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Posted Wednesday, November 24, 2010 by Lohud.com

Turkey Bowl preview: Stepinac vs. White Plains

Posted by: Josh Thomson - Posted in Football on Nov 24, 2010

We are just a day away from one of the more anticipated Turkey Bowl matchups in recent memory — the 40th installment of Stepinac-White Plains.

This one carries great intrigue for so many reasons, some of which we’ve discussed here since back in August. But instead of reveal them in one long post, here’s a look at eight questions that will be answered:

1. How good is Stepinac? Record-wise, the Crusaders are already the best team in program history. None of their predecessors had ever won 11 games, but this team is 11-0. It started the season by defeating rival Iona Prep, the CHSFL runner-up, in convincing fashion. It dominated every opponent, winning all 11 games by 17 points or more. Both the offense and defense were superb. And it won the AA championship over a AAA team in a rout. So the answer is “pretty darn good,” but…

2. Can the Crusaders make history? That remains at stake. Of course, they have never finished any season undefeated, much less finished undefeated, beat Iona Prep, won their division championship in the regular season and postseason, and beat White Plains. Three of the five have been accomplished. But the question of whether Stepinac can beat White Plains and finish 12-0 remains unanswered. Remember: The Crusaders arrived as a heavy favorite last year and lost 21-14. So…

3. Who do you like? The publics or the privates? This is a debate that rages on to this day. Mention Stepinac and it’s like emptying an oil truck into a four-alarm fire. But whether White Plains wants to bear this burden or not, and whether Stepinac will use this game as a barometer for how it would fare against the Section 1 teams that surround it, fans are definitely in search of information one way or another. Just read this blog…

4. The silent killer: How will rest affect the game? Many of you have discussed White Plains potential to control the ball and dominate up front and Stepinac’s tantalizing talent, but rest, or lack thereof, could be a determining factor. Stepinac will have had just four days off. White Plains? Try 26. “We’re up for the take,” Crusaders coach Mike O’Donnell said. “It’s not something that’s crazy.” So…

5. Which layoff is more beneficial: The shorter one or the longer one? I’m not sure. I can tell you that Stepinac coaches (although not the players) started to game plan for White Plains last week so they could quickly implement the plan on Monday. Tigers coach Skip Stevens gave his players a week off at first but has since tried to ramp up the intensity. That included an intrasquad scrimmage and practice sessions with Truman and Greenwich. But keeping players sharp and motivated hasn’t been easy. “This year I can’t put my finger on it,” Stevens said, “but it’s been rough.”

6. How will White Plains stop Tyrell Goodman? I don’t know, but it won’t be easy. The senior has completed over 65 percent of his passes for 1,595 yards, 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He also has 995 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing. “Everything goes through Rabbit,” Stevens said. “Everything goes through the quarterback. You’re not going to stop the kid. He’s a great player. But if you can hold onto the ball that would help. And I think our strength all year is that we were able to control the ball and run the ball.” That’s probably the best bet. Defensively, it’s hard to believe White Plains can outright stop Stepinac, which presents an even more dynamic group of weapons than Yorktown, a team that thrived against the Tigers. Goodman has Nick Euvino, Justin Thomas and Austin Taps to throw to. Caleb Gilligan-Evans (right) has a bullish style that compliments his QB well.

7. Will White Plains have success running the ball? This is the Tigers best (and perhaps only?) chance to win is to chew the clock and try to overpower Stepinac. But the Crusaders would appear to have the team speed to contend with Darrell Everett on the outside. Can they push back when the White Plains line pushes them? Junior Jaeshon Brooks emerged as the perfect inside compliment to Everett, a junior, because of his strong running. And his team will welcome the return of a healthy Khadrey Merot, who should play a key role at linebackers as well as earn some carries. But remember that Stepinac’s front 7 is no joke. No team in the area has a better pair of defensive ends in Donnie Simmons and Taps. And Brian Byrnes and Jeff Clack are tackle machines. To make the run game work, White Plains will likely need a few screens and a couple passes downfield from QB Mike Trapp. He certainly has options, and they are athletically gifted enough to produce against Stepinac, namely Mike Graham-Walker and Odane Franklin.

8. What will be the outcome? With that comes so many sub-questions above and beyond, “Who wins?” Which team will dictate play? Will it be subtle or total domination? Does Stepinac need to win by two touchdowns or more to lay claim that it is the best team in the county? Does White Plains need a win to vindicate itself after a disappointing opening-round loss in the playoffs? Does a win (by any margin) immediately stamp this as the best team in Stepinac history? All of the above are reasons why this game is so intriguing.

PREDICTION: Stepinac 34, White Plains 14. In 2007 and 2008 — two of Stepinac’s most talented teams — the Crusaders won 29-14 and 26-13. In 2006, it was 30-0. Clearly, White Plains’ program is stronger since then, but O’Donnell believes this is the best team he’s ever coached run by the best player he’s ever coached. If Stepinac wants to attach that statement with an exclamation point, the Turkey Bowl is the place to do it. The CHSFL AA champ should be well-rested after an easy victory over Kellenberg on Saturday, and White Plains certainly has reason to be a little rusty.

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