WHITE PLAINS - Every time it seemed White Plains might might take control, Stepinac was there to make a big play and keep the Tigers at bay.
And when one of those plays was being made, Maurice Easterling was usually the one making it.
Easterling caught five passes for 86 yards, ran for three touchdowns and intercepted a pass, as Stepinac defeated White Plains 29-14 in the 38th Thanksgiving Day football game at White Plains High School yesterday.
Easterling stood out all season for the Crusaders, and yesterday was no different. The junior set up a touchdown and a field goal in the first half with long receptions and also totaled 50 yards rushing on 12 carries.
"It's just making plays," Easterling said. "My team counts on me. Joe (Collins) is a great quarterback, and he made some great throws today."
White Plains had trouble moving the ball for much of the first half, but late in the second quarter the Tigers put together a methodical drive that Peter Idowu capped with a 1-yard touchdown run.
With just 22 seconds left on the clock, it appeared White Plains would go into halftime down just 14-7 and riding momentum.
But after the Tigers squibbed the kickoff, Stepinac executed a trick play. Quarterback Joe Collins threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage to Blake Rzemieniewski, who then hit Easterling for 39 yards down the right sideline to the White Plains' 7-yard line.
James Mullen kicked a 24-yard field goal as the first half expired to give the Crusaders a 10-point advantage.
White Plains closed the gap to three points late in the third quarter when quarterback James Bryant scored on a 1-yard run. Bryant had helped set up that score two plays earlier by connecting with James Briggs on a 74-yard pass play.
"Honestly, I feel we played our hearts out," Bryant said. "They just hit us with some big plays."
Once again, Stepinac quickly squashed any hope of a White Plains comeback. On the first play of the ensuing drive, John Fuschetto reeled off a 45-yard run.
It wasn't long before Easterling punched in his third rushing touchdown.
"We did a great job at the end of the half getting that field goal," Stepinac coach Mike O' Donnell said. "And then they get that second score, and we marched right down the field."
O' Donnell said this marked the first time the Crusaders have ever won this game three years in a row. The significance was not lost on him.
"We went through a lot of years not winning this game," he said.
Last week, Stepinac was beaten 55-7 by Holy Trinity in the CHSFL AA championship game. Yesterday gave the Crusaders the chance to end the season with a much more pleasant memory.
"We didn't want to leave the season like that," O' Donnell said. "We have a lot of seniors, and they don't give up. They answered everything this year. I'm very proud."
Reach Eric Lebowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.