All the talk leading up to the 85th annual Turkey Bowl between Fordham Prep and Xavier was about a special running back named Seamus Kelly. The Rams were trying to figure out how to do what no other team could do this year: stop the bruising back from Breezy Point.
But when the crowd of 5,000 left Coffey Field in the Bronx on Thursday afternoon, they talked not about “Famous Seamus,” but instead about Fordham junior Bruce Grant, who rushed for three second-half touchdowns to help lead the Rams to a 41-28 victory on the Rose Hill campus of Fordham University.
“The spotlight was off him, which was good because then he could play footloose and fancy free,” Fordham Prep coach Pete Gorynski said of Grant. “It was a phenomenal job by that offensive line. They did a great job of opening up holes and Bruce did what he was supposed to do: he ran through them and goodbye.”
Fordham Prep leads the series, 47-35-3, and snapped a two-game losing streak with the dramatic win.
“It wasn’t the best season, but just to get the seniors out with a win that takes away the whole bad season,” said Grant, who rushed for 288 yards on 26 carries. “It’s such a great feeling.”
Kelly got his, rushing for 264 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries, but it didn’t come easily thanks to a hard-hitting Fordham Prep defense led by senior linebackers Chris Moffa and Kevin Moore.
“We knew we were going to have to get a big push from our line and hopefully clean up with our backers and me and (Kevin) Moore cleaned up all day, our line did a tremendous job burning up holes,” Moffa said. “We’ve seen him put up all these numbers, but he hasn’t done it on us.”
Xavier (8-3) was the leading scoring team in the CHSFL this year, but was shut out in the first half for the first time since last year’s Turkey Bowl. In that game, played at Brooklyn’s Aviator Field, the Knights rallied to win, 20-14.
“If you score three or four times in a game, you’re going to win 75 percent of your games,” Xavier coach Chris Stevens said. “We need to play defense. I don’t know whether it’s schemes or personnel or what it is. But every game we lost we had 40 scored on us, so we need to do a better job.”
On Thursday, Kelly did break out in the second half with four touchdowns – three on the ground and one receiving. But Grant answered every single punch by Kelly with an effective counterpunch.
“He had a fabulous game,” Connor Brown said of Grant. “He stepped up big for us. Once they double-teamed me, he just broke out.”
On touchdown runs of 62 and 22 yards, Kelly single-handedly tied the game at 14, but on the Rams next play from scrimmage, Grant ran untouched up the middle for a 67-yard score.
Kelly scored on a 4-yard run and Grant came right back with a 38-yard score. The biggest blow, though, came after Matthew Safko hit Kelly for a 46-yard touchdown pass to bring Xavier to within 35-28 with 2:16 left.
But after an unsuccessful onside kick, Grant broke free for a 46-yard touchdown run to cap the Rams victory.
“Coach made a game plan that was unstoppable and we executed today,” Grant said.
Grant picked up where Brown left off in the first half. The senior receiver, who also had a stellar day defensively, gave Fordham Prep (5-7) a 14-0 halftime lead with touchdown receptions of 97 and 60 yards. He also added a 2-yard catch for a score in the third quarter.
“There’s no words to describe how I feel right now,” Brown said. “We had a tough season at 4-7. They got us the last two years and last year was especially tough walking off the field as a loser, but this year, words can’t describe it.”
While the Turkey Bowl win makes up for a disappointing season in the ‘AAA’ for the Rams, a loss in ‘The Game’ doesn’t diminish another special season for Xavier.
“This senior class goes out 18-4,” Xavier coach Chris Stevens said. “We’re the AA-A division champs, the leading scoring team in the CHSFL. We’ve done some great things.”
The same could be said about Grant and seniors like Brown, Moffa, Charlie Argast and Wayne Seaton, who cap their high-school careers with a massive victory.
“It’s a way to finish it out and to send the seniors out,” Gorynski said. “Those boys deserved it. I’m real happy for them.”