Vezza's TD sends York past Marist in double OT thriller to first quarterfinal since 2006
Matt Vezza as a runner was not a number York called on too frequently during a perfect regular season, because it was not needed.
It was, though, always in the back pocket.
Vezza, York's senior quarterback, can be a dynamic threat running. He's been timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds. And he was unleashed at a most critical time Saturday.
A play after the Dukes denied a Marist fake field goal attempt, Vezza took a 10-yard keeper up the gut. He stumbled past multiple defenders into the end zone, sending visiting York past Marist 27-21 in a Class 8A second-round double overtime thriller.
The Dukes (11-0), advancing to the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2006, host Palatine next week.
"We went back to that play throughout the game, and our O-line did a phenomenal job blocking it," said Vezza, who ran for 142 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns and was 9-for-14 passing for 108 yards and a third score. "After that [defensive stop] we were like 'Let's put the ball in the end zone. And that's what we did."
Marist (7-4), which trailed 14-0 in the first half, tied it with 4:36 left on Dermot Smyth's 15-yard TD pass to Iowa recruit John Nestor.
York drove for a winning score in regulation, but Vezza's deep ball was intercepted by Jake Stefanos in the final seconds.
With winds whipping throughout, York went exclusively with Vezza as a runner in overtime. He ran it three straight plays in the first overtime, taking in a 4-yard TD run. Marist tied it 21-21 on QB Smyth's 3-yard plunge that barely crossed the goal line, but York went right back to Vezza.
"There is no question you want the ball in Matt's hands," York coach Mike Fitzgerald said. "We knew it would be tough throwing the football. When you got a guy like that you want that in every critical situation and defenses have to account for him. The kid is a warrior. He's so poised, doesn't get rattled."
Marist had it first in the second overtime, and after three runs sandwiched around a false start, faced a fourth-and-goal at the 3.
After both teams called timeouts, Marist lined up for a field goal. On a fake, Marist's Kamil Kopot took off for the left sideline -- but was met just short of the goal line by York's Evan Grazzini and Matt Sutter.
"Our kicker is one of the fastest guys on our team, and with the wind whipping as hard as it was, that's not a guaranteed field goal," Marist coach Ron Dawczak said. "If I was to go out, I wanted to go out being aggressive with something we worked on getting the ball in one of our fastest guy's hands."
York, though, smelled that something was up. And then Grazzini won the foot race.
"They came out in a field goal and we knew something was fishy so we changed up the call we had," said Grazzini, a senior linebacker. "Everybody was in position to make a play. I was flying. That's the fastest I've run in my entire life."
The Dukes came out flying early.
Vezza's 37-yard TD pass to Luke Mailander capped off a 13-play, 80-yard drive on the game's first possession. Sutter made a diving interception at the York 5-yard line on Marist's second drive, and Vezza's 65-yard burst set up a Kelly Watson 19-yard TD run for a 14-0 lead.
"He's a great quarterback, he reminds me so much of our quarterback," Dawczak said of Vezza. "Both are really good athletes that have a command of the offense and can throw it and run it. He's a great QB and played a great game."
As did Smyth, who threw for 143 yards and ran for 73.
He gave the RedHawks a jolt just before halftime. Mike Donegan made a diving catch of a Smyth fourth-down throw for a 14-yard TD with 4.9 seconds left to cut the York lead to 14-7.
"We've been in these situations all season. We're 11-0 but none of those 11 have been easy," Vezza said. "They made a great play on that fourth down last minute of the half, but it didn't affect us mentally."
Indeed, Saturday was another rung on a ladder for a York team that already recorded the first perfect regular season in the 102-year history of the program, and won the West Suburban Silver outright.
"We never wavered," Grazzini said. "We went into halftime, knew it would be a dogfight, we stayed composed and we were ready. Playing for each other, there is no way you can beat us."