For Naim Jones, the CHSFL Senior Bowl on Sunday provided the running back a chance to showcase his powerful stiff-arm move and speed -- and his passing skills, too.
It was easy for Jones to fly under the radar while playing for St. Anthony's this season because the Friars' premier halfback was Jordan Gowins, who earned the Hansen Award as Suffolk's top player. However, Jones also was an integral part of the Friars' CHSFL championship.
And he was the main reason why Long Island clawed back against New York City in a game that ended in a 23-23 tie at Mitchel Athletic Complex.
Jones ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. But on a designed halfback pass on a two-point conversion attempt, it was a pass from Jones to Samir Sinclair (Holy Cross) that tied it with 44 seconds left.
"After I took the pitch, I thought there was nobody out there and I was going to have to try and run it in, but then I saw we had someone wide open," Jones said.
Chaminade tight end Jack Graffagnino was anything but wide open on the touchdown that cut the Island's deficit to 23-21. Smothered by a City defender, Graffagnino jumped high and caught a pass thrown by Kellenberg's Kyle Driscoll on fourth-and-12 from the 20, and somehow managed to keep his feet in bounds in the corner of the end zone when he landed.
"I still don't know how that happened," Graffagnino said. "It's a pretty cool feeling to make that kind of play in this game."
Jones knows the feeling. After Island fell behind 17-0 at halftime, Jones ran for a 55-yard touchdown on the team's first play of the second half. He ran right, stiff-armed a defender, stiff-armed another defender, then reversed field and went untouched.
"I saw that it was closed up, so I had to come back the other way," said Jones, who scored on a two-point conversion on the next play to make it 17-8. "I make sure that when I go to the other side, I go up the field to gain at least something. You can't lose yards when you cut back, because cutting back the other way is already a bad thing. Coaches hate it sometimes."
Not Sunday. Trailing 20-8 early in the fourth, Driscoll hit Matt Isnardi (Chaminade) with a 35-yard pass, and Jones capped the two-play drive with a 3-yard TD run to the right, after cutting back from the left to cut the deficit to 20-15 (after Louis Capace's extra point). The City made it 23-15 on a field goal.
Jones was named offensive MVP for the Island, and Holy Trinity's Nicholas Covino was MVP on the defensive side.
"My coaches told me I should play today because it would be fun," Jones said. "So I said to myself, why not, I'll have fun. I thought it'd be nice to get into the end zone a couple of times."