By CHRISTOPHER LAWLOR
CATHOLIC ATHLETES FOR CHRIST
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Deck the halls with… additional four state champions? Yes, ’tis the season to fete the winners from last week and admire teams that advanced to state championship games but fell a bit short.
So, we’ve made it to Christmas and the Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 Fall High School Football Rankings presented by Global Football have plenty of unfinished business. That means state championships will be played next week in Louisiana and Georgia and more news from the Great Lakes State.
We’re also getting closure in Michigan.
This is the Michigan High School Athletic Association press release in part from Dec. 18:
“The three remaining Fall tournaments still to be completed this 2020 season by the Michigan High School Athletic Association will resume, with teams allowed to restart practice Monday, Dec. 21, according to an announcement today allowing those activities to resume by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and a plan approved by the MHSAA’s Representative Council.
The football playoffs will begin Jan. 2, with Regional finals for 11-player teams and semifinals for 8-player teams. The 8-player championship games in both divisions and all 11-player semifinals will be played the following Saturday, Jan. 9.
The football season will conclude with the 11-Player Finals in all divisions the weekend of Jan. 15-16. All Semifinals in both 11 and 8-player will be played at home sites. The dates for the all eight divisions at Ford Field [in Detroit, home of the Detroit Lions,] will be finalized soon and posted to the MHSAA website.”
That’s good news and here’s more.
The Triple Option selection, where we honor a player and coach and preview what’s left on the state championship schedule. In Florida, there’s smallish quarterback that closed out his illustrious prep career with style in style. As for coaches, anytime you win your last game of the year, it’s an indicator of great things. We’re also delving into state championships in two states and the playoffs from Midwest.
Player of the Week: Quarterback Brody Palhegyi of No. 8 Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). If this were the Super Bowl then Palhegyi would be saying. “I’m going to Disneyland!” After his magical performance last week in the Florida Class 4A, Palhegyi entered a kingdom of signal-callers that few enter: Two Florida state championship victories in three seasons under center.
Along with Texas and California, winning a Florida state title is a different level.
At 5 feet, 10 inches, Palhegyi’s performance was scintillating and his passer rating was a staggering, are-you-serious 219.0. That’s not a misprint. The senior competed 29-of-33 passes (88.8 completion percentage) for 358 yards and four touchdowns in the Chief’s 35-21 triumph over Bolles School (Jacksonville) in Tallahassee. You don’t see days like this in the biggest game of the year but Palhegyi delivered.
Bolles took an early 7-0 lead but Palhegyi erased it tossing scoring strikes of 4, 7 and 32 yards to three different receivers and it was 21-7 after three quarters. Palhegyi then put the finishing touches on the title, throwing 9 yards to WR Troy Stellato, a Clemson signee, and it was 35-7 with 2:25 left in the contest. He also rushed for 66 yards on 12 carries, totaling 424 yards. Gibbons went 8-1 in a pandemic year, overcoming obstacles to secure the hardware.
In 2018, Palhegyi, then a backup, engineered his first title in a 48-10 win over North Marion (Citra) in the 5A final. He pressed into the starter’s role due to injury and never looked back.
“Overall, he’s just a winner,” Gibbons head coach Matt DuBuc told the Miami Herald, “and when you play with winners you usually win, too.”
Palhegyi is still looking for landing spot for college but the dual-threat QB did everything possible to change it.
It has never been a surprise to DuBuc, who first watched Palhegyi play when he was in middle school, playing for the Plantation Wildcats. Even then, Palhegyi was sort of like the player he is now. He was small for a quarterback, but he had the same alchemy of attributes which have made him one of Florida best — yet least celebrated — quarterbacks.
Coaches of the Week: Since this is the season of giving, we’re going to highlight four coaches, three from Florida and one from Kentucky, who piloted teams to state championships.
Bob Beatty of No. 2 Trinity (Louisville, Ky.): Captured his 16th state championship as the Shamrocks (10-0) shut out rival Male (Louisville), 28-0, for the Class 6A championship. Beatty’s team was particularly strong on defense with three postseason shutouts and Trinity now has won a Kentucky-record 27 football titles. Sounds like it’s time for an addition to the program’s trophy case.
