This is the part of the season when that old cliche kicks in.
Defense, it is said, wins championships, and it’s officially title time under the new MIAA football playoff system. This means Bishop Fenwick’s less heralded group of 11 will take center stage beginning tomorrow night (7 p.m.) when the Crusaders battle Northeast Regional for the Division 5 North championship at Donaldson Field.
As impressive as the Fenwick offense has been — averaging more than 40 points per game — the defense has quietly become one of the best head coach Dave Woods has ever had.
At its best, the Crusaders’ D has been a dominant unit that gives their opponents no chance to win. At its worst, that same unit has been a bend-but-don’t-break crew that puts its offense in a position to prevail.
”I think we’ve played great defense all year. When teams have driven on us or are in scoring position, the defense has turned up the intensity. And they definitely have the ability when they need a big stop to come up with it,” Woods said. “We might let them get a couple of first downs, but somebody always seems to come up with a big play.”
Fenwick will most likely need a couple of those big plays tomorrow night against Northeast in a battle of 9-0 clubs.
The Golden Knights seemingly have used a similar recipe for success as Fenwick, putting up a ton of points (37.6 per game) and have prevented the opposition from scoring much (16.9 points allowed per game).
Northeast has four running threats in Kevin Rosado, Christian Perez, Israel Silva and Avery Tango, plus a dangerous quarterback in Troy Tartarini. Senior tight end Nick Giangregorio is another player the Fenwick defense will have to be concerned about.
Rosado and Giangregorio scored the Northeast touchdowns last year when Fenwick opened the season against the Knights with a 22-14 win; it took a game-winning drive in the final five minutes for Fenwick to emerge victorious.
”It’s pretty much the same offense; they run a Wing-T with a lot of variations and motions. They have three or four different guys to run the ball and they throw it a little,” Woods said. “They’re big, physical, a good football team. They’re 9-0 for a reason.”
Players like Nick Bona, David Hurley and James Traversey have been excellent defensively for Fenwick, but it’s been under-the-radar players like Tom Parsons, Matt Renzulli and Kevin Hannon who have made the Crusaders that much tougher to score on.
”Tommy Parsons has played great on both sides, but especially on defense,” Woods said. “He’s one of the more intelligent football players we have and sets the tone in the secondary. He’s always in the right spot and has made plays whether it’s been in man-to-man (coverage) or making tackles for a loss.”
”Renzulli has five interceptions; he has a nose for the football. When the ball is in the air he’s always around it. Kevin Hannon has been under the radar, but he’s been tremendous on the edge for us.”
The Fenwick offense has had another week to prepare without junior running back Rufus Rushins, who dislocated his elbow in the Crusaders’ first round win over St. Mary’s of Lynn. Rushins dominated the football on the final drive when Fenwick defeated Northeast a year ago, but there’s a different dimension to this Crusader offense with Bona under center. He has a good arm and several excellent receivers on the outside while also possessing the unusual combination of escapability in traffic plus the power to finish runs.
Robert Carrillo performed well against Austin Prep last week, but only carried the ball six times for 38 yards and a touchdown. Another week of first-team reps and more in-game opportunities and Carrillo could be in for a bigger output.
”He gets a little more comfortable running with the first group and we’ll mix in Charlie (Maistrellis) and Eric (Razney) when we need to. The familiarity for Robbie reading blocks and knowing where they’re coming from with the first group helps for a second week in a row,” Woods said.