Cardinals comeback falls short in CHSFL ‘AAA” championship game

An emotional two weeks for Cardinal Hayes didn’t end with the joy of a title.

Teammate Delano Cowan died after the team’s quarterfinal win and the Cardinals road the emotion to their first CHSFL ‘AAA’ final. The team captains carried Cowan’s No. 90 jersey onto the field one more time and refused to quit after falling behind 17 points at the half.

But costly mistakes and missed opportunities caused the Cardinals’ comeback to fall short in a 20-12 loss to defending champion Archbishop Stepinac at Fordham University last Saturday night.

“We all felt him,” Hayes receiver Shameen Jones said of Cowan. “When we were down at halftime and came back we all felt that drive, that push, that momentum to get back, but we came up short.”

Down 17-0 at halftime, the Cardinals (8-3) received new life when cornerback Zahir Williams returned an interception for 43 yards. Quarterback Christian Anderson (15 of 29, 193 yards) ran seven yards or a touchdown to put Hayes on the board at 17-6 with 4:22 to go in the third quarter.

“We kept chopping away and made plays,” Hayes coach C.J. O’Neil said. “We had a big defensive turnover that helped and we kept working on it. Eventually it broke through.”

After a 26-yard field goal from Liam Butler made it 20-6, Anderson connected with Jones on a 64-yard reception for a first and goal. Running back Justin Covington, who was held to just 20 yards rushing, finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown to make it 20-12 with 8:47 left in the game. Jones caught five passes for 97 yards.

Momentum was on the Cardinals’ side until a holding penalty eliminated Covington’s 34-yard pass reception into Stepinac territory in the final minutes. Two more flags caused a promising drive to stall and resulted in Hayes punting with 2:30 remaining in the contest. Stepinac (11-0) did not give Hayes another chance.

“As a team, we had a lot of ups and downs,” Jones said. “We lost one of our teammates but we stepped up together as a family. We came out on a five game streak and made it to the championship. It was all for him.”

Stepinac’s offense fed off quarterback Tyquell Fields, who found the end zone from 4 yards out on the opening drive. Running back Antonio Giannico scored on a 4-yard run with three minutes to go in the first quarter to give Stepinac a 14-0 lead.

Anderson was intercepted twice by T.J. Morrison before halftime. The first came at the Crusaders’ 25-yard line and the second at their 11. A 25-yard field goal by Liam Butler in the final seconds of the second quarter made it 17-0 in favor of Stepinac before the Cardinals held them to just three points over the final two frames.

While Hayes was unable to dig out of the hole, it went a long way in its second season up in the top division. It still can end on a winning note against Mount St. Michael in their annual Thanksgiving Day clash.

“We moved from being the eighth seed last year to the second seed this year in the AAA,” Anderson said. “We got here to the championship with an 8-2 record. Getting to the championship in general was a pretty good accomplishment this year.”

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