linebacker corps and our defensive line is just stepping it up. It’s really hard to run the ball against us. When you do have to pass, we have a great secondary that can step up and make a lot of plays for us.”
Mixing things up: While Xaverian’s offense was ineffectual, at times, Farrell learned some timely lessons from a couple of miscues in regulation.
Farrell (12 of 20 pass attempts, 159 yards; 8 rushes, 46 yards, TD) earned the Hawks’ lone touchdown of the game, taking in a 5-yard rush on second down during the overtime session. The play-call was a check-with-me, meaning it was a discretion play, in which Farrell checked down to the run after scoping out the coverage against a preliminary pass call.
He chose wisely. However, the dive-option play Farrell checked into hadn’t gone so swimmingly earlier in the contest.
“It’s a just read play up the middle to Kenny [Kern],” the junior signal-caller said. “Earlier in the game, I gave it to Kenny when I should’ve kept it. I had that in the back of my head. Then, I saw an opening and I just kept going.”
The result was a perfectly executed permutation of a second option.
“We were expecting that dive-option,” Eagles head coach Joe Gaff said. “[Farrell] did a tremendous job pulling it. He read the D-end, he went down and did a nice job pulling it. We’d done a nice job stopping that all game, but that’s we he’s a good player. He read it and he got in there.”
Kern’s successful 2-point conversion run then put pull pressure on BC High’s offense to respond.
To counter, Holleran dialed up his prettiest throw of the afternoon, hitting Asongwed on a crossing pattern for a 13-yard score.
As the Eagles were forced to go for two to extend the game into a second overtime, Walsh couldn’t corral Holleran’s pass to the near right-hand side pylon and the Hawk Bowl’s faithful streamed onto the field.
The No. 1 seed Hawks will host No. 2 seed Attleboro for the sectional championship next Saturday in Westwood.