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Lohud.com- The Final Four

Posted Thursday, November 10, 2011 by lohud.com

CHSFL semifinals preview: Iona Prep on “revenge tour”

As you can read in today’s football feature on LoHud.com, Iona Prep likes the ring of it.

In Monday’s New York Post — after a quarterfinal victory over Chaminade, a team that beat the Gaels during the regular season — Shaquille Townsend said his team was on a “revenge tour,” trying to exact on-field retribution for their three regular season losses. Chaminade was first. Now, Iona Prep believes St. Anthony’s is next.

Senior Dan Fischer said “he has it right on the dime there” about Townsend’s statement.

“We need revenge,” Fischer added. “We’re just right up there with them. They’re no one special. We have to just play our game and we’ll be right there with them.”

You can read more about Iona Prep in the story. I talked to Alex Kapp (pictured right), who said he does not regret missing the teams’ game two weeks ago but that he will kick on Saturday night.

Also, two notes that aren’t in the story but remain relevant:
• QB Mario Biaggi (ankle) said he felt better on Wednesday but his availability is questionable for Saturday. Vic Quirolo said Biaggi may play but he’s not sure how much they can expect from him.

Of course, it was Justin Combs who came on in relief in the second quarter and helped produce three touchdowns.

“It’s such a luxury,” Quirolo said. “Sometimes, with the second quarterback it’s a big dropoff. With Jusin, there’s no dropoff.”

• Saturday means a lot to Combs regardless of whether he plays quarterback or not.

As you probably know, the rapper and former Mount Vernon resident Heavy D passed away Tuesday at just 44. Combs said Heavy D and his father, Diddy, were like brothers from their time growing up together in Mount Vernon. He considered Heavy D and uncle.

“This game, I’m just going to give it the best of my ability,” Combs said. “This one’s for him.”

I will give my predictions Friday morning, but, for now, here are the scouting reports for both of Saturday’s CHSFL AAA semifinals with thoughts from each head coach:

No. 2 Stepinac (7-2) vs. No. 3 Xaverian (7-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Where: Stepinac High School
Key players: Stepinac — Austin Taps (6-5, 235), Sr., TE/DE; Caleb Gilligan-Evans (6-1, 250), Sr., RB/DT; Vincent Narog (6-1, 185), Sr., WR/OLB. Xaverian — Laray Smith (6-1, 175), Jr., RB; Isaiah Kearney (5-9, 180), Jr., QB; Sean Binckes (6-4, 220), Sr., WR/LB.
Key matchup: Stepinac defense vs. Xaverian’s team speed.
Outlook: Stepinac enters its first CHSFL AAA semifinals since 1997 against perhaps the league’s hottest team. The speedy Clippers rely on the league’s top-ranked offense, a dangerous spread attack that features Kearney (2,053 total yards and 23 touchdowns) and Smith (937 yards rushing and nine touchdowns). Smith has already received a scholarship offer from UConn. His team, however, lost in Week 2 to Holy Cross, a team Stepinac beat twice, but Xaverian recovered to earn a three-touchdown win over Iona Prep and played St. Anthony’s to a 16-14 game. Both teams soundly defeated the Crusaders, but they have the homefield advantage. Also, their play has since been reinvigorated by the play of seniors Taps, Gilligan-Evans and Narog (pictured above left).

Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell on Xaverian: “Xaverian is probably the hottest team in the CHSFL right now. They have unbelievable talent. Their running back, Laray Smith, a junior, has already been offered by UConn. He is the best running back we have seen all year. Kearney is a very dangerous spread quarterback. We need to find away to make those two make decisions and to try to slow them down.”

O’Donnell said Xaverian is also dangerous with receivers Sean Binckes and Tu Shaun Plummer and on special teams. He also noted that the Clippers knocked his team out the last time it made the AAA playoffs, a 28-25 win in the 2008 quarters.

“We need to play mistake free football, play a full game,” O’Donnell said. “They have great team speed, but I think we are similar in many ways. … We have seen every game they played this year. It is going to be a great game. When you make it this far into playoffs, you know you have to play perfect football to move on.”

No. 1 St. Anthony’s (8-0) vs. No. 4 Iona Prep (6-3)
Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: St. Anthony’s High School
Key players: St. Anthony’s — Anthony Anderson (5-11, 210), Jr., RB; Maston Ellerbe (5-8, 170), Sr., RB; Tim Stackpole (5-10, 165), Sr., DB. Iona Prep — Kameron Tedder (6-3, 235), Sr., OT/DE; Justin Combs (5-9, 165), Sr., QB/CB; Chris Cooper (6-0, 175), Jr., HB/CB.
Key matchup: Iona Prep running game vs. St. Anthony’s front 7.
Outlook: With Iona Prep’s ascension in recent year, these teams have become the CHSFL’s top contenders. St. Anthony’s has dominated this series — and everyone — winning nine of the last 10 championships, losing only to Iona Prep in 2008. Other than that year, the Friars have ended every Gaels’ season since 2005, including last year, when the teams met in the AAA championship. But Iona Prep has arrived to the semifinals a confident bunch after losing by just a point two weeks ago in the regular season finale. Quarterback Mario Biaggi was hobbled with an ankle injury during Sunday’s quarterfinal win over Chaminade, but Combs (pictured above right, No. 2), a starting corner, came off the bench and accounted for three touchdowns in the victory. Iona Prep also received a 243-yard effort from running back Shaquille Townsend. He, the quarterbacks and the rest of Iona’s offense will have to solve St. Anthony’s defense, which has surrendered a league low 121 points.

Iona Prep coach Vic Quirolo on St. Anthony’s: “Any time you lose to a team in a close game and you get another shot at them, there’s some redemption but there’s always a different test. This time, we have to be more consistent on both sides of the ball.”

“After the Xaverian game (a 37-16 loss), I think we kind of hit our stride. We’ve have some really good weeks of practice and each week we’ve gotten better.”

Quirolo said his team will benefit from having kicker Alex Kapp in the rematch. Kapp missed the regular season finale two weeks ago because of soccer commitments.

“It’s a big security blanket. We don’t beat Chaminade if we don’t have him kicking the field goals and the extra points. When you get them, you just get into more of a rhythm. Us being up 10-7 last week (vs. Chaminade), that’s such a big thing to get that momentum. It’s definitely a weapon.”

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