WHITE PLAINS — Archbishop Stepinac High football coach Mike O'Donnell asked his players Saturday, "How do you want to be remembered?"
He later joked that he couldn't think of anything else to say 10 games into a season, and added that he'd used the same line in 2007, the last time Stepinac won the CHSFL AA championship.
The Crusaders will get a chance to win another next weekend at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, when they play the winner of today's Chaminade-Kellenberg semifinal. Stepinac crushed Cardinal Hayes 42-6 Saturday to reach the title game, and also to become the first team in school history to win 10 straight games. No Stepinac team has won more than 10 in a season.
That championship game will quickly be followed by the annual Turkey Bowl against White Plains. So the best may be yet to come in a season that began with a win over AAA power Iona Prep.
"This game means a lot to us," receiver Austin Taps of Mahopac said after catching two touchdown passes. "We want to have the most wins in Stepinac history. That would be a great accomplishment for our team."
This is one of those blue moon teams for Stepinac, a group of athletes that arrives all at once and does something unique. It starts, of course, with the kid they call "Rabbit," quarterback Tyrell Goodman of Yonkers, who had this type of day: 16 of 19 passing for 196 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, plus 208 yards and two touchdowns on 15 rushes. He has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes this season, is the biggest kid on the offense at 6-foot-2, and runs the 40 in 4.6.
And he has weapons all over the field, on both sides of the ball — including Syracuse-bound defensive end Donnie Simmons; fullback Caleb Gilligan-Evans, who ran for 74 bullish yards; and a number of receivers like Nick Euvino, who caught seven passes for 79 yards and a TD — much like the Iona Prep team that won the AAA title two seasons ago.
"You just don't come across a team like this," O'Donnell said.
"We do everything," said Goodman, who is being heavily recruited. "We've got a lot of great athletes. Our line's undersized, but I wouldn't trade our line for anybody's. I love my line. They've got the heart of a demon and they don't care. If they see another team bigger than them, they love that. They want to come and they want to hit."
The quarterback also gets why this run is important.
"This means a lot, especially to the seniors," Goodman said. "It's our last home game we're ever going to play here. And we made a statement. We showed everybody out here that we're no joke. We're coming to play, we're coming to win big, and that's what we did. Our defense, they shut down one of the best offenses, and our offense is just clicking on all cylinders. And we came out with the victory."
Stepinac thought it had played its last home game, but then Hayes upset Monsignor Farrell in the playoffs, and the Crusaders got to host the semifinal (in the playoffs, four teams drop down from AAA and get the first four seeds; so Stepinac was fifth, despite being undefeated).
The historical reference is important to O'Donnell, who is also the athletic director, and who has been a football coach for 30 years, the last 23 as head coach — winning a pair of CHSFL AA titles (Stepinac won one AAA championship, in 1955).
"We always talk about that with them. We want to make sure they understand what they do," the coach said. "We're trying to put a new (turf) field out there and we're raising money from our alumni right now and that's a big thing. Our alumni, they're with us all the way and when you beat St. Francis Prep and you beat Cardinal Hayes, those are names that you remember from playing 60 years ago.
"So it's important that they understand they're making history. They don't always understand that when they're young kids. We're old goats and we're around here a long time and we understand the history. But that's why we use that as motivation."
No further motivation will be needed next week, or on Thanksgiving.
"With this group, I'm not worried about them playing hard and going after it," O'Donnell said. "We show up every week. We've only given up 60 points all year (actually outscored opponents 387-65). The defense is playing great and I think we're up to the task. I'm not overconfident, I'm just thinking positive about it."
Two more wins would make this Stepinac team something worth remembering.
Reach Rick Carpiniello at email@example.com.