Cardinal Hayes High School of the Bronx claimed its first Catholic High School Football League Class AAA championship with a 41-39 victory over two-time defending champ Archbishop Stepinac High School of White Plains at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Garden City on Nov. 19.
The Cardinals will play Canisius of Buffalo for the Catholic high school state championship on Sunday, Dec. 4.
Iona Prep of New Rochelle and Moore Catholic High School of Staten Island also captured 2016 Catholic High School Football League titles on Nov. 19 to end their seasons on a winning note. Iona Prep won its first Class AA title since 2000 with a 35-14 victory over Holy Trinity of Hicksville. Moore Catholic captured its first Class A title since 2003 with a 32-22 win over Cardinal Spellman of the Bronx.
Cardinal Hayes, which is marking its 75th anniversary as a school this year, avenged losses to Archbishop Stepinac from earlier this season and in the 2015 title game. The Cardinals became the first program in history to win the Class A, AA and AAA championships.
Cardinal Hayes won four of its last five regular-season games to earn a fourth seed for the league playoffs.
“It’s a testimony to the kids. We started the season 0-3 and were decimated by injuries. They kept their eyes focused forward,” Cardinal Hayes coach C.J. O’Neil told CNY.
Quarterback Christian Anderson threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns to lead Cardinal Hayes to the league championship. Lucas Nunez caught four passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns, and Carlos Fernandez ran for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Archbishop Stepinac quarterback Michael Nicosia completed 20 of 31 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns.
“(Archbishop Stepinac) played a great game. Stepinac would keep answering and we had to keep coming back. At the end of the day, we had a couple of more points than they did,” O’Neil said.
In Class AA, Iona Prep, coming off a 2-9 season, welcomed new coach Joe Spagnolo, a former Archbishop Stepinac assistant head coach, this fall. The Gaels, who averaged 39 points per game, surrendered only one defensive touchdown in three playoff games and recorded shutouts in the three games leading to its matchup with Holy Trinity.
“The kids worked really really hard to turn things around. We really had a great year and I’m really proud of the kids for what they’ve done,” Spagnolo, a 1998 graduate of Iona Prep, told CNY. The Gaels will return 15 starters for 2017.
“We’re further along than I thought we’d be at this point,” he said.
Iona Prep took over the title game with 15 unanswered third-quarter points to take a 28-7 lead. Rodney Samson caught an 86-yard touchdown pass from Michael Apostolopoulos and completed a long drive later in the quarter with a 27-yard touchdown run.
Samson finished with 111 rushing yards and three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving.
Moore Catholic finished unbeaten against Class A opponents this season after beating Cardinal Spellman for the league title.
The Mavericks scored three second-quarter touchdowns to take an 18-0 halftime lead. Cardinal Spellman closed the deficit to 18-14 in the fourth quarter before Moore Catholic answered with a three-yard touchdown by Justin Lacks and a two-point conversion run by Bryan Perez to take a 26-14 lead with 5:22 remaining.
Lacks ran for 141 yards and four touchdowns, and quarterback Vincenzo Scarola threw for 130 yards and a touchdown to pace Moore Catholic. For Cardinal Spellman, Rodney N’Guessan had 78 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.