Cardinal Hayes High School
By Daniel Rivera ‘96
BRONX, N.Y. – When a football player gets his hands on the schedule it’s difficult for him not to circle dates deemed ‘must-win’ games.
The student-athletes who play for “Cardinal and Gold” are no exception when it comes to this ritual.
Since 1941 the men who have fought on the gridiron “For God and Country” were instructed to hold rivalry games in high regard: a certain Thanksgiving game will immediately come to mind to those who read this. That game without question is tradition like no other when it comes to high school football in New York City.
In the case of Cardinal Hayes (5-1) their homecoming game, much like their opponent (Monsignor Farrell), wasn’t material for fodder. The Lions (4-3 overall, 3-3 CHSFL AAA) were certainly not to be taken lightly. After all, in their possession they had the league’s leading rusher in junior RB Vin Wagner.
Enter the dramatically improved Cardinals’ defense.
Under the Saturday night lights at SUNY- Maritime, Cardinal Hayes put forth perhaps its best defensive effort this season to date. And it would be one that was sorely needed as the offense showed flashes of the unsightly effort they presented two weeks ago against St. Anthony’s (Long Island).
The start to the game was inauspicious to say the least. Sofian Massoud ‘20 (14/22 303 YDS 4 TD 2 INT) got off to a rocky start in the first quarter. Monsignor Farrell proved to be game early on as they coerced Massoud into throwing two interceptions.
“They made good plays, but I really didn’t go through my reads”, said the sophomore quarterback of his lackluster start to the game.
The two turnovers would be null and void as the Cardinals were stout on the defensive end. This would be the theme for most the game as it was a defensive struggle throughout the first half of play.
Cardinal Hayes kept Farrell’s workhorse (Wagner) and its mobile quarterback, Michael Regan, in check. In fact, the defense accomplished a mission no other team in the CHSFL ‘AAA’ had been able to: hold Wagner under 100 yards of total offense.
Despite being mired in a game laden with turnovers and penalties on both sides, Massoud managed to, as he has done thus far in his bourgeoning football career, pick himself up and persevere. He established a rhythm with his receivers in the middle of the second quarter. Proof of this was seen at the 3:26 mark when he connected with Boston College bound WR Elijah Jones ‘18 (5 REC 96 YDS 2) on a 34-yard touchdown.
The momentum looked to shift in favor of the Cardinals. Prior to the score they had stopped Farrell on 4th and goal at their own 3-yard line stuffing Wagner for a huge goal line stand. The buzz of the home crowd looked to fuel Cardinal Hayes. But with only a 6-0 lead at the half it was still anyone’s game.
Something needed to be said and done.
“You just got to keep playing. You can’t just stop playing”, Head Coach C.J. O’Neil told his players in the locker room during halftime.
The second half would be completely different picture painted by the Cardinals. After recognizing that they made some negative plays and their defense was playing well – bailing them out of some precarious situations – the offense began to up the tempo and it paid off immediately.
At the 6:01 mark, Massoud would link up once again with Jones this time for a 26-yard passing score. Yet, the 14-0 advantage would be short lived as the Lions roared back mounting a drive of their own culminating with a 4-yard touchdown run by Wagner.
That noise would be short-lived as Cardinal Hayes snuffed any hopes Monsignor Farrell had of making it a game. The Cardinals hit the Lions right back in the mouth via a 65-yard kick return for a touchdown by Jones extending the lead to 20-7.
When asked if he envisioned his banner day in front of his family and loved ones Jones replied, “Not at all. I just saw a lot of mismatches and I definitely communicated that to our coaches to expose that. They gave me the chance to go up and make some plays.”
From there on out the onslaught was on full display. Massoud further dismantled the Lions defense with two more touchdown passes finding Lucas Nuñez ‘18 (5 REC 179 YDS 2 TD) on each. Jones would later put the game on ice picking off Regan in the end zone.
When the clock was all zeroes the final score was 34-7 in favor of the Cardinals.
After the game the entire coaching staff reminded their Hayesmen of the need to play for one another. They made it a point to tell them that there was too much individualism in their effort even though they came away with a victory. The coaches expressed how their championship aspirations could be easily dashed if they handed in a slipshod come post-season play.
This is something to take heed of should the Cardinals wish to continue a potentially extraordinary 2017 season.