Cairns, Passero propel McQuaid’s second-half surge against Aquinas

Senior running back Andrew Passero (No. 3 for McQuaid) had 34 carries for 173 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s victory. (PHOTO: PAUL GOTHAM)

By JOHN LIKANJE

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – October 14, 2006 was the last time the McQuaid Jesuit Knights varsity football program had defeated the Aquinas L’il Irish. Since then, it had been 13 years of frustration that saw the black and gold drop 15 consecutive matchups to the maroon and white. Saturday afternoon at Frontier Field, the streak finally ended as the Knights held off the L’il Irish, 27-21, in the first ever football game held at the home of the Rochester Red Wings.

“We knew everyone was counting us out from the beginning,” senior running back Andrew Passero said. “We knew the juniors coming up would make a huge impact. We knew this team could do it.”

Tied at seven apiece with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter, junior linebacker Will Teresi snatched an interception at Aquinas’ 27-yard line and charged down the sideline until he was brought down two yards short of the end zone. Despite a five-yard penalty, junior quarterback Joe Cairns sprinted to the right side and snuck into the end zone to give the Knights a 14-7 lead they did not relinquish.

“It was supposed to be a fake handoff pass,” Cairns explained. “I saw the dirt in front of me and said ‘Why not?’ I took off.”

 

 

The Knights kept the momentum going. After forcing a three-and-out from Aquinas, Passero barreled into the end zone from 11 yards out to cap off a 10-play, 78-yard drive.

“It was really the (offensive) line,” the senior running back said. “Throughout the entire game, they stepped up and said ‘We got to punch the ball, get a few first downs and this game’s over.’ All credits to them.”

 

 

On the ensuing possession, senior defensive lineman Quinn Bergeron recovered a fumble at the 20-yard line and Passero scampered to the house as the Knights took a commanding 27-7 advantage with 9:06 left in the game.

 

 

Passero led the offense with 34 carries and scrambled for 173 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“We knew from the beginning that if we controlled the clock, we controlled the game,” the senior running back explained. “We knew we had to run the ball.”

Cairns completed six of his nine passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. The junior quarterback carried the ball 12 times for 54 more as well.

“I’m just going to bury my shoulder and hope for the best,” Cairns said.

“We gave him a lot of opportunities to throw the ball, but he saw some room with his legs,” Passero said about Cairns.

“They got a lot of grit,” Knights head coach Bobby Bates said about Cairns and Passero. “They took off and did a good job of finding seams and tough yards. Nothing was coming easy, that’s for sure. They did a great job of not going down on first contact and falling forward and protecting the ball.”

 

 

Junior defensive back James Doerr led the defense with five tackles and an interception.

Cairns and Passero were at the forefront of a Knights offense that dug in the trenches for 253 of their 313 yards coming on the ground. Bates’ squad held the L’il Irish to 33 rushing yards as well.

“We wanted to mix up our personnel a little bit,” Bates explained. “We found something that kind of stuck for us. We thought we did a good job. Forced us some turnovers. That was huge for us. Big turning points in the game.”

“They (McQuaid defensive line) were doing a great job of getting penetration, getting their hands up, rushing the passer. I got to credit our (defensive) line for creating that pressure. I thought our second-level linebackers were doing a good job.”

Aquinas attempted to rally in the last six minutes of the game as Tyler Szalkowski threw two of his three touchdown passes on back-to-back drives. The junior quarterback was 16-of-27 for 218 yards.

 

 

Junior wide receiver Ulysees Russell corralled seven catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Senior Bryan Magee compiled 11 carries for 32 yards.

 

 

McQuaid will host Pittsford next Saturday at 7 p.m. Aquinas’ home opener is against Rush-Henrietta Saturday at 1 p.m.

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