There was some magic in Robert DiGregorio's foot in the second quarter Friday night.
The senior kicker unleashed three onside squib kicks against Iona Prep, and each one was recovered by St. Anthony's. The Friars turned them into 21 points en route to a 35-7 victory over the Gaels under the lights in Huntington in the CHSFL 'AAA' semifinals.
"It was crazy," quarterback Greg Campisi said after the Friars' seventh straight win. "I don't know what he did before this game, but he needs to do it more. I mean, he was unbelievable."
The madness began after Sean Bryan gave St. Anthony's a 7-0 lead on his first of three touchdowns on a 3-yard run. On the ensuing kickoff, Ricardo Sandoval couldn't handle DiGregorio's kick, and it was recovered by John Connolly. Eight plays later, Campisi dove 1-yard into the end zone to double the lead. The drive was helped by a 42-yard run from Kyle Angus.
The onside kick recovery was a plan executed to perfection.
"The first one was the one that we really practiced during the week," Friars coach Rich Reichert said. "We saw that they had a lineman up front, and we just thought we could take advantage of that. There was a hole in the middle, and we just thought if we could get it behind the first wall, we had a good shot."
After the score, DiGregorio's next kick bounced off of Charlie Flanagan, and was recovered by Latrell Jeffrey. The Friars' drive was briefly disrupted when Malkelm Morrison caused Angus to fumble and Iona's Jayden Lambert dove on the loose ball. On the next play, a miscommunication between Iona Prep quarterback Derek Robertson and Lambert led to a fumble, which was recovered by Nick Greer.
Eight plays later, Bryan reached the end zone for the second time on a 1-yard run, which gave St. Anthony's a 21-0 lead before halftime.
"We were breaking his chops all week and he stepped up," Reichert said of Bryan, who finished with 18 carries for 65 yards. "I thought he really stepped up and played."
Bryan wasn't the only big runner. The Harvard-bound Campisi finished with 16 carries for 105 yards -- including a 67-yard run before St. Anthony's first score, while Angus recorded 10 rushes for 55.
With just over a minute remaining before the break, DiGregorio did it again. His kick bounced off of Iona's Charlie Stanton, and was recovered by Ajay Ottimo. It led to an 8-yard score by Bryan to make it 28-0.
Assistant coach Chris Koepplin, who is in charge of the kickers, said the first onside kick was planned, but they did not expect the other two to happen.
"We thought we could steal a possession and then we ended up getting lucky on the other two," he said. "The first one was intentional, the other two we got some lucky bounces."
The game did not start out well for St. Anthony's (9-1), ranked No. 9 in the Tri-State Top 25 football poll by News 12 Varsity. It had excellent field position on its first two drives, but was unable to capitalize, missing two field goals.
Iona Prep (6-4), ranked No. 14 in the Tri-State, had only five plays in two drives in the second quarter and possessed the ball for only 6:01 in the first half. The Gaels trailed 248-32 in total yards before halftime, and 292-201 by the final buzzer.
St. Anthony's extended its lead to 35-0 after Mahkai Murphy recovered a fumble and brought it to the house. Iona broke the shutout with 3:07 remaining in the game when Michael DeGasperis caught a 10-yard TD pass.
The road ahead is not easy for the Friars. St. Anthony's will face either Cardinal Hayes or Archbishop Stepinac in the final. Hayes is the defending champion, while Stepinac is the only team to beat St. Anthony's this season, though it was back on Sept. 15. The Friars will be in the finals for the first time since 2013.
"Whoever plays, it's gonna come down to a dog fight," Bryan said. "We're gonna give it 100 percent, the whole team will. It's gonna be a great game."