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Terriers keeping AAA playoff hopes alive

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When the St. Francis Prep Terriers hosted the two-time defending Catholic High School Football League champion Monsignor Farrell Lions on Sunday, it was a big moment for the Terriers. Forget that the Lions were 1-3 overall and in league play and lost nearly all of their starters from last year’s championship squad. They still carry some cachet.

More importantly, a win would keep the Terriers in the hunt for the AAA playoffs. When the day started, St. Francis was ranked fifth in a league that awards AAA playoff births to the top eight teams based on power rankings.

St. Francis (3-3, 3-2 CHSFL) seized the moment, defeating the Lions 21-12 at DaSilva Memorial Field at St. John’s University. The win kept the team’s playoff hopes alive and that it came against one of the finer programs in the city was a confidence builder.

“The kids have goals and to be among the top teams in the division is one of them,” St. Francis head coach Vince O’Connor said. “If you beat teams that come from a championship program, that’s a very big psychological boost.”

“We want to bring back the tradition [of being in the AAA playoffs],” said senior Brian Forman. “We had to win this game to have the chance to get there.”

The Lions (1-4, 1-4), running a rare formation of three receivers and one running back, committed costly turnovers early and late. The mistakes stopped any Farrell momentum and aided the Terriers offense, which had trouble moving the ball.

On the Lions first possession, receiver Jason Gioia grabbed a 12-yard pass, but fumbled it when defensive back Alfred Foy nailed him in the secondary. Forman recovered the loose ball and raced down the sideline, slipping away from three would-be tacklers for a 60-yard touchdown.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” Forman said. “The ball bounced right into my hands and I got every block I needed to score.”

Yet another mistake prevented the Lions from tying the game at the end of the first. Running back Kern Collymore broke free for a 56-yard touchdown run, but the play was negated when Gioia was flagged for an unnecessary clip behind the play.

Late in the second, Bacci contributed to the Lions’ woes with a fumble at the team’s own 1-yard-line. The Terriers wasted little time capitalizing on the gift. Chris Zambrano punched the ball in the end zone on the next play from scrimmage. Adam Tanalski added the extra point for a 14-3 halftime lead.

“These things happen when you have a young and inexperienced team,” Farrell head coach Ben Sarullo said of his team’s mistakes. “It’s hard to make up for lack of experience. It takes a lot of hard work.”

The Lions clawed their way back in the game behind the impressive running of Collymore. He totaled 44 yards on a third quarter drive, allowing Matthew Magrone to split the uprights with his second 39-yard field goal of the game. The field goal made the score 14-12 with 5:30 left in the third.

“I admire the way the kids fought. They didn’t give up,” Sarullo said. “That’s one positive thing I will take from this game.”

Another plus for the Lions was the terrific running of Collymore. He scored the teams lone touchdown on the second play of the third, dashing 56 yards on a draw play. Running from the spread out formation, Collymore had 19 carries, many on draws, for 170 yards. But he was shut down in the fourth.

Offensive standout Forman made significant contributions on defense, too. In addition to his fumble return, the Ridgewood native intercepted a pass at the end of the third to set up a one-yard touchdown plunge by Zambrano. He stayed busy in the secondary, breaking up plays against the pass-minded Lions.

Zambrano’s second one-yard score with 10:29 left in the game sealed the win. He finished with 82 yards on 22 carries. He too pitched in on defense by pressuring the quarterback and slowing down Collymore in the fourth.

“[Forman and Zambrano] contribute on both sides of the ball despite the wear and tear of the game,” O’Connor said. “When the other players see them giving that effort, it’s inspirational. It’s a tremendous boost for the team.”

The Terriers’ kicking game was also a significant part of the victory.

Quarterback Peter Mazzurco had little success throwing the ball (0-for-6, 55 yards rushing), but his punting was sensational. He twice pinned the Lions inside the 10. Tanalski booted three extra points in three attempts.

The Terriers take to the road next week, traveling to Brooklyn for a game with the Xaverian Clippers Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Reach contributing writer Adam Martini by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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