Hayes rides emotional win into ‘AAA’ title game

Cardinal Hayes spent much of last week mourning the death of Delano Cowan. Last Saturday it began honoring his memory and his life the best way it knows how.

With the junior lineman in their hearts the second-seeded Cardinals made history by defeating perennial power and No. 3 St. Anthony’s 44–39 in the CHSFL Class AAA semifinals in front of standing room only crowed at Macombs Dam Park Rooftop Field. The 16-year-old Cowan, who wore No. 90, died on the night of Nov. 8, police are still investigating the circumstances of his death.

The victory punches Hayes ticket to its first championship game at the highest level. It faces top-seed and undefeated defending champion Archbishop Stepinac 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Fordham University. Cowan will be there inside all of his former teammates.

“Now we have to play for a bigger purpose,” senior safety Timothy Poindexter said. “Not only are we playing for our first AAA championship. We are also playing for our brother. Our saying is that he did not die in vain. God doesn’t do anything for no reason.”

The night ended with the Cardinals second victory over the Friars this season, the popping of sparkling cider bottles in Cowan’s honor, a post-game speech in the end zone from alum and Jets offensive lineman Willie Colon and a Gatorade bath for coach C.J. O’Neil. It was a much different tone at the start. The Hayes players walked onto the field in three lines arm in arm led by Poindexter, running back Justin Covington and O’Neil, who was holding Cowan’s jersey. All of them wore a D.C. 90 patch on the back of their helmets.

“He is one of my brothers,” said Covington, who also had Cowan’s initials and number written on the tape around his wrists. “He is fallen, but he is up in the sky now watching over us. He lives through me and I live through him. I’m going to continue to play for him.”

Doing so, the Villanova commit turned in a performance that will be remembered for years to come at Hayes, which led 18¬-0 in the second quarter. He ran for a season high 273 yards and scored five touchdowns on 32 carries. Covington had scoring runs of 6, 45, 56, 16, and 3 yards.

He twice pushed the Hayes lead back to 18-0 points in the second half as St. Anthony’s (7-3) tried to rally. Covington’s final touchdown capped a 13-play, 55-yard drive that put the Cardinals (8-2) up 44-33 with 7:13 to play in the game.

“He’s 16,” O’Neil said of Covington. “He is not going to be 17 for a while. In a few years when he is playing football, he is going to be something to just sit back and look at and be amazed.”

Cardinals handled the heartbreak and adversity it went through well. Cowan’s wake and funeral still need to happen, but there was a vigil outside his home on E. 152nd St. in the Bronx. Cowan was remembered as a coachable kid, who was fun to be around and with a smile ever present on his face.

“He was amazing,” Poindexter said. “He had everything going for him. That kid had some up side. Whenever he was around us he smiled. You never saw a bad face on him.”

The players said the emotion of the week helped them turn back St. Anthony’s repeated rallied. The Friars behind quarterback Tom Walsh and receiver James Pryor II pulled with in as close as 18-14 in the second quarter and 38-33 with 17.6 to play in the third. In addition to Covington’s efforts, quarterback Christian Anderson went 12 of 19 passing for 183 yards and a touchdown and also ran for a score. Lucas Nunez had a key interception in the fourth quarter.

“It prepared us for this moment,” Anderson said. “We had a lot of adversity in this game, a lot of ups and downs. To want to win it for him help us get through this game.”

It earned them then right to play for a historic title and to continue to plat for Cowan. They will take him with them to Fordham for the season’s biggest game.

“We just rallied around Delano,” Covington said. “We beat St. Anthony’s and we are going to the championship now. We are going to win it for him.”

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