The two teams, rated No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, did not disappoint, as a tough defensive battle ensued, with Holy Cross coming out on top, 7-0, thanks to a touchdown pass in the final two minutes of play.
"They have tremendous athletes," Holy Cross head coach Tom Pugh said of the host Royals. "They are the best physical team with athletic ability that we've played. I'm real proud of our kids to come away with a win like that."
The game, however, was marked by controversy, including a Christ the King touchdown in the first quarter that was waved off for offensive pass interference and a fourth quarter field goal by Holy Cross that was waved off after the ensuing kickoff.
But despite several questionable calls on both sides of the ball, the game lived up to expectation as both clubs battled on even terms throughout the game, until the Knights put together one last drive that proved to be the difference.
"I don't want to take anything from them," Christ the King head coach Mike Cassidy said. "They made the plays when they had to. We had our chances."
The Royals seemed to take the advantage early, taking their opening drive near midfield before punting and getting the ball back two plays later when Cross running back Woody Aime coughed up the ball on the Knights' 30.
The Royals went right to work, as quarterback Malcolm Gibson tossed to sophomore Dexter Hall in the end zone. Hall spun in the end zone, hauling the ball just inside the pylon for what appeared to be the first score of the game. But he was flagged for offensive pass interference, moving the Royals back to the 45.
Gibson was sacked on third-and-10 at the 35, forcing the Royals to punt.
What followed was a battle of field position. Neither team managed to get past the 50-yard line for the remainder of the first half, as middle linebackers Jonathan Campbell of Christ the King and Holy Cross' Dale Robinson dominated defensively.
On their first possession of the second half, the Knights marched downfield behind the running of Aime and Dwayne Franklin. The drive finally stalled on the Royals' 19, setting up a 35-yard field goal attempt by quarterback/place kicker Michael Braunstein that was wide left.
Neither team could do anything offensively on the next two possessions, but a Cross punt after going three-and-out pinned the Royals on their own 1-yard line. When the Knights failed to gain a first down, Christ the King's punt was short, giving the Knights first-and-10 on the CK 40.
A 24-yard pass from Braunstein to Aime on third-and-21 put the Knights on the Royals' 21 and, three plays later, the two hooked up again as Aime was brought down at the CK 3. Two straight runs produced only 1 yard and on an attempted sweep on third-and-goal, the ball fell to the turf, with the Knights recovering on the 14.
With 8:18 to go in the game, Braunstein lined up for the 31-yard attempt, which he booted with plenty of distance. There was no immediate signal from the field, but the officials conferred and placed the ball on the Cross 40 for the kickoff. The field goal was announced as good, giving the Knights a 3-0 lead.
The Royals returned the ball to their own 22 and the CK offense took the field. Another lengthy conference on the field ensued, with the head official calling both head coaches out to midfield. After about five minutes, the official announced that the field goal was no good and Christ the King had the ball at the 20.
"You can't take points off the board after another play [is run]," Pugh said of the call, which prompted an immediate protest of the game.
"It was a weird night," Cassidy said.
The Royals got as far as the Cross 40 before punting to the Knights, who put together the drive of the game.
Starting on their own 16, Cross used a mixture of run and pass to move the ball effectively. After a 16-yard pass to Aime on third-and-10 to the Royals' 39, Braunstein tried to connect with Douglas Anderwkavich on a crossing pattern. Anderwkavich bobbled the ball several times before teammate Chris Carlsen snatched the ball out of the air and was taken down at the 8-yard line.
"[Anderwkavich] has great hands, but he really lost control of it," Pugh said. [Carlsen] saw it and he just grabbed the ball."
On third-and-goal from the 8, Braunstein scrambled for what seemed to be an eternity, finally rolling right and finding Carlsen amid a mass of bodies in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Braunstein's extra point was good, giving the Knights a 7-0 lead with 1:46 remaining in the game.
"[Braunstein's] really poised this year," Pugh said. "He makes smart decisions and he doesn't put the ball up for grabs. His decision-making is excellent. More often than not he goes to his second read.
"That was a great drive."
The Royals threatened to come back immediately, converting a fourth-and-10 pass to Jeffrey Wilkins, who flipped the ball to Tommy Johnson, who was dragged down at the Knights' 48. Gibson passed to Steve Shell for 11 more yards before the Knights' defense closed the door.
Gibson was sacked twice in three plays by Ryan Flanagan and Daniel Foppiano, forcing the bruised quarterback out of the game. Shell took over for the final play, a Hail Mary pass that was intercepted by Victor Parsley to end the game.
"I thought the game was a really good game," Cassidy said. "It was a defensive struggle, back-and-forth and both teams played the game like a football game should be played."
Braunstein as 13-of-17 for 159 yards and Aime led the way for the Knights on the ground with 96 yards. Robinson finished the game with 12 tackles and three sacks.
The Knights, now 3-3, will travel to take on a beleaguered Chaminade team Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hofstra University. The Royals, now 2-4, have the unenviable task of traveling to face Monsignor Farrell for the Lions' homecoming in Staten Island Saturday.
St. Francis Prep 3, Chaminade 0. The Terriers upped their league record to 3-3 with a win over the Flyers Saturday. Michael DaSilva's 31-yard field goal in the first quarter was all the offense St. Francis needed. Fullback Chris Zambrano led the team with 78 yards. Prep will travel to face Kellenberg Memorial Saturday at 4 p.m.
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