Program's impressive win over Hackley means something big

There is no denying this year's iteration of St. Luke's football is considerably better than any editions from the recent past.

And the Storm put on one of the best first-half performances under head coach Ryan Brown Saturday afternoon as they improved their record to 4-2 with a 48-26 home win over Hackley. It was the team's third consecutive win and third straight game with more than 40 points put up by the Storm offense.

St. Luke's started definitively and daringly with a 13-play, 74-yard drive that ended with Brandon Yarbrough touchdown at the 5:48 mark of the first quarter. The touchdown came on a fourth-and-2 play-action fake. St. Luke's would never trail or be tied with Hackley the rest of the day.

The dominant W was significant for its meaning in the standings and its commentary on the team as a whole. The victory put St. Luke's at 3-1 in the Fairchester Athletic Association standings, and now, if it wins out, St. Luke's will do the nearly unthinkable: win the FAA regular-season crown.

We're not the best team in the league athletically, but I feel we're the best as a group, senior running back Zaire Reiph said. That's what led us to be so successful. Everybody knows what they have to do … they pick their brother up. Relying on its capable, multi-faceted ground game Saturday afternoon, St. Luke's rushed for a total of 219 yards, led by 110 and two touchdowns from Reiph. Reiph had 202 all-purpose yards, as his 88-yard return for a touchdown with 4:47 left in the game was the exclamation point for Brown's team. And yet, Reiph was only half the problem for the Hornets' defense, as Noel Thomas made the most of his six carries. The newcomer to the Storm rushed for 95 yards and scored two touchdowns.

When you've got a powerhouse like Zaire over here, it makes it easier for a guy like me, Thomas said. I'm trying to be patient, wait for my time. It's going to come. Storm senior quarterback Mac Pivirotto was, at times, dangerous as any Storm ground-gainer, as he completed 5 of 7 passes for 87 yards, one touchdown through the air and one via his feet. Perhaps the most tangible evidence of the Storm's evolution toward being not just an improved, but also a respectable, dynamic football team came on two passes to the same man in the first half.

With 2:20 to go in the first quarter, Pivirotto pump-faked as he rolled right, then hit tight end Adam Connolly on a jump-ball of a throw. Connolly landed at the Hackley 4, good for a 36-yard completion that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Kevin Cross, which gave St. Luke's a 13-0 lead at the 1:40 mark of the first quarter. Pivirotto's pass and Connolly's catch -- those brands of plays -- haven't been a part of St. Luke's football the past two years.

A lot of poise, and he gets it to the right guy, Brown said of Pivirotto's play this year.

The second big pass to Connolly (three catches, 67 yards) was just as impressive; the tight end nabbed a 28-yard tightrope catch in tight coverage at the Hackley 1, setting up a 1-yard run by Pivirotto to bloat the Storm lead to 19-0 with 3:22 to go in the half. It was a dominant first-half performance by St. Luke's that was capped off by a Blake Stroman interception in the end zone with 1:01 remaining.

First half we came out and I said we wanted to run the ball, and we did, Brown said. Plus, we wanted to be able to throw it when we had a (favorable) matchup. With Adam Connolly, he's a good player, with thought we had one with him and exploited that. The second half was a different story, filled with big plays, as both teams operated as if defense was optional in the second half. It started with the first play from scrimmage, when Hackley got on the board on a 64-yard touchdown run by Ian Parnell.

The big moment in the game was our defense responding, Brown said. We come out and give up a touchdown on first play of the second half, fumble the kickoff -- then we push them 20 yards back on that series. That was a huge statement, and then go down and score a touchdown two plays later. It was Thomas who fumbled the kickoff and then ran 53 yards for the touchdown Brown alluded to. That score gave St. Luke's a 27-7 lead at the 8:43 mark of the third quarter. Thomas and Reiph were the collective hammer in the second half. Despite Hackley breaking for big plays against the Storm defense, the two St. Luke's backs responded with 36- and 29-yard scores, the first from Reiph with 1:12 remaining in the third and the latter from Thomas at the 9:53 point of the fourth.

They're two special kids, Brown said. They're special football players, special talents -- and they get along, so there's no competition between them; they just want to make each other better. Reiph, who has been a reliable runner and averaged much more than 100 yards per game this season, was thrilled to have someone to flank him in the backfield as the team makes its push at stealing the FAA title.

Now they're going to have to worry about both of us, Reiph said. They couldn't stop or focus is one of us. Having him there to take some of the load off me is a great help. When the game was over, Brown didn't take long with his team in the huddle. Smiles were everywhere, including on all the coaches' faces. He wanted them to enjoy the win as much as possible before practice begins for the huge game at Hamden Hall Friday night.

Last year was kind of having fun, football wasn't serious, it was something to do after school, Thomas said. But now this year we've made it a priority. Something you can't wait to do -- something to look forward to. St. Luke's football hasn't had a meaning November football game to look forward to like the Hamden Hall one in a very, very long time.