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St. Francis falls to Iona in ‘AA’ title game

St. Francis had ample chances in the game which pitted the two remaining teams in the 'AA' playoffs. The Terriers had the ball at their own 20-yard line with 4:57 remaining in the game, but on the second play of the drive, quarterback Brian Forman's shovel pass was knocked free from running back Eric Maiorino and intercepted by a diving Frank Meade at the 23-yard line.

One play later running back Billy Banks swept right and beat the defense to the corner, racing untouched to the end zone to put Iona up by 10 with 4:02 remaining, all but assuring the Gaels of victory.

"I think we played as hard as we could," said St. Francis Prep linebacker Marc Perez. "I think we had a few mental errors and that's when they got their big plays. We had opportunities, but just messed up a couple of times."

Iona jumped out on top in the first quarter after neither team did much with their first possessions. Starting at the Terriers' 41-yard line following Tim McDonnell's 9-yard punt return, the Gaels went to work. A 2-yard run by Banks set up a 15-yard pass from quarterback John O'Neill to Nick Ramunto to the Prep 24. Banks capped the drive two plays later with a 15-yard scamper for six.

Brian O'Shea's extra point attempt was no good, but the Gaels went on top 6-0 with 5:15 remaining in the first quarter.

St. Francis appeared to be working toward a score of its own on the following drive. Taking over at their own 22, the Terriers used the running of Eric Dolderer and Chris Zambrano to break into Iona territory and a pass interference penalty on third-and-6 put St. Francis on the Iona 32.

After Maiorino was stopped for a 4-yard loss and incomplete pass, Forman took a quick drop and fired toward Zambrano in the flat on third-and-14. But Iona's Todd Debiak read the play perfectly and picked off the ball, returning it to the St. Francis 48.

Iona went back to work on the ground, with Banks carrying three times for 26 yards before the drive stalled at the Prep 16. O'Shea's 33-yard field goal was good, giving Iona a 9-0 lead with 11:09 remaining in the second quarter.

St. Francis finally broke the ice on its next drive, using a steady diet of rushing to advance the ball into Gaels' territory. Zambrano, Dolderer, Pete Barthelemy and Forman all carried the ball on the drive, but it was Forman's 22-yard pass to Maiorino that was the key play on the dive, bringing the ball down to the Iona 11.

Four plays later Zambrano bulled his way into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Kicker Michael DaSilva's extra point was good, pulling Prep to within two, 9-7, with 4:03 left on the clock before the half.

After Iona went three and out and O'Shea shanked the punt, giving Prep the ball at the Gaels' 45, the Terriers found themselves driving for the go-ahead score with 2:17 to go in the second.

Forman hit Jason Phillip for 16 yards to the 29, then tried to thread the needle to Maiorino deep over the middle. Meade picked off the pass and was brought down at the Iona 8, ending the Prep threat.

"In a competitive game when you get the opportunity you must convert," said St. Francis Prep coach Vince O'Connor. "We didn't capitalize."

Both teams showed they could move the ball in the second, just as both defenses continued to close the door whenever the other team got close.

Iona got as far as the Prep 12 on its first possession of the second half before a personal foul pushed the team back to the 29. Iona failed to convert on fourth-and-26, turning the ball over on downs at the St. Francis 21.

The Gaels got back into enemy territory early in the fourth quarter, courtesy of the passing game. O'Neill connected with McDonnell four times on the drive for completions of 16, 6, 9 and 10 yards. Two runs got the ball to the Terriers' 14 and O'Neill's pass to McDonnell on third-and-8 was caught, but ruled out of bounds. O'Shea's attempt at a 31-yard field goal was no good.

Prep had plenty of time to get the final score it needed to catch Iona, but when Forman's pass was jarred free by the Iona defense, Meade made a great play on the ball to haul it in and give the Gaels possession.

Banks' 23-yard touchdown followed to seal the win.

"They were the better football team," O'Connor said of the Gaels, coached by former St. Francis Terrier Jeff Napolitano. "They certainly played the better game. They were very well prepared. I believe we played our best."

"They're a good team," Perez said. "We worked as hard as we could to play our best. We just came up short."

Iona improved to 6-4 with the win, while St. Francis fell to 6-5.

McDonnell and O'Neill led Iona's offense, hooking up seven times for 70 yards, while Banks balanced the attack with 106 yards on 24 carries. Zambrano led St. Francis with 43 yards on 11 carries.

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