After his team held on Saturday for a 23-19 victory over Xaverian to clinch a second consecutive Catholic Conference title, John DiBiaso had a clear message for the media.
The legendary coach — who won 12 state titles over 26 years at Everett and has led CM to consecutive Super Bowl appearances — gave reporters a history lesson along with a suggestion how to crown a champion in the shortened Fall II season.
“In 1918, because of the Spanish influenza, newspaper writers picked Boston Commerce [now Boston English] as state champions,” DiBiaso said. “In 1955, there was a shortened season because of the polio pandemic, and writers picked Haverhill the state champion.”
“So I’m staking our claim to the [Division 1] state title, right here, right now. There is a team up in the Merrimack Valley [Central Catholic] that is also undefeated and I have no problem with co-champions. But I think we have a claim to it. And for all the naysayers who hate me, and hate the Catholic Conference, I tell them all go home tonight, go on the internet, rip me apart, and go to bed with a nice glass of sour milk.”
This game, which was postponed two weeks because of COVID-19 protocols, became the de facto conference title game when the Catholic Conference decided to forgo a planned four-team playoff and crown a conference champion based on the regular season.
Xaverian (4-1) held CM (4-0) to a Jordan Laudani 33-yard field goal on the first possession of the game, then Hawks quarterback Michael Berluti broke a 29-yard run and hit Henry Fleckner for a 16-yard touchdown to give the visitors a 6-3 lead.
With Boston College-bound linebacker Owen McGowan starting under center, the Knights leaned on their rushing attack and tailback Carson Harwood shouldered a huge workload. The sophomore broke a 36-yard run to set up an 8-yard touchdown run from Kyle King that gave CM a 10-6 lead entering halftime.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, sophomore Boubacar Traore stripped Xaverian’s Joe Kelcourse and CM cashed in immediately with Harwood rushing for an 8-yard score.
McGowan showed notable frustration about getting play calls in during the Knights’ next offensive possession, but channeled that anger onto the field on third and 9 when he rolled out as a lead blocker to spring Harwood for a 73-yard touchdown run, growing the CM lead to 23-6 midway through the third quarter.
“It’s incredible,” DiBiaso said of McGowan’s play at quarterback and linebacker as he relayed the signals from coaches to players on both sides of the ball
“It’s almost like old-time football when guys played both ways and the quarterback called the plays, and blocked, and passed, and did everything. He’s a throwback. Boston College is very lucky to get him and I’m very proud to have coached him for three years.”
The Hawks did not fold after giving up Harwood’s big run.
First, Kelcourse (24 carries, 132 yards, 2 TDs) came up clutch with a 3-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
Then, Berluti (16 for 32, 231 yards, TD, 2 INTs) made a couple of tough throws on the run to Noah Canty and Carlo Crocetti (six receptions, 66 yards) to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Kelcourse that trimmed the CM lead to 23-19 on the final play of the third quarter.
Xaverian nearly capitalized on a CM mistake when Devon Marshall fumbled during a punt return. Berluti was inches away from hitting sophomore Michael Oates for a 37-yard score, but the pass sailed just beyond his hands.
Instead the Hawks punted, then forced a CM punt, but fumbled on the return. After forcing another punt, the Hawks gained possession at their 24-yard line with 1:02 remaining and Berluti led his squad all the way to the Knights 8 on a 29-yard laser to Canty.
But Marshall atoned for his gaffe with an interception in the end zone to seal it for CM.
“I ask our young men to leave it all on the field and I think they did today,” Xaverian coach Al Fornaro said.
“That’s why you play the game, to have great competition. Obviously you’d like to win, but you want to test your mettle against the best, and right now, [CM is] the best.”