Cardinal Hayes High School
By Daniel Rivera ‘96/Special to HayesAthletics.org
BRONX, N.Y. – The quarterfinal match up between the seventh-seeded Eagles of St. Peter’s and the heavily favored No. 2 seed Cardinal Hayes (7-1) was supposed to be a “no contest” game for the Cardinals.
For anyone looking at it on paper this would appear to be the case: a mere playoff tune-up of sorts if you will.
Instead the Eagles (2-7) showed they had a different set of plans once they received the opening kickoff. They wanted to show the Cardinals and their faithful that St. Peter’s came to play.
The Eagles proved to be a formidable foe for most of the opening stanza. Their mettle, toughness and physical style of play was in full exhibition. And like a prize fighter with nothing to lose, St. Peter’s “hit” the Cardinals right in the mouth repeatedly. Miscues, careless play and costly penalties resulted in Hayes spotting St. Peter’s a 14-point lead in the first quarter. Cardinal Hayes appeared to be stumbling after RB Andre Hines, Jr. plowed through the Hayes’ defense for the Eagles second touchdown.
The Cardinals were on the ropes.
At Mott Haven Campus, the home crowd was stunned and frustrated. All in attendance were in utter disbelief at what they had been witnessing. St. Peter’s refused to play Little Mac to Hayes’ Mike Tyson.
They looked as if they’d be going for that third knock down to silence everyone early.
Backed into a corner (at Hayes’ own 1-yard line with 4:27 left in the first quarter) Cardinals had to make a stand. After listening to the wisdom of their “trainer” in Head Coach C.J. O’Neil and cornermen they did just that. They did what the school has been doing for 76 years: defend their South Bronx turf.
And they would do so in unprecedented fashion.
“We saw that they had no safety help and they were playing cover zero. They were blitzing everybody. So, we know we didn’t have time. So, we just said go deep. Take a step back. Throw it”, said WR Elijah Jones ‘18 of the 99-yard touchdown pass he hauled in from QB Sofian Massoud ‘20.
The scoring play – a school record for both regular and post-season – brought life back to the Cardinals and their crowd. The haymaker not only opened the game for Cardinal Hayes: it dusted off the record books too.
With the Cardinals’ defense in lockdown mode Massoud (10/20, 295 Yds, 3 TD, 1 INT) and Jones (6 Rec, 244 Yds, 5 TD) had all the leeway in the world to take control of the game.
The result: an unprecedented 50 unanswered points put up by “The Cardinal and Gold”. Jones’ final touchdown, a run of 72-yards, would prove to be the knockout blow late in the third quarter. Without a doubt his performance was beyond a certain fabled television football hero.
“He’s a special player and the rest of the nation is going to find that out in a couple of years”, Head Coach C.J. O’Neil said of Jones after the game.
In addition to the offensive output the defense and special teams forced five turnovers to add to the record books. Seniors Randy Brito, Claude Watford and Jose Franco contributed heavily in this category: including special teams. The effort put forth by all three units after another inauspicious start was without question one never seen before in the rich history of football over at 650 Grand Concourse.
“We sensed the momentum [shift]. We had the home field crowd. They did a great job of keeping us in the game”, added Massoud.
For Cardinal Hayes, the defending CHSFL AAA Champions is a return bout with Archbishop Stepinac. If you’re into trilogy matches in sports, then this one is for you. It will be sure to entertain.
Next Saturday’s semifinal game between the Cardinals and Archbishop Stepinac will mark the third consecutive time the two will meet in the “AAA” playoffs. The previous two contests came in the finals: each defeating the other for the right to play for the CHSFL championship. Part-Three should be interesting to say the least.
Quote of the Night:
“Obviously a little anxiety builds up. We usually try to make it as difficult as we can for ourselves. That seems to be what we do. But the kids really responded” – Head Coach C. J. O’Neil jokingly on the Cardinals slow starts.