Matt DuBuc of No. 8 Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.): The Chiefs captured their second FHSAA championship in two years following a 35-21 victory over Bolles School (Jacksonville) in the Class 4A final. DuBuc led the Chiefs to the Class 5A title in 2018.
Hector Clavijo of Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah): The Lions are the pride of Florida’s Class 2A after winning a third championship in four years after a come-from-behind 41-27 win over University Christian (Jacksonville) in the final. Clavijo’s crew finished 11-2, closed on an eight-game winning skein and bagged a second straight 2A crown. The offense racked up 549 points, averaging better than 40 points per game
Roger Harriott of No. 4 St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.): Aquinas stands alone, at least for another year, at the summit of Florida football after beating Edgewater (Orlando), 31-21, for a second straight Class 7A crown. Harriott’s program closed the season with a Florida record 12 football championships—one better than Bolles School (11 titles).
Games of the Week (All times are local and games are subject to change): The action stays in the South with the Louisiana and Georgia state championships. Three games involving CAC eligible teams are playing for titles in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Prep Classic in Natchitoches. The lone state that played the fall season, Michigan, awaits to go-ahead to play their final three rounds of playoffs.
Louisiana High School Athletic Association championship, Sunday- Monday: The state of Louisiana gets a belated Christmas present with four days of high school football but the opening two days of the finals feature three teams from CAC 25 Fall rankings at Northwestern State University’s Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches. Here’s the CAC eligible teams schedule at the LHSAA Prep Classic:
Division I, No. 25 Catholic (Baton Rouge) vs. C.E. Byrd (Shreveport), Sunday, 6 p.m.; Division III, St. Charles Catholic (Laplace) vs. Lafayette Christian, Monday, 3:30 p.m.; and No. 18 De La Salle (New Orleans) vs. No. 9 St. Thomas More (Lafayette), Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia High School Athletic Association championships: Georgia closes the chapter on a season to remember next week with championship game spread over three days in Atlanta at Center Parc Credit Union Stadium on the campus of Georgia State University. For our purpose there’s one game of interest in Class AAAA.
No. 6 Marist School (Atlanta) vs. Jefferson, Tuesday, 3:30 p.m.: The Marist War Eagles (12-0) play a special brand of football, stressing a defense that has allowed 34 points with seven shutouts, including three in the Class AAAA playoffs. Jefferson (14-0) outscored Benedictine Military (Savannah), 42-35, in the semifinals, using a punishing running game. Jefferson blue-chip junior QB Malaki Starks ran for 300 yards and four TDs and passed for another in that game. What an appetizing matchup befitting a title game the Georgia prep diehard fans will savor.
Michigan High School Athletic Association championships, Jan. 15-16: All we know is the eight MHSAA title games are slated for the weekend of Jan. 15-16, 2021. Hey, better late than never. The teams will play the Regional round on Jan. 2 and the state semifinals on Jan. 9. No. 23 Detroit Catholic Central (Novi) is alive and goes to Davison for the Division I Regionals on Jan. 2. Weather could be factor because Michigan winters are usually brutal.
When the play resumes these are the Regional matchups (and one from the 8-person semifinals): Division 1, Detroit Catholic Central at Davison; Division 2, De La Salle Collegiate (Warren) at Mott (Warren); Division 5, Oakridge (Muskegon) at Grand Rapids Central Catholic and Grosse Ile at Lansing Catholic; Division 7 Lumen Christi (Jackson) at Schoolcraft; and Division 2 (8-player) semifinal, North Huron (Kinde) at St. Patrick (Portland).
2020 CAC Honor Roll
As the state champions are crowned, the CAC Top Fall 25 will recognize as many of the schools that qualify for our rankings in this section. To qualify a Roman Catholic operated school with an 11-man football must have won a state sanctioned championship or a postseason tournament that would equate to winning a championship. States are listed alphabetically. Last weekend, we inscribed one champion to our 2020 Honor Roll. We’ll do the same when the 2021 Winter/Spring gets going. [Note: this year we’ll list small-player football state champions too.]
