With the chance to seal the game, the Catholic Conference title, and a sixth straight win over rival St. John's Prep, there was no one else Xaverian could give the ball to.
Despite a game — and season — chock-full of contributions from sophomores, the Hawks handed senior Mike Masse the ball three straight times for a clinching first down in a 14-12 win Wednesday night at Fenway Park.
"Tough, tough kid, but he's a happy kid," Xaverian coach Al Fornaro said of Masse. "When he steps between the lines, though, I don't have anybody tougher on my team. I don't want anybody else I can rely on. I don't care if it's fourth and 1 or fourth and 5. I give him the ball."
The victory ends Xaverian's season at 8-2 with a 3-0 league mark, its only two losses coming to Everett and then Catholic Memorial in the Division 1 South final.
The Prep falls to 9-2 and 2-1 in the league, but still has another game to look forward to, as the Eagles will face CM in the Division 1 Super Bowl.
"Shoot, I want St. John's to go out and win the Super Bowl, (so we can) say, 'We beat the Super Bowl champs,' " said Fornaro, whose team can say that regardless, because the Hawks defeated CM during the regular season. "But, more importantly, we're Catholic Conference champions. That's what we can control. That's our goal every year. We accomplished that goal."
With the Prep down by two in the fourth quarter, the Eagles drove from their 10-yard line to the Xaverian 25 with under three minutes remaining. On fourth and 5, Xaverian sophomore Luke Thorbahn broke up a Matt Crowley pass to give his team the ball back with 2:46 to play.
After two first downs brought the Hawks closer to victory, Masse sealed it with runs of 1, 8, and 6. When he rose from the turf off the latter, Masse took the ball and pointed it downfield to signal a first down, and a joyful end to his high school football career.
"I mean, that was insane," said Masse, who finished with 61 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. "I ran over to the sideline asking for the ball. I knew I could get it. Coaches counted on me, and I pulled through. So, it's crazy."
Early, Xaverian relied on its talented sophomore class to jump out to a two-touchdown lead and score all the points it needed.
A 34-yard Thorbahn rush in the first quarter put the ball at the Prep 17. After two Masse runs, sophomore quarterback Michael Berluti kept it on an option run and rumbled in from 10 yards out. After Justin Wenstrom's kick, the Hawks held a 7-0 lead with 3:21 left in the opening quarter.
In the second quarter, Berluti completed a pass to Wenstrom and two to Cooper Deveau for 38 yards. Masse, who also had a 21-yard run on the drive, finished it off from 7 yards out to help make it 14-0 with 5:04 left in the half.
It appeared it would stay that way until the break, as the Eagles were inconsistent on offense for most of the night, but Wes Rockett returned a punt 45 yards for a touchdown with 1:37 left in the half. However, the point after was muffed, and the score remained 14-6 heading into the third quarter.
The Eagles moved the ball well at times, as junior quarterback Matt Crowley completed 17-of-35 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown. But Xaverian's JoJo Marinella and Mike McGough recovered Prep fumbles in the first half, and Nazio Defreitas intercepted Crowley in the end zone in the third quarter.
Crowley was able to answer on the next Prep drive, though, as he found junior tight end Nick Masterson on a bootleg to his right for a 2-yard score. The two-point conversion failed, though.
The rest of the game was quintessential Xaverian football. A solid running game, good special teams, and stifling defense.
"We had decided, we got away from things earlier in the year, say, 'Look, let's pound the rock, be opportunistic and throw the ball when we want to, not when we have to, and things will be successful.' And that's what happened," Fornaro said.
"Obviously, that's what we're known for," Masse said. "That's our style of football. We just like to pound it down people's throat, make them quit. (The Eagles) stuck with us a while. They played a great game. But that last drive, we just out-powered them, and we wanted it more."
Now the Prep has to turn around and try to beat CM, a team it defeated earlier in the season, 27-20.
"That's the challenge. That's a hard one," St. John's Prep coach Brian St. Pierre said. "We play a huge Thanksgiving game, rival game. It's not like a walkthrough. There's no thought of, 'Ah, we'll rest starters.' Our kids played to win a Catholic Conference title and came up short. So it's going to take a while to wash that out of the system. But, like we have all year, on to the next week. That's going to be the focus."