STEPANIC FINALLY CROWNED CRUSADERS SURGE PAST KELLENBERG
Sunday, November 19th 1995, 4:00AM
Stepinac had seen this movie before.
Two years ago, the Crusaders stormed their way through the regular season and reached the CHSFL "A" title game, only to see Iona Prep walk off with the championship hardware. Last year, a similiar scenario, only this time it was Holy Cross adding to its trophy case.
So yesterday, when the Crusaders found themselves with a golden opportunity to finally snatch its first championship crown first down at Kellenberg's 13 after a Dan Riley fumble recovery, 2:39 to play they weren't about to let the opportunity slide through their hands.
"I told everyone in the huddle 'This is it,' " said Crusader QB Greg Slater. "We didn't come this far to lose it now. I said 'Go do it, Chuck.' "
Chuck being Chuck Ogbogu, and Chuck did it.
It took four straight running plays by Ogbogu to reach the end zone, but when he did, Stepinac had clinched the CHSFL "A" crown with a 24-17 victory over Kellenberg at Iona College.
"I think I ran harder (on that series) than I did all game," said Ogbogu, who became the leading rusher in Section I with 2,160 yards on the season. "When we get in that red zone, we're pretty tough."
Ogbogu's touchdown his third of the game capped an amazing reversal of fortune for the Crusaders, who had entered the fourth quarter trailing Kellenberg, 17-6.
Stepinac (9-2) could muster little offense in the third quarter as Kellenberg's defense, led by Dan Buckley and Dave Hernandez, limited the Crusaders to just 12 offensive plays in the quarter. But as good as the Firebirds' defense was, it was the loss of QB Dave Maiello that sent the offense into disarray and ultimately allowed Stepinac to build momentum and climb back into the game.
Maiello (7-of-15, 115 yards, TD) exited with a shoulder injury after being sacked by Richard Holzer with 6:04 left in the third. From there, WR Dwayne Wilmot moved to the quarterback spot and the Firebird offense sputtered.
"When we lost Maiello, it hurt us because we not only lost our quarterback, but we lost an important weapon in not having Wilmot at reciever," said Kellenberg coach Kevin Hanifan. "But those were the cards we were dealt and we tried to play them."
But with little success.
Stepinac shaved Kellenberg's lead to 17-14 with 11:21 to play when Ogbogu capped a seven-play, 78-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring run. Slater then added the conversion run. Then, after the Crusader defense forced Kellenberg to punt on its next two possessions, Stepinac pulled even at 17-17 on Darien DeLaurentis' 24-yard field goal his first of the year with 3:27 to play.
Less than a minute later, and with the momentum shift now complete, Stepinac's Dan Riley recovered Keynard Edouard's fumble at the 13 to set up Ogbogu's winning score.
"I just saw the ball laying there and jumped on it," Riley said. "Right there I knew we had the win."
Stepinac's second-half defense was top shelf, smothering the Firebirds (4-7) and forcing them to punt on five of their seven second-half possessions. The fumble and an interception by Tremayne Tillman at the end of the game ended the other two possessions. Kellenberg was held without a first down and posted just 24 yards of total offense in the second half.
"These kids didn't quit all year," said Stepinac coach Mike O'Donnell, who notched the first title of his eight-year tenure as head coach.
"They showed a lot of character coming back the way they did."
The victory, the ninth straight for Stepinac, helped erase the painful memories of the past two seasons.
"There was definitely added incentive for us to win this one, especially after having lost the last two," Riley said. "Coach told us to just put (the two losses) behind us and play smart. And we did.
Slater, too, seemed thrilled to have the monkey off Stepinac's collective back.
"I'll remember this game forever," he said