By Larry Moko
You can call Anthony Venneri Mr. V.
That’s ‘V’ as in versatile.
A starting linebacker, fullback, punter and place kicker for St. Thomas More’s senior high school football team, Venneri played a key role in the Knights 17-4 victory over the visiting St. John Henry Newman Cardinals on Friday.
The veteran rushed for a 9-yard touchdown, booted a 37-yard field goal and contributed to a forced fumble-recovery TD as More improved its Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association record to 3-0. With the loss, Newman slipped to 3-1.
“He’s a smart, tough football player,” More assistant coach Rob Fuciarelli said of Venneri. “Plus, he kicks. You don’t really get too many players who can do all that.
“He makes big plays on defence and big plays on offence. We need him on all sides of the ball.”
Said Venneri, “I’m trying to help my team as much as I can.”
After forcing More to punt on its third play from scrimmage, Newman started strong on offence, too. Quarterback Evan Clarke ran for 24 yards and then connected on a quick pass to Shane Wismer who broke a tackle en route to a 28-yard gain.
Two plays later, however, Clarke fumbled when hit while dropping back to pass. Justin Haynes grabbed the loose ball and returned it 82 yards for a major score.
“It was a big hit on the quarterback,” Venneri said. “It might have been me but I don’t remember. I was in there (along with Marvelous Mofolasayu).”
Haynes, nicknamed Philly by his teammates because he was born in Philadelphia, then followed the lead blocking of his defensive linemen all the way to the end zone.
“That big return was huge,” Knights coach Claudio Silvestri said. “They (Newman) had come out firing. When we were able to capitalize on that turnover it really changed the momentum.”
The Cardinals cut into the lead late in the first quarter on a 25-yard field goal by Alex DiFranceso. A 25-yard run and a sprawling 20-yard pass reception – both by Mark Skerl – put Newman in position for that three-point attempt.
On his touchdown rush up the middle, Venneri shook off several tacklers along the way. “I got through because the linemen had good blocks to start,” he said.
Venneri’s convert and field goal padded More’s lead to 17-3 heading into the half.
“I’m trying to get something with kicking and linebacking,” Venneri said of his future football plans. “I’ve been working really hard on kicking and training.”
DiFrancesco capped the scoring in the third quarter with 43-yard punt single.
“A victory is always great, especially against a team like Newman,” Silvestri said. “Our boys know every time we face them it’s going to be a hard-fought battle.”
Silvestri praised assistant coach Joe Burke’s aggressive defence for being able to “make things happen.”
More remains the top-ranked high school team in Canada.
“It wasn’t the best we could play,” Venneri said, “but we gave it our all and came out a winner. We have a lot of work to do to get better.”