There was little reason for optimism for Holy Cross fans early in Friday’s game, as the Indians found themselves down, 14-2.
They had already lost to Newport Central Catholic, 21-0 in the regular season.
But Holy Cross came back from 12 points down, surviving a late surge by NCC to shock the Thoroughbreds, 26-21 in a Class 2A state quarterfinal.
“(Our team) really developed over the course of the season and learned how to love each other and to play together and that’s what it took,” Indians coach Bruce Kozerski said. “They looked each other in the eye after that second touchdown and said no more.”
WATCH Coach Bruce Kozerski talk about beating NewCath:
Holy Cross battled back, thanks to the rushing combination of Xavier Abernathy and Derrick Barnes. Abernathy finished with 154 yards on 27 carries, while Barnes ran it 14 times for 127 yards.
“That’s one thing we’ve got in our back pocket: I’ve got 500 lbs. of running back and that’s hard to stop,” Kozerski said.
Barnes was just as effective on defense. He also made a critical tackle with five minutes left in the fourth quarter to stop a NewCath drive at the Indians’ 1 and returned an interception 41 yards for Holy Cross’ go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter.
“We’ve been a pretty stout run defense all year long and we certainly showed it right there,” Kozerski said. “The courage of this group… I can’t tell you how proud I am of the way they played.”
WATCH Xavier Abernathy talk about 1-2 running punch with Derrick Barnes:
Abernathy added a third-quarter touchdown to make it 23-14, and a field goal extended the Indians’ lead to 12.
“We always tell each other what we need to do,” Abernathy said. “We block for each other and we just keep working for each other and we keep progressing.”
But Thoroughbreds QB Patrick Henschen scored in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to five. NewCath got the ball back in the final minute but was unable to capitalize.
“We say ‘gut check’, we looked at each other and said ‘are we gonna do this?’ Holy Cross OL/DL Rashard Ross said. ‘Do we wanna end our senior season like this when we know we can beat this team, when we know we can go to state?'”
WATCH Rashard Ross talk about Holy Cross "gut check:"
The Indians will travel to Danville for a state semifinal game next week. This is the furthest Holy Cross has ventured into the postseason since its 2011 title.
James Adams contributed to this report