By Larry Moko
Leave it to the tallest receiver to make the biggest play of the 2017 Steel City Bowl.
Xavier Masotti, a 6-foot-5 pass-catcher representing the Bishop Ryan Celtics, hauled in the go-ahead touchdown pass with 39 seconds remaining to give the East a 28-27 victory over the West at the annual Hamilton-Wentworth all-star high school football game Saturday.
The exciting and well-played contest – involving select players from the Catholic and Public boards and run by the Hamilton Football Association – was held at McMaster University’s Ron Joyce Stadium.
The East trailed 27-14 with just under three minutes left on the clock. But in those final few minutes, Cardinal Newman Cardinals quarterback Daniel Eldridge and Masotti hooked up for a pair of scoring plays. One covered 38 yards and the other went for 47 yards.
“Daniel is an amazing quarterback,” Masotti said. “We made the connection work.”
On both of the long tosses, Masotti went up in coverage to snag the football.
“We just threw it up and Masotti made two huge catches for us,” East coach Anthony Macaluso of Newman said. “He’s a skilled receiver, but he’s also got that height to go up and make a play.”
Commenting on the game-winning reception, the nephew of former Toronto Argonauts receiver Paul Masotti said. “It was a well-placed ball. I ended up going up for it because the defender was there in front of my face. So I had to jump over him to grab it. There was a height difference.”
Max Sherwood of Cardinal Newman kicked the convert that capped the scoring.
The West looked to be in control when Dylan Wilkins of the St. Mary Crusaders made a running over-the-shoulder catch near the goal line for a 29-yard TD. At that stage, mid way through the fourth quarter, the West led by 13 points.
“When Wilkins had that touchdown catch near the end I wasn’t sure we’d be able to come back,” Macaluso said.
Wilkins, who signed with the Windsor University Lancers just hours later, was selected the West’s Offensive Player of the Game. His contributions included several brilliant, feet-dragging catches at the out-of-bound markers for big gains.
The first reception, in the back corner of the end zone, from Cathedral’s Anthony Pimentel, went for a 10-yard touchdown.
In addition to his slotback duties, Wilkins was used on kick returns, held for place-kickers and centered the ball accurately for four long snaps. “We didn’t have a guy (for long-snaps), so I stepped up,” Wilkins said. “I knew I could do it.”
Said St. Mary head coach and West assistant Sean Dennison: “Dylan does it all. We’re going to miss him.”
Calvin Kelly of Newman accounted for the East’s lone touchdown of the first half. It came on a six-yard run.
In the third quarter, the East’s Jaxon Ciraolo-Brown (Cathedral) and Amicar Polk (Westdale) traded two and one-yard touchdown runs, respectively. Overall, Max Capriotti of the Bishop Tonnos Titans booted 28 and 11-yard field goals and added three converts.
Defensive back Anthony Moretuzzo of Newman ended the West’s final scoring threat at midfield when he intercepted a pass with 16 seconds remaining.
Safety Ethan Monoghan of the St. Thomas More Knights was the West’s Defensive Player of the Game, while the same honour for the East went to lineman Kyle Samson of Cardinal Newman.
The game MVP award went to Masotti.
“It feels great,” Masotti said. “Football means a lot to me. It’s been one of my passions since I was a kid.”
According to Macaluso, between 10 and 15 universities scouted the annual showcase game and, therefore, it was a beneficial experience for the participants.
“When it’s best-on-best and the players have the ability to make plays, it really shows scouts their potential,” Macaluso said. “Being biased, I thought our board was very well represented here today. It was a great display of athleticism.”