WESTWOOD – Add another classic to the Xaverian-St. John’s Prep legacy.
While 2021 only marked the 30th year that the archrivals have played on Thanksgiving, the list of epic holiday battles is a long one and only getting longer after Matt DeFeo’s strip on an Eagles two-point attempt for the lead in the final minute delivered the Hawks a thrilling 36-35 victory.
“Every year it’s the biggest game of the year,” said Xaverian senior quarterback Jake Gilbert. “Last week we got knocked off by Springfield (Central) but we wanted to end it with a bang and there is no better way than beating Prep on Thanksgiving.”
Trailing 36-29, Prep QB Jack Perry drove his team 70 yards in a little over two minutes, finding Stephon Patrick in the end zone from 9 yards out for their second touchdown connection of the day with 47 seconds remaining.
The Eagles elected to go for two and a Perry pass was broken up on the first attempt, but the Prep (8-4) got another shot when pass interference was called. On the second try out of a timeout, Perry rolled to his right looking for a receiver but DeFeo popped the ball loose and fell on it.
“Matt is a fantastic player. He is a 100 percenter,” said Xaverian coach Al Fornaro. “Just don’t lose contain. He’s a big, physical, strong kid and for me the great thing is he is only a junior.”
After recovering the onside kick, Xaverian (8-3) was able to kneel out the win, it’s 19th in the series.
The contest featured a compelling duel between a pair of senior signal callers putting on a show in their final games. Perry finished 19-of-30 for 314 yards and five total touchdowns — four passing and one rushing.
Gilbert was just as good if not better, going 10-of-16 for 187 yards and touchdown through the air and adding 151 yards and three more TDs on the ground.
Two of the Gilbert rushing scores came in the third quarter, a 4-yarder that broke a 22-22 tie at the break and an electric 34-yard scramble down the right sideline that put the Hawks ahead 36-22.
But Perry answered in the fourth, hitting Jackson Delaney for a 17-yard TD to make it a one score game then coming through on the final drive to set the stage for the critical conversion attempt.