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St. Joe’s tackles St. Francis

Photo from Dave Marino

blog by Dan Ludwig  • 

It was perfect football weather on Saturday, Oct. 1 as the St. Francis Red Raiders played host to the St. Joe’s Marauders in Hamburg.  The combination of crisp, fall air and temperatures that dipped into the 40s made the popping and cracking sounds of clashing pads ring out across the field.  In the end, St. Joe’s got the better end of the clashing and left Hamburg with a 27-20 victory.

The bleachers were packed with supporters of both squads, but many people were likely there to see WNY’s top two prospects: St. Joe’s quarterback Chad Kelly and St. Francis running back, Akeel Lynch.  Over the summer, Kelly committed to Clemson and Lynch committed to Boston College.

While Kelly had a respectable day passing the ball, St. Francis did a good job of keeping the dual-threat quarterback from gashing the defense on the ground.  In the same token, St. Joe’s defense played a swarming style of defense that did well to contain Lynch.

Perhaps the stars’ struggles were due to the game’s choppy and incongruent nature.  Watching the game, I counted 29 penalties called!  All the penalties prevented either offense from finding a natural flow.

St. Francis opened the game’s scoring in the first quarter with a creative play-call.  With 30 seconds left in the opening period, Frannie’s quarterback Brian Melisz tossed the ball to Lynch for a running play; Lynch stopped in the backfield and threw the ball downfield to tight end Jarrett Dolegala for a 31-yard touchdown.

St. Joe’s answered the Red Raiders’ scoring drive with points of their own.  Even though a touchdown pass was called back on a holding penalty earlier in the drive, the Marauders stuck with the aerial attack.  The strategy paid off as Kelly found Yanni Zulia for a 30-yard touchdown pass with 10 minutes left in second quarter.  However, St. Joe’s missed the extra point, so at the end of the first half the score was 7-6 in favor of St. Francis.

Joe’s opened the second half scoring with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to fullback Rodrick Payne with 1:30 left in the 3rd quarter.  The Marauders went for two points, but missed again, making the score 12-7.

Joe’s didn’t stay on top for long as Zachary “Beanie” Wells took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to the end zone. Wells’ return electrified the previously docile home crowd and made the score 13-12 in favor of St. Francis at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The seesaw battle continued into the 4th quarter as Kelly hit Kyle Briggs for a 13-yard score.  This time, St. Joe’s two-point conversion was successful, putting the Marauders up 20-12.  After that, the Joe’s defense stood tall as St. Francis pushed to tie the game.  When the Marauders gave the ball back to Kelly with about 6 minutes left, he knew what to do with the pigskin.

Flying in the face of conventional football wisdom, St. Joe’s continued to pass the ball, despite the fact that they led the game and needed to wind down the clock.  The aggressive play calling turned out to be the right strategy, as Kelly found Briggs again for another touchdown, making the score 27-13.  The touchdown came on a rather miraculous play as Kelly was flushed out of the pocket on fourth down; the quarterback leaned back and heaved a pass towards the end zone that might as well have been a punt.  But when the Frannies’ cornerback fell down, Briggs reeled in the Hail Mary pass for his second touchdown.  After the game, Kelly commented on the hopeful pass, saying, “We needed God to be on our side with that one, and he was.”

Although this appeared to be the nail in the coffin for the Red Raiders, they drove down the field quickly and Melisz completed a touchdown pass to Gabriel Tasker (yes, Steve’s son) with just under a minute left, bringing Frannies within one touchdown.  The momentum continued to build for St. Francis after they recovered the ensuing onside kick; the team had the ball at midfield with 36 seconds left and a chance to tie the game.  It was then that the final blow was delivered to the Red Raiders when Melisz overthrew his receiver and a St. Joe’s defender made the interception, making the final score St. Joe’s 27, St. Francis 20.

After the game, Joe’s head coach Dennis Gilbert commented on the back and forth nature of the game, saying “Our kids were resilient out there today…we made mistakes in the first half but we made some adjustments at halftime and the kids responded well.”

St. Joe’s plays Cardinal O’Hara at home next week; St. Francis hits the road to battle Bishop Timon/St. Jude.

TAGGED: chad kelly, fall, hamburg, high school football, st. francis, st. joe's

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