Forgive Xaverian Brothers junior Joe Gaziano for breathing heavily at the conclusion of the Hawks’ 28-22 win over host St. John’s Prep on Thanksgiving Day.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Gaziano, a two-way starter — at tight end and defensive end — from Scituate, is also the team’s punter. He is on the field for kickoffs and is occasionally called on for PATs and field goals.
“It’s a rare occasion that I come off the field,” Gaziano said. “Fourth quarter is always a grind, especially this year.”
Gaziano’s play on both sides of the ball has been a catalyst in the Hawks’ success this year and will be made more important against Central Catholic in the Division 1 Super Bowl on Saturday — especially with injuries to starters Shayne Kaminski and Kenny Kern.
The same can be said for the roles of Mansfield senior tandem Kyle Hurley and Miguel Villar-Perez, who will face St. John’s Shrewsbury in the Division 2 Super Bowl.
Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson said Gaziano, the Catholic Conference MVP, is the program’s most versatile player since Paul Asack (2007), who went on to kick at Duke.
A varsity player on special teams as a freshman, Gaziano was a two-way player a year ago. But he has really flourished with added responsibilities this season.
“He’s tremendous,” Stevenson said. “The unsung part of his game is his punting and kickoffs that have really helped us to win that battle for field position.”
Forced fumbles and punt blocks, like a notable swat against Bridgewater-Raynham on Sept. 21, have also become commonplace for the junior.
His experience as a defender for the lacrosse team in the spring aids his conditioning. But Gaziano also works with a trainer to guarantee he will last four quarters each game.
What’s his secret? “Just a lot of sprints,” Gaziano said. “A lot of high-tempo work when we’re doing drills. Just moving from one drill to the next and trying not to waste a step.”
Hurley, a tight end-outside linebacker for Mansfield, comes from the same mold. He plays lacrosse and is captain of the Hornets’ hockey team.
The 5-foot-7, 175-pounder also does not come off the field, but said those responsibilities are a crash course in how to be a good teammate. With each game becoming more important in the playoffs, Hurley finds himself running on pride and adrenaline.
“I like being put on the spot like that,” Hurley said. “You know that you’ve got to go out there and make a play. Going both ways allows me to make a play on either side of the ball.”
Mansfield coach Mike Redding said his goal would be to have 22 one-way starters, but logistics have forced his club to become more versatile.
He added that after going over next year’s depth chart, the trend of two-way players will continue.
“I’d say 20 years ago, you had 7 or 8 guys who were out there every play,” Redding said. “Playing guys one way has a lot of value; they play better in the fourth quarter because they’re not as tired. But you get those guys who are just so good and have skill that you can’t get out of [a one-way] guy.”
Redding said Villar-Perez is a prime example of a good utility player. The running back sees time as a nickel back on defense when facing teams that run a spread offense.
He left his team’s 14-7 Thanksgiving win over Foxborough in the first quarter with a shoulder injury, but has since been on the mend. He will play on Saturday.
“It’s definitely a scare,” Villar-Perez said. “You think right away if it’s going to be a big deal, but once the feeling came back, I knew I’d be all set to go.”
The 5-foot-9, 155-pound Villar-Perez played only defense last year. He said he knew he had the capability to play both sides of the ball, but it came as a surprise to unfamiliar foes.
He will probably only play on offense Saturday. There is a degree of disappointment that comes with that, but he is more concerned with not risking injury.
“It’s the last time,” Villar-Perez said. “I always want to be on the field, but now I’ve just got to watch film on their defense and work on my offense.”
A Cohasset feast
Division 3 Super Bowl-bound Plymouth South opted to rest its starters in its third meeting with Thanksgiving rival Plymouth North on Thursday, but Cohasset, a Division 6 club, did not follow suit.
Led by its seniors, the team came to a decision that their second meeting against Hull this year would not be taken lightly. The result: a 20-0 shutout with all points coming in the first quarter.
“The thrill of Thanksgiving was still there,” said coach Peter Afanasiw . “In my eight seasons at Cohasset, that’s the first time we were able to shut out Hull. The defense played above and beyond.”
The Skippers’ victory was its fourth Thanksgiving triumph in a row. Cohasset leads the series, 14-12-1.
Junior Brett Dooley sparked the defensive end with four sacks for losses and seven tackles in the first half alone.
Dooley said he was impressed by senior receiver Rocco Laugelle, who scored two touchdowns lining up as a running back while starter Cole Kissick was rested.
“I played running back my freshman and sophomore year before I transitioned to receiver,” Laugelle said. “So it was just more of a mental thing. I knew I could do it; it was just going out there and executing.”
His dream game
Walpole High senior Connor Moriarty wanted to leave an impression in his final high school football game. It was his second week back since returning from a high ankle sprain.
The Tufts-bound running back was worried that he would be targeted on offense, but that did not stop him from going off for 300 yards on 10 carries and three touchdowns in a 48-14 win over Weymouth. The last play of his career was a 99-yard kickoff return.
“Oh my God, it was just the greatest feeling to go out with such emphasis,” Moriarty said.
“I told my mom, it’s like I was living the dream.”