Few would have expected Mike Mattei to uncork a two-thumbs-
Oh, the West Chester-bound quarterback from Chestnut Hill Academy is doubtless strong-armed and savvy, but there appeared to be heavy cause for concern Saturday about 4 hours before the start of the 34th annual Daily News-Eagles City All-Star Football Game.
Mattei, also a baseball headliner, and the Blue Devils were hosting Episcopal Academy in a 1 p.m. Inter-Ac League contest.
On what could have been the final play, while stationed at shortstop (he also pitches), Mattei took a wicked, one-hop shot off his throwing thumb. Though he remained in the game, he twice committed throwing errors before CHA completed an 11-7 win.
The thumb swelled slightly. And the imprint of the baseball's stitches was visible.
Uh-oh time? Or false alarm?
"It didn't hurt when it first happened, but I was waiting for the pain to kick in," Mattei said. "Luckily, it never hurt."
First, be informed that Mattei (muh-tay) went wild as Non-Public pounded Public, 48-7, at Northeast High, lifting its edge in the series to 18-15-1, passing 7-for-9 for 148 yards and a record three touchdowns, one apiece to schoolmate Mike Wismer (20 yards), Roman Catholic's Al Desiderio (28) and Archbishop Ryan's Nick Ferdinand (11). He also burrowed 1 yard for a fourth TD.
Second, check this out: In the fourth game of his junior season, Mattei smacked that same thumb against a defender's hand. The injury left him with a jagged, 2-inch scar that runs between his thumb and index finger.
"That's why I was thinking, 'Oh, man. Not this again,' '' he said, smiling. "I guess it hit a good spot on my bone. Maybe it hit one of the screws in there . . . Well, they are supposed to disintegrate."
Like the Public's defense?
Mattei fueled a 418-yard outburst, achieved on 48 plays (8.7 average). Jamir Livingston (St. Joseph's Prep, Fordham) was the early star, thanks to TD runs of 12 and 10 yards after the Pub went nowhere against a strong wind and experienced the first of game-long punting miseries.
Desiderio set up that second score with a 39-yard catch, and he was just getting started.
In all, the Ursinus-bound wideout made four catches for 140 yards and two scores. He set receiving marks for yardage and yards per catch (35.0), and he tied the snagging standard for TDs with two. The other came on a 34-yard, trick-play flip from tailback Andrew McHale (Father Judge, Albright).
Mattei and Desiderio go way back. They grew up a few blocks apart in Roxborough, were schoolmates at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Andorra, and starred in weight ball for the Roxborough Eagles (where their coach was CHA/Non-Public assistant Ed Aversa).
"Al was a running back. He was fast," Mattei said. "But we always used to get together with some other guys at this field called The Hill. Just throw the ball around. We were always good together.
"Once we got together here, it was right again. Everything I threw, he was catching in stride."
Said Desiderio: "Mike works so hard. He's just a natural."
This has been quite the school year for Desiderio. As a junior, he was still a JV player. His senior season saw him earn first-team Daily News All-City honors while helping to spark Roman to the Catholic Red title. He caught the eye of Ursinus, where his step-brother, Roman product Victor Jaramillo, is playing, and then finished with these heroics.
Of the swirling wind, he said, "Just means you have to step up your focus. It can take it either way. On the one TD, I was running down the sideline and the ball went to my back shoulder. I just caught it and dove for the pylon. Had to do a little spin on the other TD, too.
"Everything that has happened this year . . . really makes me feel great."
If Mattei's thumb - he also homered vs. Episcopal - had caused him to miss the game, an all-time disaster might have resulted. The Non-Pub roster included just two quarterbacks. The other, Roman's Chris Johnson (Villanova), was twice knocked silly by first-half hits and watched from the sidelines thereafter.
"I kept hoping he'd be able to get back out there," Mattei said.
Defensively for N-P, whose head coach was CHA's Rick Knox, North Catholic ruled the night. Linebacker Pete Sellecchia and down lineman Shahid Paulhill (Temple) made 10 and nine tackles, respectively, and d-back Terrell "The Sane T.O." Oglesby (Bloomsburg) picked off a pass.
With Antione "Blueberry" Singleton (Freire Charter) at the controls, Public showed hints of offensive life in the second quarter and Darius Johnson (Overbrook) did a 1-yard leap for a score. A fourth-quarter thrust stalled out at the 10.
Other Pub bright spots: Frankford's Ervin Goodson notched 83 yards on four returns; Roxborough linebacker Amir Boler uncorked several ferocious hits; and Martin Luther King lineman Richard Dixon made four tackles for lo0ss.
Back to the N-P side, Roman's Chris Fioravanti rewrote the PAT mark with six; his seventh attempt hit the right upright.
Mattei, also a basketball starter at CHA, figures he'll likely just play football at West Chester.
As part of his pregame routine, in view of Saturday night's success, might he forevermore ask someone to at least smack his thumb?
"Whatever it takes," he quipped. *