I returned a little while ago from the 40th annual Turkey Bowl, a game Stepinac won 42-14 behind a dominant second half and another MVP performance from quarterback Tyrell Goodman. In the final minute, I said something to the person next to me about the moment being a special one, no matter where your allegiance lies. No matter how long they’ve played football at Stepinac — for 60, 80 or 100 years, I don’t know — the school has never produced an unbeaten champion until today. But these Crusaders earned that distinction today in impressive fashion.
Goodman and junior running back Caleb Gilligan-Evans were difference-makers all season but that was especially evident today. White Plains simply couldn’t stop the duo, with Goodman rushing for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries and Gilligan-Evans added 106 yards and two touchdowns on just 11. In fact, Stepinac played a relatively conservative game, only passing 10 times (Goodman finished 7 for 10 for 77 yards with a TD and an interception), but it suited this game well. We know the Crusaders are dynamic, but today they were simply overpowering.
That wasn’t the case early. White Plains’ defense. led by tackle Antoine Worrell, was sharp, and it received a big lift on both sides of the ball from senior Khadrey Merot, who was back at full strength for the first time since Week 3. The Tigers stopped Stepinac’s first drive but fell behind 7-0 on a TD run by Goodman early in the second quarter.
White Plains answered with an impressive display of guts. Skip Stevens faced a fourth-and-1 at the Stepinac 32 after a solid drive into enemy territory. It was a no-brainer to go for it, but Stevens called for a pass, and Mike Trapp hit the terrific Michael Graham-Walker for the score, helping tie the game.
It was a moment that really made it seem like this may be a competitive game, but the Crusaders were unrelenting. They drove downfield and Goodman hit emerging junior Vincent Narog on a slant that went for a score. Up 14-7, Stepinac never looked back.
The Crusaders weren’t stopped in the second half. That’s not a figure of speech; they never turned over possession, scoring on all four drives. Goodman and Gilligan-Evans were too big for White Plains to tackle on the first try, and their physicality wore the defense down.
Stepinac delivered plays when it counted on defense as well. Donnie Simmons and Austin Taps were in the backfield all day and only got to Trapp once or twice thanks to Trapp’s elusiveness. With the score 35-14, senior safety Jeff Clack intercepted a Trapp pass and returned it over 50 yards for the touchdown.
It was my first Turkey Bowl and you can count me among those who plans to return next year. I love the tradition of football on Thanksgiving morning and it’s a shame more local programs aren’t involved with Thanksgiving football.
For today’s game, the spacious bleachers were filled with a few thousand people, making for a fantastic atmosphere. The event really brought out what makes Loucks Stadium so special. If Section 1 doesn’t host its championship games there soon, I don’t know what they’re thinking. It is an impressive facility that is unparalleled in this area for high school football.
I ran in to a number of interested spectators this morning. New Rochelle QB Khaliq Butts roamed the Stepinac sidelines. So did Tony DeMatteo, a Stepinac grad, and his son Dominick DeMatteo, and they were impressed with the Crusaders and the wonder that is Goodman. Hopefully, Stepinac’s performance today can quiet some of the naysayers because despite the final score White Plains is a very good football team. The Crusaders deserve some praise after the best season in program history.