WESTWOOD — With temperatures traversing below the freezing point Friday evening at Xaverian High School, the Hawks coped in a fashion fitting for the elements.
They ran, ran again, then ran some more, accumulating 200 yards on the ground in the first half alone.
The result was swift and emphatic as third-seeded Xaverian disposed of fifth-seeded Catholic Memorial, 35-7, to claim its fifth straight Division 1 South final. The Hawks will face the winner of Saturday’s North sectional final between Central Catholic and Everett for the Division 1 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium in early December.
“You have to be able to run the ball and stop the run in November,” said first-year Xaverian head coach and longtime defensive coordinator Al Fornaro. “I didn’t make that phrase up but I think we ran the ball pretty effectively this evening.”
Receiving the opening kickoff, Xaverian (6-4) went 62 yards on nine plays — all runs — with fullback Michael Masse plunging into the end zone from the CM 1 for the evening’s icebreaker.
While the Hawks’ rushing attack shined bright all evening, it was Xaverian’s stifling defense that proved the game’s decisive factor. Xaverian, holding CM (6-4) to just 70 yards of total offense in the first half, continually overpowered the Knights’ offensive line, flying to the ball carrier with an imposing mix of speed and force.
A Brian Abraham interception and return deep in CM territory gave the Hawks a 14-0 advantage early in the second quarter.
“[The defense] took it upon themselves to say, ‘Look, we know they won’t be able to run the ball so let’s take away the pass away.’ That was huge,” Fornaro said. “Brian has dropped a few picks [this year]. He has eye problems, he has glasses that still aren’t in yet, but you wouldn’t know it.”
After the ensuing CM three-and-out, Xaverian again took advantage of favorable field position, Masse rumbling 39-yards on a fullback draw for his second touchdown of the night. Hawks running back Ike Irabor joined in on the fun less than five minutes later, slicing through helpless Knights defenders with grace and precision for a 21-yard score and a 28-0 lead going into halftime.
Irabor finished with 169 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns, including a 34-yarder in the game’s waning minutes.
“It’s rewarding, not for me but for the young men here,” said Fornaro. “They’re lucky enough to play for a great program, but also it falls upon them to do things that preceded them. We graduated a lot of guys, we lost to [CM] early in the season, we lost to BC High. The beautiful thing about the playoffs is you get to do a re-do. I think we made a pretty good statement this evening.”