By Joe Kozinski
SOUTH BEND — The biggest contest of the season would pit the two big dogs of the Inter-City Catholic League against each other with only one able to claim the title of champion at Father Bly Field at Saint Joseph High School.
The playoffs had left only two teams standing, the regular season champs, the Saints of Mishawaka Catholic and the runner-up Panthers of St. Anthony.
The regular season meeting had the Saints narrowly beating the Panthers on a successful points-after kick by Miguel Ortiz creating a revenge atmosphere in the St. Anthony locker room.
The theme for the entire battle amongst the two juggernauts would be defense. Both teams dug into the turf field and dared the other to advance the pigskin.
Mishawaka Catholic’s offense — quarterback Josh Gill and running backs Charlie Maxwell, Thadeous Horvath and Michael Schafer — would try as they may to pierce the Panther line and gain yardage.
The Panther offense abounded with skill players of their own adorned with the likes of Tyler DeBoe, Kenzel Kelly, Mitchell Floran and quarterback Luke Leonard.
With all of the firepower in the respective backfields neither team could muster an attack as Aaron Fuller and Eddie Murphy would loom large on the defensive side of the ball for the Saints and DeBoe along with the secondary of Floran, Colby Szymczak and Connor Farrell stymied would-be receivers all day.
After multiple unsuccessful drives and with 7:36 left in the first half, Panther Floran was stopped for a loss in the backfield, spun out of the grasp of the defender, ran the opposite direction of his blockers, broke a tackle and eventually stiff-armed his way into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown. The points-after kick was blocked.
The Saints would again try their luck against the stingy maroon-and-gold clad swarm, but on a fourth and five, Michael Conery and Ryan Flanagan, staples of the Panther line, snuffed out the attack with a huge sack.
Both squads pinned their ears back and were relentless in their quest to turn back runners in their tracks, pummel quarterbacks and outmaneuver receivers holding the score at 6-0 with just 6:43 left in the contest.
With the clock ticking down, all in attendance knew that one big play by the Saints and behind the toe of Ortiz that the game was far from over.
With the stage set, the unyielding Panther defense had something to prove and on four successive plays did just that, stopping Mishawaka Catholic cold.
The Saints dug in again but the slippery Floran snuck through the line of tacklers and jetted the final 16 yards to seal the fate of Mishawaka Catholic and bring home the championship trophy to his jubilant teammates making the final score 14-0 after the points after kick by Charlie Graham.
“We knew it would be that kind of day against the Saints. Our defense was fired up all week in practice,” remarked Panther Coach James DeBoe. “We thought they would do a bit more passing and guessed right. Our defense backs really stepped up, but I’m so proud of all of the boys.”
Other than the two big plays by Floran, the Saints held the Panthers to just two yards per play.
“Before Mass every Sunday I pray for two things — that there are no injuries and that my kids and coaching staff perform to their greatest potential, I think both were accomplished today,” explained Saint Coach Tony Violi. “The better team on the field today won, I would like to think that if we played 10 times, we would split, that’s how good of a matchup it was, all the credit goes to them.”
The Bill Sorukas Award was presented to Will Faulkner and Fuller. The award is given to the players in the championship game that best exemplifies the cornerstone principles of the ICCL — sportsmanship, leadership, competition and mental attitude.
The B League also crowned a champion as the Crusaders of Holy Cross completed an undefeated season by beating Mishawaka Catholic, 20-7.
Crusader Caden Kenton had a monster day by scoring three touchdowns. Anthony Maxwell had the lone score for the Saints.
ICCL football correction
In the ICCL game of the week coverage in the Oct. 25, 2015 of Today’s Catholic, Sam Rose’s name was omitted. Rose was an offensive lineman for the Holy Cross Crusaders that was one of the key players credited for their successes of the 2015 season.
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