For the first time in over 40 years, something appeared missing at the traditional “Battle of the Boulevard” football game featuring Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, and St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows.
That’s because late St. Francis Prep coach Vince O’Connor and recently retired Holy Cross coach Tom Pugh were not leading their respective teams into the battle.
O’Connor and Pugh are CHSFL legends. O’Connor passed away in February 2015 after 62 years at the helm of the L’il Terriers, while Pugh retired from coaching prior to the 2015 season after 42 years leading the Knights.
The current coaches – Tim Smith of Holy Cross and Rich Carroll of the Prep – both are well aware of the impact the former coaches had not only on this rivalry but also on the entire Catholic League as a whole
“It feels a lot different because you’re not seeing those two guys (O’Connor and Pugh) on the sidelines,” Smith said. “Their faces on the sidelines is almost synonymous with this game, and to not have them makes a big difference.”
Both current coaches are very familiar with the body of work of their rivals’ former coach and were quick to delve into the impact those coaches had on the league.
“Tom Pugh cares so much about kids,” Carroll said. “I couldn’t even list the number of Prep kids he’s helped go to college. He really is a coaches’ coach. He represents the league; he represents Holy Cross; he represents all that’s good about being part of the Catholic High School Football League.”
“I had the pleasure of working with him (O’Connor) once, and it was one of the best years I’ve ever had in my life coaching,” Smith said. “He made everybody feel like a million dollars. He was not just a great football coach, he was a great man.”
O’Connor was, of course, watching from above on Sept. 11 – the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center – as St. Francis Prep and Holy Cross squared off in this year’s version of the Battle of the Boulevard, named for both schools having an address on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens.
Pugh however inconspicuously enjoyed the non-league game from the Holy Cross sidelines, as he saw his Knights emerge victorious 28-0 at Kissena Corridor Park in Flushing.
The teams did not play last year, so the rivalry gained even more steam heading into this opening weekend CHSFL matchup.
“It’s one of those great rivalries that is timeless,” Carroll said. “This game will last forever in these guys’ memories. They get to play against the kids they grew up with in the same neighborhood.”
The Knights’ defensive attack was stifling, limiting the L’il Terriers to 93 total yds. while also recording three sacks. Holy Cross also looked strong on offense, amassing 465 total yds.
Holy Cross was led on the ground by junior running back Tyler Hallerdin, who gained 122 yds. on 11 carries, and junior running back Justin Felder, who carried the ball 13 times for 108 yds.
Through the air, senior quarterback Christian Valdez completed eight of his 13 pass attempts. Senior wide receiver Michael Ciardiello caught five passes for 97 yds.
The Knights opened the scoring on their first drive of the game, in which Hallderin carried the ball three times for 61 yds., including a four-yard touchdown run.
In the second quarter, Holy Cross rattled off a 12-play, 89-yd. drive to go up 13-0. Valdez connected on a 27-yd. touchdown pass with Ciardiello, who made a diving catch in the corner of the end zone.
Right before the end of the first half, a fumbled kickoff by the Prep gave the Knights good field position. Six plays and 37 yds. later, the Knights led 21-0 heading into the break, thanks to a two-yard touchdown scramble from Valdez.
The Knights added their final score early in the fourth quarter, as Felder ripped off a 20-yard run to conclude a 12-play, 84-yd. drive.
“Honestly we’ve been ready since January,” said senior defensive end Dylan McCutchen. “We all knew the Prep game would be Week 1, and we were all excited for it.”
The Knights may have taken this go-around of the Battle of the Boulevard in shutout fashion, but that just increases the drive for the L’il Terriers to come out swinging in next year’s bout.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.