FATHER JUDGE 10, ROMAN CATHOLIC 7
Hopefully, the Cunningham boys - Joe, 8, and Nick, 7 - were playing close attention early in the second half of Father Judge's matchup against Roman Catholic Saturday afternoon.
That's when their older brother, Matt, made a clutch play to help the Crusaders nip the Cahillites, 10-7, at wind-swept Northeast High and secure the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Catholic League Class AAAA playoffs.
In what was a scoreless contest, Cunningham stormed in from left end and blocked a punt. It was turned directly into a tally, as Jim Galasso made the scoop and returned the ball 36 yards for a touchdown.
"We looked at it on film at the beginning of the week," Cunningham said. "We knew, if Roman picked up the outside linebacker, that there would be no one there to block me. That's what happened."
As the 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior did in his younger days, Joe and Nick Cunningham (3-year-old Aidan may soon join the football mix) play for Calvary Athletic Association in the Far Northeast.
The boys' father, Joe, was a defensive lineman at St. Joseph's Prep in the mid-1980s and went on to play at Catholic University.
"He helps me a lot," Matt Cunningham said of his father. "He's probably my biggest influence. If I have any doubts about what I'm doing out there, he reassures me."
The difference in Saturday's defensive-oriented tussle was Connor Foley's line-drive, 36-yard field goal with 1 minute, 33 seconds to play. He had missed first-half tries of 30 and 25 yards.
The wind was at Foley's back on the winner. "He's a really good kicker," said Cunningham, a defender in lacrosse. "I knew, if we got everybody situated up front, that he would put the ball through the uprights."
By beating Roman, Judge (6-3 overall, 2-2 Catholic AAAA) placed third and earned the right to meet second-place La Salle (7-2, 3-1) in a semifinal playoff next weekend at a site and time to be determined.
The fourth-place Cahillites (3-6, 1-3) will take on regular-season titlist St. Joe's Prep (6-2, 3-1) in the other semifinal. Roman beat out Archbishop Ryan (6-3, 1-3) for the final playoff berth by virtue of its head-to-head win over the Raiders.
Cunningham, a second-year starter who doubles as a tight end, notched seven tackles, including four solos, against Roman. On the Cahillites' final possession, the 17-year-old posted a 5-yard sack.
In holding Roman to 140 yards rushing and 49 passing, Judge was aided on defense by Galasso, a linebacker, linemen Jowell Agyedu and Eric Drains, and backs Steve Brooks and Yeedee Thaenrat (12 carries for 74 yards).
For the Cahillites, junior tailback Dimetri Kelly rushed 31 times for 137 yards. His 3-yard score early in the fourth quarter made it 7-7.
Roman Catholic 0 0 0 7-7
Father Judge 0 0 7 3-10
FJ: Jim Galasso 36 return with blocked punt (Connor Foley kick)
RC: Dimetri Kelly 3 run (Phillip Isaac kick)
FJ: FG Foley 36