Virtually nothing about sports has looked normal for the past eight months because of the coronavirus pandemic. So it was the case again on Saturday as the Catholic High School Football League began its best attempt at a fall season on the gridiron despite the many restrictions imposed by state and local health officials.
New York is one of 25 states not playing high school tackle football this fall and, on Long Island, the public schools have postponed all sports until the calendar turns to 2021.
Long Island Catholic schools are having seasons in sports that are permitted and six of them are playing 7-on-7 flag football — where there is no line play, no pass rush and no rushing plays — but with a wrinkle. Pulling a flag off a player could require a lot of contact, so the league is going with single-hand touch.
The sport made its debut on Saturday and there were things that looked familiar. The play was competitive and the games taut, the camaraderie was excellent and there was some crisp passing.
However, there were other things that made the new varsity sport look very unfamiliar. Most teams eschewed their uniform jerseys for unnumbered t-shirts. There were no spectators permitted and student-athletes got temperature checks. And some schools used players in both their varsity ‘A’ games and their varsity ‘B’ games, blurring the lines between the two.
Chaminade pulled out a 26-25 win at St. Anthony’s when star back Mario Fischetti made a reception for a 12-yard gain and a first down that used up the final seconds of the 22-minute running clock in the second half.
"I cut it hard outside the sticks and I saw the ball coming," Fischetti said, "and I knew ‘I have to catch this or else we are going to lose."
Added Flyers linebacker Anthony D’Agostino, citing the longstanding rivalry between Chaminade and the Friars, "any way we can beat them is just awesome and a lot of fun. It was really important for us to come out with a win, start 1-0."
Kellenberg and St. John the Baptist played two games with a few players appearing in both. Kellenberg won the featured game, 45-29, and the Cougars won the second, 49-38. The Firebirds’ Ethan-Kiyh Greenwood threw for 11 touchdowns in the two games and SJB’s Randolph Ramnarace threw for six scores in the second game.
"It was just about execution," Greenwood said. "Some of the guys I’ve been working with in the offseason and some of them just started playing. . . . [This] is to get better for March, if we have a season."
"It’s not 11-on-11 football, but it’s still football and the kids got to compete," SJB coach Phil Alba said.
Host St. Dominic fell to Holy Cross, 26-12.
The CHSFL plans to play its traditional football season in a compressed schedule in March and April. The season being played now could give programs a head start. Chaminade coach Kevin Dolan this week said "we have a chance to develop great communications between the quarterback, wide receivers and running back that could serve us later on."
The CHSFL’s fall foray into flag football was greeted with real enthusiasm on the Island, which saw high school sports halted by the COVID-19 outbreak in the second week of March and the entire spring season wiped out.
At Chaminade approximately 175 players showed up for the first day of workouts and tryouts. St. Dominic has approximately 35 players in its program and without the need to field a number of linemen it’s is trying to compete this season against the powerhouses. As Bayhawks coach Andrew Caramico said "we’re a small school, but our kids are looking forward to taking a shot at the big schools."
The six football-playing Catholic schools on Long Island — Holy Trinity plays Sunday — will be competing in a division with three Queens schools: Christ the King, Holy Cross and St. Francis Prep.
"(Some) kids in this society don’t know what loss is. They don’t know what sacrifice is because they’ve never had anything taken away from them," Kellenberg coach Kevin Hanafin said. "Well, March 11 the world changed. Best lacrosse player in the school didn’t touch a lacrosse stick, best baseball player didn’t touch a baseball. They learned about losing something.
"So now there’s talk about losing football and it happened to a certain extent? But our league . . . said ‘we can do this.’ It’s worth it."
Laura Amato and Owen O’Brien contributed to this story.