Tuesday, November 20th 2007, 10:47 AM
Christ the King QB Joe Nuss drops back in 47-12 loss to Stepinac in CHSFL 'AA' title game at Hofstra on Sunday.
It was clear from the opening drive that Christ the King's unexpected playoff run was going to end in inglorious fashion.
With fourth-seeded Stepinac marching toward the goal line, running back Rashaad Slowley took a jarring hit and fumbled the ball out of the end zone for an apparent touchback.But officials ruled Slowley was down by contact before losing the ball, and one play later the senior scored the first of his three first-quarter touchdowns as the Crusaders trounced the Royals, 47-12, in Sunday's CHSFL 'AA' championship at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium.
"We came out flat," CK coach Kevin Kelly said. "Against a good team like Stepinac, it comes back to bite you. We felt confident. It just didn't work out."
Seventh-seeded Christ the King won its final two regular-season games after starting 0-6 and kept the winning streak nearly to the end, posting back-to-back one-point victories over No. 2 St. Francis Prep and No. 6 Kellenberg to advance to the finals for the first time since 2003.
Senior quarterback Joe Nuss led the Royals (4-7) to those upset wins, but he struggled against the Crusaders' secondary, throwing two interceptions.
"They scored (on) their first four possessions and we couldn't put up points," Nuss said. "They read everything well. They knew what was coming before we snapped the ball. They made the plays, unlike us."
A lost fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown led to 14 points for Stepinac (9-2) in the opening minutes of the third quarter, all but ensuring the White Plains-based school its first title since 1995.
Christ the King entered the title game with the division's second-ranked passing attack, but the Royals failed to get on the scoreboard until they were already trailing by 21 points. They also failed to generate any defensive stops until the final drive of the first half, as Slowley and Maurice Easterling combined for four rushing touchdowns before halftime.
Slowley entered the game with an AA-leading 1,189 rushing yards, highlighting an offense led by quarterback Joseph Collins, who added a scoring strike - a fade pass to Brian Boulhosa over Ollie Robinson in single coverage - to make it 34-6 after two quarters.
"We didn't stop the bleeding after the first hit," Manetta said. "We did come out flat and I really don't know why. Maybe people were scared or intimidated."
Nuss enjoyed solid protection the previous week against Kellenberg, utilizing the extra time to find favorite targets Danny Manetta and Michael Hennessey. But Stepinac didn't afford Nuss the same luxury; he was constantly pressured by linemen and linebackers Anton Rukaj and Anthony Scarnati.
"It was rough," Nuss said. "I felt like as soon as I had the ball, I had guys hitting me. I don't want to remember this. This is the worst feeling."
Christ the King lost its first six games by a total of 100 points, including a 43-14 loss to Fordham on Sept. 15. Just over a month later, the Royals started a remarkable turnaround, defeating Spellman and St. John the Baptist to close the regular season.
A 14-13 road win over St. Francis Prep on Nov. 3 propelled Christ the King to the semifinals, where a risky play-call in overtime resulted in a successful two-point conversion to give the Royals a 22-21 victory over Kellenberg. The trip to the finals marked Christ the King's best finish since the program won consecutive championships in 2002 and 2003.
"I'm proud of the way our guys played," Kelly said. "To comeback from the way they started (this year) ... it would have been great to get a win at the end, but I'm still proud of them. The seniors did a great job with leadership. It'll be tough to watch those guys leave."