If we fumbled and did not recognize your state championship team, please inform us with the information and we’ll rectify that quickly. After seven weekends of championship games, there are 18 entries, with four from Florida added this week.
Florida: Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah), Class 2A. Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale), Class 4A. St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale), Class 7A. Columbus (Miami), Class 8A Tri-County Gold.
Indiana: Bishop Chatard (Indianapolis), Class 3A. Roncalli (Indianapolis), Class 4A. Cathedral (Indianapolis), Class 5A.
Iowa: Regina (Iowa City), Class A; St. Mary’s (Remsen), Eight-Player.
Kansas: St. James Academy (Lenexa), Class 4A.
Kentucky: Trinity (Louisville), Class 6A
Missouri: Helias Catholic (Jefferson City), Class 4.
North Dakota: St. Mary’s Central (Bismarck), Division AA.
Ohio: St. Xavier (Cincinnati), Division I. Archbishop Hoban (Akron), Division II.
Pennsylvania: St. Joseph’s Prep (Philadelphia), PIAA Class AAAAAA. Central Catholic (Pittsburgh), WPIAL Class AAAAAA.
Texas: St. Paul (Shiner), TAPPS Division IV.
Well, that’s a wrap for the fourth week of Advent. Christmas is two days away, which is a relief in a pandemic year.
The CAC Top 25 Final Fall rankings go live on January 20. At which time, we’ll have the final results from the Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan state championships. Those normally influence the CAC rankings. We’ll also announce the schedule for the CAC Winter/Spring rankings for the states that have delayed their seasons.
In May or June, the Winter/Spring final rankings will be released and then we’ll combine both sets of rankings for the CAC Top 25 Final rankings for the 2020-2021 academic year. Yes, it’s a long, split season but we’re in it for the long haul.
We encourage fans, players, parents and coaches to follow the CAC Top 25 through social media at www.Facebook.com/CACTop25 and on Twitter @CACTop25. If there is a team, coach, player or story idea that we may have overlooked, reach out with the details. We’re are awaiting your response.
As a reminder: mask up, practice social distancing, wash your hands frequently and remain safe. Also support your local businesses and eateries.
To everyone from our editorial staff and the Catholic Athletes for Christ, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. God knows we need to turn the page on 2020. Here’s to future days and the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be!
Season’s greetings and God Bless. – Christopher Lawlor
Catholic Athletes for Christ Fall Top 25 Rankings, December 23, 2020
1. St. Joseph Prep, Philadelphia, Pa. (6-0)*
Previous rank: 1.
In the Huddle: The Hawks won their third straight PIAA Class AAAAAA state championship and fourth in five years. Season complete.
2. Trinity, Louisville, Ky. (10-0)*
Previous rank: 2.
In the Huddle: In one of the greatest season-long performances, the Shamrocks claimed their state-record 27th state championship, clubbing rivals Male (Louisville), 26-0, in the Class 6A final. Leading 7-0, RB Bradley West got to work, rushing for TD runs of 4, 7 and 10 yards to finish off the Bulldogs. The Shamrocks won the championship game matchup for the second straight year. In 10 games, the Rocks’ defense conceded 31 points or 3 points per game with four shutouts and allowed 7 points in four playoffs games. Outstanding! Season complete.
3. Archbishop Hoban, Akron, Ohio (11-0)*
Previous rank: 3.
In the Huddle: Won Division II state championship. Season complete.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (8-1)*
Previous rank: 4.
In the Huddle: The Raiders are Florida state football champions for a record 12th time, defeating Edgewater (Orlando), 31-21, in the Class 7A final for the second consecutive year. The Raiders did not hold the statistical edge in most offensive categories but recovered two fumbles and picked off two passes to snuff out potential scoring drives. RB Anthony Hankerson rushed for 181 yards on 26 carries and scored three TDs. Ja’Den McBurrows paced the defense with four tackles but broke the game open with a 46-yard, pick-six late in the second quarter for a 21-7 lead. Season complete.
5. Cathedral, Indianapolis, Ind. (13-1)*
Previous rank: 5.
In the Huddle: Won Class 5A state championship. It was the Fighting Irish’s 13th title. Eason complete.
