There are impact players. And then there are players who leave an impact with every hit. At 6-foot-1, 255 pounds, count physical defensive tackle on both sides of the ledger.
Twice the senior co-captain saved his team in the final minutes Saturday night against Iona Prep. When McHugh recovered a fumble at the Friars’ 33-yard-line with 2:01 left, it appeared to be the final touches on a gritty playoff win.
But sophomore quarterback Greg Galligan’s downfield pass was intercepted, forcing the St. Anthony’s defense back on the field with 1:42 remaining, clinging to a 14-10 lead.
All night long, Iona Prep quarterback Justin Combs – the son of music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs – frustrated the Friars with his unpredictability and escapability. Combs drove Iona Prep to the Friars 39 with 27 seconds left.
But on fourth-and-11, Combs’ pass was tipped behind the line by the hard-charging McHugh. The pass fell into the hands of Iona Prep center Christopher Fucci, who was tackled 5 yards shy of a first down.
Only then could top-seeded St. Anthony’s celebrate its 14-10 win in a CHSFL Class AAA semifinal before a crowd of 1,500 in South Huntington. Not only did the victory move the Friars (9-0) into the for the third straight season, it represented a school-record 28th consecutive win.
It’s the second-longest winning streak in Suffolk football history. Coach also earned his 210th career win in 25 seasons, just one shy of the Suffolk record.
“I’ve experienced one loss,” McHugh said. “It was as a sophomore at homecoming. It stung. I’ll never forget the feeling. And I never want it to happen again.”
St. Anthony's will face Westchester's Stepinac in the title game. A site and date have not been set, pending TV.
For a while late Saturday, the streak was in doubt. After a scoreless first half, Alex Kapp’s 36-yard field goal put No. 4 Iona Prep (6-4) in front 3-0.
The Friars sputtered all night on offense. But Iona’s field goal put a charge into Galligan and Co. He moved the offense 84 yards on 13 plays, culminating in a 1-yard plunge intro the end zone by Maston Ellerbe. The score, with 2:45 left in the third, put the Friars in front 7-3.
“We got pretty [angry],” Galligan said.
After a three-and-out by Iona, Galligan directed another 13-play drive, this time spanning 68 yards and nearly 8 minutes. Running back Anthony Anderson, who finished with 76 yards on 19 carries, gave the Friars a 14-3 edge with a 4-yard scoring run up the gut with 5:50 remaining.
Game over, right?
To quote, Diddy: “Can't nobody hold me down.”
With Diddy on the sideline, his son hooked up with Brandon Williams on a 32-yard pass to the St. Anthony’s 16. Shaquille Townsend (105 yards, 16 carries) scored on a 2-yard run to close the gap to 14-10 with 4:35 left.
Iona Prep went on the move again in the final two minutes. But each time, McHugh made the difference.
“It was a great game,” McHugh said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
CHSFL Class AAA Semifinal
Teams...................1.....2.....3.....4 – F
Iona Prep..............0.....0.....3.....7 – 10
St. Anthony’s........0.....0.....7.....7 – 14
IP – Kapp FG 31
SA – Ellerbe 1 run (Musgrove kick)
SA – Anderson 4 run (Musgrove kick)
IP – Townsend 2 run (Kapp kick)