Matt Vezza leads York past Marist in overtime thriller

Some quarterbacks put up bigger numbers than York’s Matt Vezza, but few make as many big plays.

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York’s Matt Vezza (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning touchdown in overtime against Marist.

York’s Matt Vezza (9) celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning touchdown in overtime against Marist.

Quinn Harris/For the Sun-Times

Some quarterbacks put up bigger numbers than York’s Matt Vezza, but few make as many big plays.

With his feet and his arm, Vezza delivered Saturday afternoon as the No. 4 Dukes got past No. 10 Marist 27-21 in double overtime in Class 8A second-round action in Chicago.

Vezza ran 25 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning TD on the Dukes’ first offensive play in the second OT. He also was 9-of-14 passing for 108 yards and a touchdown with one interception.

One of the senior’s biggest plays didn’t make the stat sheet. The possession after Vezza found Luke Mallander for a 37-yard touchdown catch, York was pinned back at its own 3-yard line. Marist linebacker Duke White broke through the line and almost sacked Vezza in the end zone. But he avoided the safety and went down at the 1, saving what turned out to be two important points. 

On the next play, Vezza found tight end Anthony Mancini for 38 yards and the Dukes were out of harm’s way.

“We put that [play] in later in the week,” Vezza said. “Anthony Mancini, he was ready for that one. Great catch, great run after the catch.”

Then in the second quarter, Vezza had a great run of his own: a 65-yarder that set up Kelly Watson’s 19-yard TD run on the next play for a 14-0 York lead.

Vezza was admittedly a little gassed at the end of his long run.

“It’s kind of a joke [on the team],” he said. “I’m really good through 40 yards and then I lose it.”

Marist tied the score at 14 with 4:35 left in the fourth quarter on Dermot Smyth’s 15-yard TD pass to Iowa recruit John Nestor. The Dukes were driving at the end of regulation, but Marist’s Jake Stefanos picked off Vezza on the last play of the fourth quarter. In overtime, there wasn’t much doubt whom York would pin its hopes on.

“He’s a warrior,” York coach Mike Fitzgerald said of Vezza. “You got a guy like that, you like your chances.”

Vezza scored from four yards out and Marist quarterback Dermot Smyth had a three-yard TD run on fourth down in the first OT. Marist lined up for a field goal on fourth down from the 3-yard line in the second overtime, but York’s Evan Grazzini and Matt Sutter weren’t fooled and dragged down kicker Kamil Kokot shy of the goal line. Vezza scored from 10 yards out on the next play for the game-winner.

“Going back, I would do the same thing,” Marist coach Ron Dawczak said. “Our kicker ... is one of the fastest guys on the team. With the wind whipping as hard as it was, that’s not a guaranteed field goal anyways. So if I was gonna go out, I wanted to make sure I’d go out being aggressive. ... They made a great play to stop it.”

Smyth, who moved to receiver last season to help the team before returning to quarterback as a senior, was almost the whole offense for Marist. He was 15-of-26 passing for 152 yards and two TDs with an interception and ran 21 times for 81 yards.

Meanwhile, York and Vezza go on to the quarterfinals. They’ll host Palatine next week, seeking to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2006 and the second time in program history.

“He’s a special kid,” Fitzgerald said of Vezza. “It’s a shame that no one’s offered the kid. That kid’s a winner, he runs a 4.48 40 at these camps. He has all the measurables, so hopefully people are starting to take notice.”

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