Play-by-Play - Calling the Audible

For the new #1 team in the state having fun meant an unbeaten season.
It began as a season that took more than a year to play, and when it finally began, Knights’ quarterback, J.C. Petrongelo broke his collarbone midway through the first game. But it would end up being a season to remember. His replacement would be the half-back, running back, quarterback, linebacker, throwback, Owen McGowan. And this was how CM football would be in a six-game season, that ended-up as a four-game sprint. Head coach, John Dibiaso noted, “Everything was unprecedented. From the time of the year, to obstacles that COVID presented on a daily basis, to the number of injuries. It was very, very new to us. And we were taking it day by day.”

Perhaps the substitutions weren’t as smooth as in other years? Or the catches as silky or secure? Or the crowds as large…COVID took care of that. But by the time St. John’s Prep came to Baker Street, the team had found a rhythm…perhaps not in execution…but win they could. They manhandled their old foe, on both sides of the ball and from both D and O-lines. St. John’s couldn’t move the ball, and CM took advantage of every miscue to close the door. But the win wasn’t clean, and Coach Dibiaso let them know. “That was six turn overs guys! Six! That’s unheard of…. Next week, Xaverian, and they’re better than they!” he said pointing to the visitor’s sideline.

The Xaverian game didn’t happen that Easter weekend. COVID struck again. The following week, BC High. On the surface a tough game, but again our Knight’s, the team that embodies the spirit of the children's book, The Little Engine That Could, took care of business. “We're such a small school that when a starter goes down it generally falls to an underclassmen to step in,” says Dibiaso. At BC High, they introduced our seniors before the game we had 12 they had 33. Those schools we play in the Catholic Conference, you know, have 1500-2000 boys compared to us at 480.” And starters were going down. By the time Xaverian came to town key players like Datrell Jones and Darius Laclair were lost for the season with ankle sprains. Mike McNally had torn his labrum, and Brendan Sullivan had a season-ending concussion. And there were others.

The game on April 17th at James R. O'Connor Stadium would be for all the marbles. The 4-0 Hawks would try to take down the 3-0 Knights. And everyone knew this was the inevitable conclusion. “They dedicated their season to win the Catholic Conference and beat us,” says Dibiaso about Xaverian. “They weren't satisfied with their performance last year. I saw their first game of this year on film, and I knew that it was going to come down to this.”

Up until mid-way through the third quarter the game could be described at hard-fought with CM still finding ways to win with their make-shift offense. With a 23-6 lead, the prevailing assessment would be that CM would win big despite winning ugly. But the Fall II Season, as it was oddly called, was having none of it. Throughout the game, Xaverian knew that CM could only move the ball straight ahead. Now it needed to capitalize. Little by little they clawed their way back. The hits were hard, the passing game effective, and by late game the Hawks were knocking on the door. Eight seconds to play from the eight-yard line with a TD set to seal the game, and Devon Marshall intercepted Xaverian’s final push. The eruption from the CM sideline had less to do with jubilation and more a collective sigh of relief. But the 23-19 score was proof enough that this campaign was more about heart, faith, and knowing that being good enough was good enough.

“I think that for me, it's the culture that we've created over the last three years,” says Athletic Director, Craig. Najarian. “And that's a credit to Coach Dibiaso, and his staff. Our boys bought into that culture and so invested in it now. I've said all along: the biggest thing with Coach Dibiaso and his staff is their connection with boys and their ways of communicating with them. And that to me is, is the common thread in that program and is why we win. And I think that’s going to keep rolling.”