WESTWOOD, Mass. – It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.
And one week after a rough finish in a loss at Barnstable, No. 5 Xaverian learned its lesson heading into Saturday’s Catholic Conference matchup with Catholic Memorial.
The Hawks hadn’t played their finest half against the Knights and held just a slim three-point lead (10-7) at the intermission. But Xaverian showed up for the second half, outscoring the Knights 33-0 en route to a 43-7 win.
Xaverian (3-1, 1-0) pounded the ball in the second half behind a trio of running backs in Shayne Kaminski, Kenny Kern and Noah Sorrento. Meanwhile, the Hawks defense produced points as well, as junior defensive back Damion Wood returned two interceptions for touchdowns, turning a once competitive struggle into a manhandling.
“We weren’t really making the plays we needed to, we hurt ourselves a little bit there,” Xaverian head coach Charlie Stevenson said of his team in the first half. “We took some bad penalties.”
In fact, the Hawks were so generous they accounted for three of CM’s five first downs in the first half, with one leading up to the Knights’ lone touchdown of the day – a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Claflin to Kevin Bletzer roughly a minute before the break.
Xaverian’s defense would be much more stingy in the second half.
After the Hawks extended their lead to 23-7 following a 1-yard touchdown run by Kaminski (11 carries, 79 yards), Wood collected his first pick-six with a 90-yard return with 22 seconds remaining the third quarter.
On the ensuing Knights possession, Ernest Simon collected the second of three Hawks interceptions during the half. That set up a six-play touchdown drive, culminating in a 4-yard touchdown by Sorrento (15 carries, 66 yards).
CM (1-3, 0-1) then committed its third straight turnover with Wood taking a 67-yard interception to the house, providing Xaverian with its final margin of victory.
“I just saw an opportunity and I took it,” Wood said of his pair of scores.
Meanwhile, the Knights were left asking, what went so very wrong?
“Xaverian’s a good football team, they can score without us helping them,” CM head coach Alex Campea said. “I think they just decided that they were going to wear us down and were kind of pounding us [in the second half].”
Next man up: Xaverian’s ball-hawking secondary was a major factor Saturday, forcing three turnovers. But what’s most surprising is how the group came together so quickly, especially considering the loss of senior captain D.J. Sperzel for the foreseeable future.
“ D.J. being out, that’s a big loss for us,” Wood said postgame. “But we practiced well, got all aspects together … everything’s fine with our defense even though we’re missing [Sperzel].”
Sperzel, who was lost to injury during the Hawks’ loss to Barnstable last week, had quarterbacked the secondary along with fellow captain and corner A.J. King (36-yard TD reception in the third quarter). But the group can still be a strength for the Hawks, with Wood making such a bold statement. Along with sophomore Peter Thorbahn, who slotted into Sperzel’s spot for most of Saturday’s contest, and freshman standout Mekhi Henderson, the newly formulated group has come together quickly.
“I think they’re good young players, but they’re young,” Stevenson said. “So you never know what you’re going to get.”
Give it up for the Big Man: The Hawks held their first-half lead thanks to senior offensive lineman Jeff Perez.
Xaverian opened scoring at 3:42 of the first quarter, when the 6-foot-1, 220-pound guard fell on a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown, pulling his best impression of Logan Mankins in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. After Kern ran up the middle for 24 yards on a fullback draw, he was stripped from behind. The loose ball bounded into the end zone, and Perez, who was trailing the play, alertly fell on the ball for the score.