Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, and St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, are located just two miles apart on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens.
So naturally, a heated football rivalry – one that has been called the best high school football rivalry in New York City – exists between these two schools.
Whenever they meet on the gridiron, the game is referred to as the “Battle of the Boulevard.”
This year’s “Battle of the Boulevard” was quite different than year’s past, since this game was the quarterfinal round of the CHSFL ‘AAA’ division varsity playoffs. It was the first time since 1997 that these two teams met in the playoffs.
The intense battle, played Nov. 9 at Mitchel Field, Uniondale, L.I., ended in a 20-13 Holy Cross victory – the fifth straight by the Knights over the L’il Terriers.
“We’re rivals,” said Holy Cross senior running back Jordan Francklin. “They’re right down the block from us. We take the same bus route as these kids, so this means a lot. It’s bragging rights for the whole year.”
The No. 6 seeded Knights relied on a strong ground attack, led by 183 combined rushing yards from Francklin and fellow senior running back Brandon Pelzer.
“The offensive line…I give them all the credit,” Pelzer said. “They honestly opened all the holes up for us, and we just executed by running.”
The No. 3 ranked L’il Terriers had rattled off eight consecutive wins prior to the playoff loss, which made the win for the Knights that much more special.
“The Prep game…that defines your career for these kids for both teams,” said Holy Cross head coach Tom Pugh, in his 40th year at the helm of the Knights. “To make it a playoff game adds a little more for these kids. It was big, and we built on it all week.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Holy Cross took the lead early in the second quarter on a nine-play drive capped off by a 1-yd. touchdown run by Pelzer.
But the L’il Terriers answered right back with a 12-play, 63-yd. drive, with senior running back Tariq Olivier crossing the goal line from one-yard out. However, junior kicker Francis Cole missed the extra point wide right.
The first half ended at 7-6 Knights, but Holy Cross struck again on its first possession of the third quarter.
The Knights methodically moved the ball downfield, before junior running back Christopher Manfre ripped off a 25-yd. touchdown run. But senior kicker Thomas Farnan missed his extra point, so St. Francis Prep trailed by only seven.
The L’il Terriers took over deep in their own territory, but senior running back Justin Guerre picked up good chunks of yards to get the ball into Knights’ territory.
On a 2nd-and-8 play, senior quarterback Billy Gluck threw a deep pass over the middle intended for senior wide receiver Jonathan Joseph. Joseph gave it an all-out effort, but the ball landed incomplete, just out of the reach of the diving wide receiver. St. Francis Prep was forced to punt.
The L’il Terriers’ defense forced the Knights to punt early in the fourth quarter, setting up the team for a potential game-tying drive. Gluck hit Olivier on a 43-yd. pass play, setting his team up deep in opposing territory.
Junior running back Marquis Gordon took a second-down snap from Gluck and broke through the line heading for the endzone. However, a group of Knights’ defenders lodged the ball out of Gordon’s grasp right before he crossed the goal line. The ball trickled out of the back of the endzone for a touchback.
Though it appeared Gordon may have broken the plane of the endzone with control – one of the referees even signaled for a touchdown – the referees conferred, and the call of a touchback stood. Holy Cross took over still leading by seven.
The Prep’s defense again forced a Holy Cross punt, and the L’il Terriers’ offense took over with 6:19 remaining in the game. On a 3rd-and-10 play, Knights’ senior defensive tackle Jared Labides broke through the line to pick up a sack, forcing a punt.
Senior cornerback/wide receiver Brandon Jackson fielded the punt at his own 35-yd.-line, followed a few key blocks and then broke away down the sideline for a 65-yd. punt return touchdown. Farnan added the extra point to put Holy Cross up 20-6.
“I caught the first couple of blocks and had six guys in front of me,” Jackson said. “There was no way they were going to let me get caught.”
Almost instantly though, St. Francis Prep responded, as Gluck hit senior wide receiver Michael Hartgrove deep over the middle, and Hartgrove broke two tackles on his way to a 49-yd. touchdown reception. Again, the L’il Terriers trailed by just seven with 3:06 remaining.
On the ensuing kickoff, St. Francis Prep attempted an onside kick, but Knights’ junior center Michael Beccarelli covered up the ball to keep possession with Holy Cross.
The Knights simply needed one or two first downs to ice the game, and on a 4th-and-1 play, Pelzer rushed through for three yards and the first down. Another first down run by junior quarterback Akini Primus allowed the clock to run down to zero for the Knights’ win.
Francklin finished the game with 93 yds. rushing on 18 carries, while Pelzer carried the ball 16 times for 90 yds. Gluck ended the day 5-for-10 passing for 138 yds. and a touchdown. Guerre gained 62 yds. on 17 carries.
“It’s a great game because both teams gave everything they had, and one team wins and one team loses,” said longtime St. Francis Prep varsity football coach Vince O’Connor. “And they (L’il Terriers) played very well. I was very pleased with how well they played. We know we’re always going to play a tough game against Cross.”
To mark Pugh’s 40th year coaching at Holy Cross, the school invited Pugh’s first Knights’ team to the playoff game. The team members all signed a football and presented it to their coach.
The Knights’ celebration of their win in the “Battle of the Boulevard” lasted only one night, as the team prepares this week to take on the No. 2 ranked Flyers of Chaminade H.S., Mineola, L.I., on Saturday in the semifinals.
During the regular season, Chaminade earned a 3-0 win over the Knights, so the stage is set for another intense matchup.