By CHUCKIE MAGGIO
Bobby Bates didn’t say a word, not out of anger or frustration but because he trusted the assistants who helped guide McQuaid this far to find the right words.
The end of the third quarter had swung momentum in the Class AA final. First, Knights quarterback Joe Cairns was stopped short on a fourth down keeper that required a measurement. Two plays later, Victor running back Rushawn Baker broke a 63-yard run for the Blue Devils’ first lead of the game. Victor, which faced the possibility of falling behind by 10 points just minutes before, now led 14-10 entering the fourth quarter of this matchup of unbeatens.
“(My assistant coaches) are the ones who got the guys together and they’re the ones who talked to them,” Bates recalled. “One of the things I’m really proud about, not only with the kids that we have here, but the coaching staff that we have here. Everybody’s invested and everybody’s on the same page.”
Bates was on the other end of the field, so he doesn’t know what wisdom the coaches imparted on the sideline. But those long expressions did not take long to revert to smiles and celebration.
Joe Cairns and Sam Perozzi answered Victor’s house call with a 70-yard connection and run of their own on the drive’s first play, snagging the lead back from the Blue Devils. The 17-14 score held for the remaining 11:41, after which the Knights stormed the field, jumping and hugging as champions do.
A prototypical clash of No. 1 and 2 seeds, the game was decided by noteworthy plays like Perozzi’s dash to the east end zone. Victor compiled 129 yards rushing, held the Knights to a season-low in scoring and, in Bates’s words, “had their moments, too. They were moving the ball on us.”
The Blue Devils, however, threw two second-half interceptions, the first to Collier in the third quarter and the other to Parris Smiley with six minutes remaining. They could not gain six yards on their final fourth down and never got the ball back as McQuaid picked up a first, enabling the Knights to run out the clock.
“Victor’s a fantastic team with an outstanding group of coaches,” Bates remarked. “They’re a very tough, tough team to go against. Our defensive staff did a really nice job all week in getting everybody prepared. Just really proud of how they came out. To bottle them up a bit, it was good.”
Cairns was honored with the game’s MVP award. The senior’s storybook high school finale included seven pass completions for 129 yards and 22 carries for 121 more. The Knights’ offense featured more planned quarterback runs than usual, Bates confirmed, with a target of 20-25 Cairns carries. The first touchdown of the game, in fact, was a 12-yard keeper that preceded Nick Wood’s field goal on the next drive.
“Coming into a (COVID-19) year, you’re not sure you’re gonna get a season. You’re just down,” Cairns said. “To finish my senior year off like this, at home, winning a brick, it’s one thing that probably will make my life, you know? It’s surreal. It feels amazing.”
Bates highlighted the rarity of winning a championship at home in the postgame huddle. Under normal, COVID-19 free circumstances, he noted, the game would have likely taken place on a neutral field. The Knights would have already played their last home game a week before.
For the Knights, accomplishing the third title in program history in their home stadium made the evening even more special.
“We had talked about it with our kids a lot,” Bates acknowledged. “You get a chance to protect your home turf and go through the playoffs on your home turf. To do it here is something that will probably never happen again…
“To be able to do that for these seniors, that’s a pretty cool way to go out.”