6. Marist School, Atlanta, Ga. (12-0)—D29-330
Previous rank: 6.
In the Huddle: Coach Alan Chadwick’s club continued their torrid pace on both sides of the ball during a 42-0 blanking of Bainbridge in the Class AAAA semifinals. The War Eagles capped a long drive with a TD at 4:36 off the first quarter and that was it. Next is championship matchup with unbeaten Jefferson on Dec. 29 at Georgia State University’s Center Parc Credit Union Stadium in Atlanta.
7. St. Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio (10-2)*
Previous rank: 7.
In the Huddle: Won a fourth Division I state championship and the first since 2016. Season complete.
8. Cardinal Gibbons, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (9-1)*
Previous rank: 9.
In the Huddle: QB Brody Palhegyi saved his best for last as the Chiefs thrashed Bolles School (Jacksonville), 35-21, in the Class 4A final. It was the team’s second state title in the last three seasons. Palhegyi was sensational, completing 29 of 33 passes for 358 yards and four TDs. Gibbons trailed 7-0 early but led 14-7 at halftime and 21-7 after three quarters. Clemson- bound WR Troy Stellato had six receptions for 69 yards and two scores. Mason Thomas paced the defense with three tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack. Season complete.
9. St. Thomas More, Lafayette, La. (9-0)
Previous rank: 10.
In the Huddle: The Cougars play No. 18 De La Salle (New Orleans) for the LHSAA Division II state championship on Dec. 28 in Natchitoches.
10. De Smet Jesuit, St. Louis, Mo. (6-1)
Previous rank: 11.
In the Huddle: The Spartans advanced to the Class 6 final. Season complete.
11. Columbus, Miami, Fla. (7-0)*
Previous rank: 15.
In the Huddle: The Explorers did not enter the FHSAA Class 8A tournament for COVID-19 concerns but there was a reason to celebrate after knocking off previously undefeated Deerfield Beach, 27-24, in the Tri-County Class 8A Gold-Level final in Miami. The Tri-County gathered the top teams from south Florida’s three counties that did play in states. QB Fernando Mendoza fired a 15-yard TD pass to WR Christopher Gilbert with 5:12 remaining to rally his team from a 24-20 deficit. The defense did the rest. Columbus led 10-3 at halftime and received an 85-yard kickoff TD return Jahvar McSween in the second half. Season complete.
12. Blessed Trinity Catholic, Roswell, Ga. (8-1)
Previous rank: 12.
In the Huddle: Season complete.
13. Chaminade-Madonna College Prep, Hollywood, Fla. (8-2)
Previous rank: 8.
In the Huddle: Miami-bound RB Thaddius Franklin rushed for 106 yards and two TD on 26 carries but it wasn’t enough in a 25-22 loss to Trinity Christian (Jacksonville) in the Class 3A final. The Lions were up 22-17 late in the game but allowed the winning score with 48 seconds remaining thus denying them a four-peat. Season complete.
14. Jesuit, Tampa, Fla. (13-1)
Previous rank: 13.
In the Huddle: Season complete.
15. Nolan Catholic, Fort Worth, Texas (8-1)
Previous rank: 14.
In the Huddle: Advanced to TAPPS Division I final. Season complete.
16. Central Catholic, Pittsburgh, Pa. (6-3)
Previous rank: 16.
In the Huddle: The Vikings are WPIAL Class AAAAAA champions for a second straight year. Season complete.
17. Bergen Catholic, Oradell, N.J. (5-1)
Previous rank: 17.
In the Huddle: New Jersey did not hold state championships this season. Season complete.
18. De La Salle, New Orleans, La. (9-0)
Previous rank: 18.
In the Huddle: The Cavaliers meet No. 9 St. Thomas More (Lafayette) for the LHSAA Division II title on Dec. 28.
19. St. Peter’s Prep, Jersey City, N.J. (4-2)
Previous rank: 16.
In the Huddle: Season complete.
20. St. Joseph Regional, Montvale, N.J. (6-2)
Previous rank: 20.
