MISHAWKA — The crisp fall air set the stage for a classic showdown for the St. Anthony Panthers and the Holy Cross Crusaders in the Inter-City Catholic League semi-final.
The matchup would pit two titans that were separated in early September by one score. The Crusaders boasted a trio of lineman, John Driscoll, Aaron Greve and Chaz Black, and were countered by an equally talented group of unsung heroes in the trenches that included Ryan Flanagan, Michael Conery, Charlie Graham, Will Faulkner, Cole Chrzan and Charlie Leonard.
The stage was set — both teams peaking — and the prize would be a ticket to the big dance to face the Saints of Mishawaka Catholic, who had defeated St. Matthew, 36-20, moments before kickoff.
On the first series of the game there was something missing in the composition of the Crusader backfield. Present were the workhorse backs of Patrick Driscoll and Miguel Zyniewicz but the absence of their talented quarterback Evan Price, who broke his collarbone just five days before kickoff, was obvious.
The Crusaders moved the ball early by following the cloud of dust kicked up by the left side of their line, but it stalled after a couple of untimely penalties.
The Panthers of St. Anthony would have a bit more success as quarterback Luke Leonard systematically handed the ball off to Kenzel Kelly, Tyler DeBoe and Mitchell Floran, threw a couple of passes that found their marks and finally on the 11th play of the drive burrowed into the end zone from five yards out. The offering from backup kicker Graham was blocked leaving the door open and the score, 6-0.
The Crusaders next drive was only three plays and they were forced to punt giving the Panthers another life, but after mishandling the snap, Holy Cross’ Kuba Jaskiewicz pounced on the fumble changing the momentum of the game.
Two plays later, Patrick Driscoll split the Panther defense and jaunted 78 yards to pay dirt leaving the maroon-and-gold-clad opponent momentarily stunned and making the score 6-6 going into the locker room at half time.
The second half looked as if it would be a continuation of the first as the Panthers’ drive stumbled with yet another fumble recovery from Jaskiewicz. However, the Crusader offense wouldn’t have the same success as their drive was marred by penalties requiring a punt that was blocked by Charlie Leonard giving his team the ball at the 21.
It took the Panthers all of one play as Floran burst through the line and raced untouched into the end zone. Graham’s points after kick was true pushing the lead to 14-6 with 2:29 left in the game.
The Crusaders understood what was ahead of them and utilized a plethora of formations and involving Asante Anglin and Gavin Stefanek in the mix driving the ball down the field until fourth and 19. The Panthers’ DeBoe ended the march with a bone-shaking stop short of the first down marker.
The rest of the contest was the Panthers playing the clock and keeping the ball on their side of their pitch as the last ditch effort of the Crusaders ended in a fumble setting the table for the finals.
“I first want to congratulate the Panthers and their coaches on a well-played game and then let my kids know how proud I am of them working through the injuries and competing at a high level,” expressed Coach John Krzyzewski. “We left it on the field. There are lessons you can learn in defeat that you can’t teach when you win. I wish the St. Anthony team well.”
“What a hard hitting great ICCL battle, I know they were a few guys down, but they came to play and we expected that out of them,” remarked Panther Coach James DeBoe. “We had to make some adjustments, but our players responded and I couldn’t be happier with the way they responded right now.”
The league championship will be played Sunday, Oct. 25 at 3 p.m. at Saint Joseph High School’s Father Bly Field and set up the rematch between the Saints of Mishawaka Catholic and the St. Anthony Panthers.
“I’m expecting an incredibly good game,” comment Mishawaka Catholic Skipper Tony Violi. “The first game was decided by one foot as their kick after touchdown sailed just wide. The yardage gained by both teams was separated by just one yard.”
“I expect a classic ICCL battle,” added Deboe. “We have a little bit of a revenge factor being our only loss. Both teams will be at their best.”
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