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High School Football: St. Francis’ comeback falls short at St. Joe's

Kerrick Woyshner hauls in a touchdown pass from quarterback Brian Melisz while being tightly defended by St. Joe’s Ilo Noble. (Photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

Ilo Noble ran up and down the field, sideline-to sideline, with mere ease in the opening quarter and into the beginning of the second, leading St. Joe’s to a three-touchdown lead over Monsignor Martin rival St. Francis.

But when the Marauders’ senior tailback was frustrated by a comeback-driven St. Francis and hampered by cramps over the final two-and-a-half quarters, Noble turned to his defensive skills to put the game away for host St. Joe’s.

Noble’s interception at his team’s four-yard-line with 1:37 left in the game helped St. Joe’s ward off a scare from St. Francis in a 28-21 victory Saturday (Sept. 15) in a rematch of last year’s Monsignor Martin championship game won by the Red Raiders.

“When all is said and done at the end, Ilo’s the guy with the great coverage that makes the pick to save the game,” St. Joe’s head coach Dennis Gilbert said. “I say it to these guys all the time, ‘It’s not the mistakes that you make; it’s how you answer them.’ Again, the kids answered today.”

In just the first 14 minutes of the game, Noble ran for 152 of his 163 yards and put together touchdowns of 25, 39 and 32 yards. His big offensive line carved open huge holes on the first two runs and then on the third, Noble fumbled the ball in the air as he swept around to the left side, before recovering and with nothing there, switched fields, then went up the middle while making tacklers miss in the open field.

“I saw them throwing the ball there and I felt like I needed to make a big play for my team,” Noble said of his interception. “Our offensive line was man handling them (in the first half), so I was just following my blocks and was able to get loose and score some...We had a score to settle (from last year) and that’s what we did today.”

St. Francis was in St. Joe’s territory four times in the second half, including taking the ball down to the six-yard-line on its opening drive of thethird quarter then starting on the Marauders’ 21 with 2:24 left in the game after a shanked punt. However, the game all but ended two plays later as Noble hauled in St. Joe’s sixth interception of the game. St. Francis also fumbled twice.

“You can’t turn the ball over like that, and we still had a shot,” said Jerry Smith, who had a few players in and out of the game with injuries, which hurts even more during a season of lower player numbers than usual.

“We’ve got to make due with what we got,” he added. “I think the kids played a heck of a game. It wasn’t a matter of not trying. The effort was there. We just have to coach them up a little bit more and get everyone on the same page.”

St. Joe’s had its biggest lead of the game at 28-7 when it capped a five-play drive after recovering a fumble with a Nigel Davis to Tyler Hill 11-yard touchdown. Hill, who started the first two games at quarterback, went to wide receiver in a switch that landed Davis, a junior, as the starting signal caller.

“When coach told me Monday, I just went home and visualized myself coming out here and taking snaps,” said Davis, who was told he’d help the offense by being more of a threat to run. He finished with 64 yards rushing and 50 passing. “I feel like I had an OK game. I threw the ball pretty well but I still have to work on my steps.”

The Red Raiders scored twice in the final 41 seconds of the first half to come within a touchdown of St. Joe’s and then controlled the field position and time of possession over the final two quarters but could not punch another one into the end zone.

St. Francis also made a switch at quarterback. Senior Brian Melisz started the game and threw a 48-yard touchdown on a leaping grab by a well-defended Kerrick Woyshner to tie the game 7-7 with 4:56 left in the first quarter. After throwing interceptions on consecutive drives, Jake Dolegala replaced Melisz, who stayed in at linebacker and made several impact plays despite nursing a sore knee.

“Jake came in and did a good job,” Smith noted of Dolegala, who also shared snaps last week with Melisz.
Elliot Buccieri returned a backwards lateral 65 yards for a touchdown that brought St. Francis within striking distance. (photo courtesy of Ron Larson)

After Elliot Buccieri picked up a backwards lateral and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to cut St. Joe’s lead to 28-13 with under a minute left before halftime. Robert Choboy recovered the ensuing squib kick by St. Francis. Dolegala then hit Julyan Coleman for 20 yards to move his team to the St. Joe’s 21. Two plays later, he connected with older brother, Jarrett Dolegala, on a tipped ball that ended up in the hands of the senior in the end zone as time expired in the half. The brothers connected again on a two-point pass. Coleman finished the game catching six balls for 93 yards.

Jake Dolegala would hit on 6 of 11 passes for 98 yards in the second half but was intercepted three times and at the end of one of those big pass plays in the fourth, Coleman fumbled the ball over to St. Joe’s. St. Francis attempted to establish Alex Misterman, who ran for 289 yards and five touchdowns last week, but St. Joe’s was difficult to run on. He ran 26 times for 80 yards as the defense focused on stopping him, according to Davis.

Not only did the Red Raiders move the ball in the second half, but their smaller defensive unit held St. Joe’s to just 70 yards in that time. St. Joe’s had the ball on the St. Francis’ 7 after Davis’ second interception of the game and 40-yard return, but then only went backwards due to a holding penalty and sack by Jarrett Dolegala, before missing a 37-yard field goal.

“They made some good adjustments,” Gilbert said of St. Francis. “We saw some match-ups that we thought we could exploit and it worked, but then we had some mistakes. When you’re playing a good team, you can’t make mistakes. Our guys learned a lesson from it. It’s a good experience.”

Also for St. Joe’s, Jack Barnesi, Rodrick Payne and Tyshawn Stepney added interceptions. Also for St. Francis, Adam Valenti and John Sorgi recorded sacks and Jordan Zakroczemski made a number of stops for losses.

Note — The St. Francis High School Alumni Association invites all graduates and friends to attend Homecoming activities on the school campus Friday, Sept. 21. The Red Raiders’ varsity football team will host Cathedral Prep of Erie, Pa. at 7 p.m. An alumni post game party will immediately follow the game at Hoak’s On The Lake. Aadmission will be $10 per person, which includes beer, pop and wings. For more information, call Tony Kosowski at 627-1200 ext. 423.

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