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St. Francis advances to ‘AA’ championship

Chris Zambrano led the way for Prep in the win, carrying the ball 17 times for 105 yards and both St. Francis touchdowns. But perhaps the defining performance or lack thereof was that of Trinity's Bernard Plaia, the CHSFL's all-purpose yard leader at season's end.

Plaia was held to just 60 yards on 19 attempts by a stingy Prep defense that made the big plays all game long. The Titans threatened to score more than once in this semifinals contest, but managed only a 21-yard third quarter field goal.

"I think it's a tremendous accomplishment by these young people," said St. Francis head coach Vince O'Connor. "The defense has been carrying us. This win establishes our offense."

Prep racked up 259 yards on total offense in the win, including a 51-yard drive in the first quarter that led to Zambrano's first touchdown, a 3-yard plunge. The score was set up by a 32-yard run by the Bayside resident, who plays full-time on both sides of the ball.

"He's just an outstanding football player," O'Connor said.

The Terriers threatened again later in the first quarter, driving to the Trinity 18 before Prep's usually reliable Michael DaSilva missed a 35-yard field goal. The ball was brought out to the 20 and Trinity quickly went to work.

A 33-yard run by Jerrell Jenkins and a pass interference penalty gave Trinity first-and-10 at the Prep 17. But a key sack by Guiseppe Roccisano pushed the Titans back to the 22. Anthony Controne's 8-yard completion to Plaia was not enough on fourth down and Prep regained possession.

The Terriers attempted to capitalize on a Daniel Ibanez fumble recovery at the Trinity 23, but could not take advantage of excellent field position and set up to attempt another 35-yard field goal. Prep, however, tried a fake and quarterback Brian Forman was taken down in the backfield.

The Terriers went three-and-out to open the second half, setting up Trinity's lone scoring drive. Starting at their own 46, the Titans relied heavily on Plaia and Controne to work the ball to the Prep 4. Controne booted a 21-yard field goal with 7:24 remaining in the third to make the score 7-3.

St. Francis missed an opportunity to extend its lead when DaSilva missed from 23 yards early in the fourth - set up by a 53-yard sneak by Forman.

But the Terriers would eventually widen the gap. With Trinity facing third-and-6 at its own 35 and Lamore Higgins in at quarterback for the shaken up Controne, the Titans botched the snap, which was pounced on by Brian Gill at the 32.

Zambrano, Peter Barthelemy and Forman worked the ball to the 1-yard line before a holding penalty moved the Terriers back to the 14. Zambrano carried for 6 and then 8 yards to score his second touchdown of the day with only 49 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Iona Prep Gales enter Saturday's contest with a 5-4 record and the distinction of being a team with more power points than two ball clubs, Chaminade and Christ the King, that made the 'AAA" playoffs. They are led by running back Billy Banks and receiver Tim McDonnell and a big offensive line.

"They're much bigger than we are physically," O'Connor said. "That always poses a lot of problems. They're a very well coached team and they're winners."

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