St. John the Baptist has a rich history of CHSFL playoff meetings against Xavier. The Cougars have faced them four times during the past 10 seasons, twice in a title game and twice in a semifinal. But after Sunday’s regular-season meeting, SJB might have some catching up to do if it is going write another postseason chapter with the Knights.
St. John the Baptist got off to a scintillating start, taking the opening possession 60 yards for a touchdown. However, the key plays in the drive — a 41-yard pass from Nicholas Mazziotti to Nicholas DelCore and a 4-yard scoring pass from Mazziotti to Christian Maisel — ended up being the highlights of the Cougars’ afternoon.
Xavier pushed to the lead with a pair of TDs before halftime and then dominated the second half for a 42-7 AA East Division road victory. It was the 100th career victory for Knights coach Chris Stevens (100-75). And Manhattan’s Xavier (2-0) seems to be one of the teams to beat in its division this season, as expected.
West Islip’s St. John the Baptist (1-1) hung tough in the first half. The Knights got within 7-6 on Evan Murphy’s 4-yard touchdown run and grabbed a 12-7 lead with a 13-play drive that covered 70 yards and ended with Murphy hitting Frank Bernie with a 7-yard TD pass. The Cougars had a shot to retake the lead before halftime when Anthony Bossone recovered a fumble but they couldn’t get closer than Xavier’s 34-yard line before turning it over on downs.
It was at that point that the Knights’ big and physical defense became the biggest factor in the game. After the half ended at 12-7, the Cougars gained yardage on only five of 17 running plays.
“It was a very good game in the first half,” SJB coach Ralph Carusillo Jr. said. “Then they stymied our run game. They did a great job filling up the box. Xavier looked like a very well-prepared team . . . They kind of wore us down in the second half. You saw that with the second-half score.”
Said Stevens: “We’re talented. The interior six on defense is very physical . . . and the offensive line is pretty physical. What we do can accumulate on teams. It’s not sexy, but by the third and fourth quarters guys get worn down. Then we start ripping bigger [plays].”
The Cougars’ second-half slide began with a fumble deep in their own territory. Xavier’s Danny Vittaburga ran for a 6-yard touchdown on the ensuing play. Then he carried on six of seven plays in a 66-yard scoring drive that ended with his 9-yard TD run and made it 24-7. Vittaburga rushed 24 times for 148 yards and the two scores.
The Knights were a tough early-season test for the Cougars, but not only because of their size and physicality. Xavier runs a single-wing offense that, given the number of shifts and players in motion, is a very hard read.
“They do a great job,” Carusillo said. “They are very precise with what they do.”
“You really have to concentrate. We did a good job focusing up,” Bossone said. “They just had a few good plays where they got good yardage [against] us. This is a good learning experience for us at this point in the season. It’s one of the best teams in our league and it’s good to be challenged early. It lets you know what has to improve.”
Said Carusillo: “It is what it is — they played better today. But we end up seeing each other almost every year in the playoffs. I think we’ll be ready.”