Robert McGee was exhausted. The St. Anthony’s quarterback peeled off his jersey and shoulder pads to reveal multiple welts and scratches. The hard-hitting Franklin Indians traveled 260 miles from the state of Maryland to put the hurt on St. Anthony’s.
And that they did, sacking McGee 11 times and forcing five turnovers.
The big-play capability of the Franklin offense and the athleticism of the Indians’ defense was too much for St. Anthony’s in the season opener for both squads. Franklin quarterback Vernon Brown threw two long touchdown passes and also ran for a score in a 33-15 win over St. Anthony’s in South Huntington on Saturday. Maryland’s defending AAA state champs looked in mid-season form, clicking for more than 450 yards of total offense.
“We were exposed in some areas,” St. Anthony’s first-year coach Joe Minucci said. “We’re young and inexperienced and they exploited the areas where we’re still unsettled. It’s still a good test to start the season but perhaps the most disappointing thing was that we didn’t take care of the ball.”
Turnovers and penalties sabotaged the Friars chance of victory. McGee had a 40-yard touchdown run in the first quarter negated by a block in the back. And then the most critical turnover of all came late in the first quarter with St. Anthony’s leading 7-0. McGee broke free on a 13-yard run and charged toward the goal line to try to give the Friars a two-touchdown advantage.
“Just as I reached the end zone I got stripped and they recovered for a touchback,” McGee said. “It was definitely the turning point. If we go up two scores right there, they’re in trouble.”
Franklin coach Anthony Burgos, a three-sport star at Wyandanch who graduated in 1995, agreed with McGee’s assessment.
“St. Anthony’s had an opportunity to take a two-score lead and that forced fumble was a momentum changer,” said Burgos, who has led Franklin to three state titles in the past five years. “We were tested and outplayed early because we weren’t quite ready. Our guys are resilient and believed we’d put it together. Now the 260-mile trip going back home will be much better.”
St. Anthony’s opened the game with a long touchdown march capped by a Mario Escobar 33-yard touchdown run for the 7-0 lead. Franklin ripped off the next three scores to go into the half with a 20-7 lead. Junior halfback Jhavon Reames raced through the Friars secondary on 80- and 90-yard touchdown runs before Brown added a 1-yard plunge for the two-score lead.
“I’ve been planning to come to New York for 12 years and challenge our players against a great program like St. Anthony’s,” said Burgos, in his 18th year at the helm. “It’s a great experience to go out of state, stay overnight, and play top notch competition.”
Brown continued to shred the Friars defense in the third quarter when he connected with Anthony Morante for a 52-yard touchdown and a 26-7 lead. McGee, who carried 19 times for 123 yards, responded with an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by an Escobar 3-yard scoring run to make it 26-15 with 5:29 left in the third quarter.
But Brown sealed it with a 60-yard bomb over the top of the defense, hitting MeKai Felton in stride for a touchdown and the final margin.
On St. Anthony’s final drive, McGee moved the Friars 71 yards despite getting sacked four times, including three plays in a row.
“We’ll learn from the loss, stick together, and get it right next week,” he said.