MIDDLETOWN — This story on Friday night’s Sheehan-Xavier football game was written at 2 o’clock in the morning.
No doubt, more than one Sheehan Titan was tossing and turning at the same hour, reliving it, unable to sleep.
It wasn’t just one of those long nights. It was a longer.
On a night in which so much seemed to conspire against them — heavy rain that short-circuited their passing game, turnovers on special teams that led directly to 21 Xavier points, a long touchdown run and several other key plays erased by penalties — the Titans dropped a 24-16 SCC Tier 2 decision to the host Falcons at Larry McHugh Field
And for the Titans, who live on a razor’s edge as the smallest school in the SCC, it’s a loss that could cut deeply in their chase for a playoff berth. Sheehan stands at 2-2 and No. 10 in the Class SS playoff rankings as Week 4 came to a close.
The good news — and maybe this will help the Titans get crucial sleep before returning to Hope Hill for practice — is six games still lay ahead, starting Saturday night against Foran.
“The approach doesn’t change; standards don’t change,” said Sheehan coach John Ferrazzi. “We get back at it tomorrow morning as we always do. We’re going to look ourselves in the mirror. When we’re out at practice we’ve got to take care of things, but I know we’ll come back hungry. That’s the way these kids are.”
Senior quarterback Paul Gorry concurred.
“We’ve just got to have four strong days of practice, come back really strong and have our heads high,” he said. “Play as one, heal up and just move on to the next one.”
Gorry and the Titans put quite a few moves on Xavier (3-1). The hitch was, they were almost exclusively on the ground.
With Friday night’s rain coming down at either a torrential or biblical rate, passes from Gorry sailed long or fell from the normally sure grasp of his receivers.
So the Titans pounded behind Gorry (8-42, 1 TD) and sophomore running back Brady Rossacci, who was an absolute workhorse with 168 yards and two TDs on 30 carries.
Missing from Rossacci’s totals was an 80-yard touchdown run just before halftime nullified by a holding penalty at midfield.
That lost score was crucial for the Titans, who were playing catchup all night after fumbling the opening kickoff and getting their first punt blocked off a low snap.
Both of those special teams turnovers led to Xavier touchdowns. The fumbled kickoff set up a 36-yard scoring drive capped by Ean Pringle’s 3-yard buck. The punt was both blocked and returned for a 5-yard TD by Oli Obi.
Less than six minutes in, Sheehan trailed 14-0.
But the tide turned. Rossacci sprung a 39-yard gain to spark a drive that produced a 27-yard field goal by Austin Eccles.
On the next possession, a fourth-down run by Gorry and a third-down pass interference call on Xavier sustained a 60-yard march capped by a Gorry 11-yard TD scamper.
The PAT by Eccles was no good, but the Titans were within a score, 14-9.
Meanwhile, the Sheehan defense, led by linebackers Jack Grant and Austin DiPasquale, had forced two straight Falcon punts.
With the rain, punts were such a misadventure waiting to happen that Xavier actually declined a roughing-the-kicker call after pinning the Titans inside their 20 and Sheehan, more times than not, gambled on fourth down rather than kick, even in their own territory.
“We fumbled a snap on a punt — actually, we had two mishaps on punts — so we kind of felt like we were forced into going for it on fourth down,” Ferrazzi said. “It was just a decision we had to make due to the conditions.”
The second mishap on a punt was a dagger. It came in the final two minutes of the first half with the score still at 14-9. The snap was low and Eccles, the punter, inadvertently went down on one knee to field it.
That downed the ball. Xavier took over at the Sheehan 18 and, on third down at the 12, junior QB Sam Andrea rolled left and hit senior Bobby Zdrojeski in the end zone for the 21-9 lead the Falcons took into halftime.
Then again, in the 42 seconds that remained before the break, the Titans could have whittled the gap back down to 5, but Rossacci’s 80-yard breakaway was called back and a 50-yard bomb into the end zone by Gorry bounded off his intended receiver’s numbers.
“We had things open,” said Ferrazzi. “When we went to the air, we just couldn’t make a play.”
Sheehan did flip the special teams script to open the second half. Eccles lined a squib kick square off an Xavier upback and the Titans recovered at the 40. Three plays later, Rossacci slipped free for a 30-yard TD.
Eccles converted the PAT, the score was 21-16 and Sheehan had the Big Mo back.
And yet the Titans would not score again. Later in the third quarter, Sheehan gambled on 4th-and-1 from its 31 and Xavier held.
The Falcons nearly squandered the excellent field position with a holding call, but converted on 3rd-and-15 when Andrea beat the blitz with an inside screen to Pringle. Xavier kicker Daniel Benzi followed with a 34-yard field goal that gave the Falcons breathing room — sort of.
“It was one of those games that was back and forth, back and forth; I never felt comfortable until we took a knee,” said Xavier coach Andy Guyon. “But we just fought, managed the game and did things we needed to to come out ahead.”
Guyon started his coaching career as Sheehan’s head man in 2003 and 2004 — Ferrazzi was one of his assistants — and the Xavier skipper still has ample respect for the program.
“37 (Rossacci) is special, their quarterback is very good, 10 (Jayden Daugherty) and 6 (Dante DiNuzzo) are very good and they’re gigantic up front,” Guyon said. “They did a great job running the ball and they’re tough on defense. They’re tough, tough kids. They match John’s personality.”
On this night, they just couldn’t punch in that one last score they needed.
The Titans had three shots in the final quarter. They went 3-and-out, gained midfield only to see a first-down pass well into Xavier territory go by the boards on an ineligible man downfield, then fell short of the sticks at their own 35 in the final, rain-soaked minute.
“It’s just incredibly frustrating the way some things happened down the stretch,” said Ferrazzi. “I can tell you the same thing I told our players: Their heart and their desire, their effort, their toughness on game days, it’s never questioned. They come ready to play; they leave it on the field. We’ve just got to clean up some mistakes that we can control so that when we’re tight games like this we can finish, and not leave it in the hands of anybody else but ourselves.”
“There were opportunities out there that we missed,” said Gorry. “It was definitely difficult, but we’ve just got to take this one on the chin and move on. Things are going to happen; you’ve just got to work around them.”