In the Huddle: Last week, RB Audric Estime, New Jersey’s player of the year, flipped his college decision from Michigan State to Notre Dame. Estime, who previously verballed to the Big Ten school, had a change of heart after rushing for a state-high 1,838 yards and 22 TDs in an eight-game, shortened campaign. His teammate, OT Geno VanDeMark, did sign with Michigan State. Season complete.
21. Dowling Catholic, West Des Moines, Iowa (7-2)
Previous rank: 21.
In the Huddle: Season complete.
22. St. Edward, Lakewood, Ohio (6-2)
Previous rank: 22.
In the Huddle: Season complete.
23. Detroit Catholic Central, Novi, Mich. (9-0)
Previous rank: 23.
In the Huddle: It’s game on in Michigan! Hooray and an early Christmas gift from the governor’s office. The Shamrocks started practice earlier this week after a six-week pandemic pause. DCC travels to unbeaten Davison in the Division I Regional on Jan. 2. The semifinals are scheduled for Jan. 9 at the higher seed and the finals are Jan. 16 in Detroit’s Ford Field.
24. Delbarton School, Morristown, N.J. (6-0)
Previous rank: 24.
In the Huddle: The Green Wave captured the Super Football League United White Division title and had 10 players earn first team all-league honors. New Jersey did not conduct a postseason this term. Season complete.
25. Catholic, Baton Rouge, La. (8-2)
Previous rank: 25.
In the Huddle: The Bears play C.C. Byrd (Shreveport) for the Division I state championship on Dec. 27.
Dropped out: None.
Special Consideration: Champagnat Catholic (Hialeah, Fla.)*; Holy Spirit (Absecon, N.J.); Roncalli (Indianapolis, Ind.)*; Bishop Chatard (Indianapolis, Ind.)*; Bishop McGuinness (Oklahoma City, Okla.); Helias Catholic (Jefferson City, Mo.)*; La Salle (Cincinnati, Ohio); McGill-Toolen Catholic (Mobile, Ala.); St. Mary’s Central (Bismarck, N.D.)*; Brother Martin (New Orleans, La.); Covington Catholic (Park Hills); Archbishop Rummel (Metairie, La.); Benedictine Military School (Savannah, Ga.); La Salle College (Wyndmoor, Pa.); Malvern (Pa.) Prep; Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, Pa.); Xavier (Appleton, Wis.); St. Francis DeSales (Columbus, Ohio); Christian Brothers College (St. Louis, Mo.); Bishop Kelley (Tulsa, Okla.);.); Marian (Mishawka, Ind.); Cathedral Prep (Erie, Pa.); Central Catholic (Grand Rapids, Mich.); St. Thomas Academy (Mendota Heights, Minn.); St. Augustine (New Orleans, La.); Monsignor Bonner & Archbishop Prendergast (Drexel Hill, Pa.); Xavier (Cedar Rapids, Iowa); Donovan Catholic (Toms River, N.J.); Central Catholic (Toledo, Ohio); Bishop Luers (Fort Wayne, Ind.); Jesuit (Dallas, Texas); Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis, Mo.); Catholic Memorial (Waukesha, Wis.); Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.); Archmere Academy (Claymont, Del.); St. Pius X Catholic (Atlanta, Ga.); Bishop Dwenger (Fort Wayne, Ind.); Lexington (Ky.) Catholic and Notre Dame Prep (Pontiac, Mich.).
* Won state championship
About the CAC Top 25: In its fourth season in 2020, the Catholic Athletes for Christ Top 25 High School Football Rankings, presented Global Football, are released on Wednesdays from September until the conclusion of the high school season. Criteria include the quality of the team and its players, strength of schedule, tradition, and quality of the team’s league, conference, region or district. The rankings are compiled by Christopher Lawlor, an award-winning writer, who is a voting committee member and advisor for several major national high school events. All Catholic high schools from the United States that feature only four-year players on 11-man teams are eligible for consideration. Catholic Athletes for Christ chapters and presenting sponsors provide input into the weekly rankings, including Global Football Founder & President Patrick Steenberge, who benefited from 16 years of Catholic education at University of Notre Dame, Erie Cathedral Prep and St. Luke’s School, Erie, Pa.