The last time Archbishop Stepinac beat Chaminade on a football field, Lyndon B. Johnson was the President of the United States. The year was 1967, and Stepinac has endured 44 years of defeat at the hands of Chaminade until Saturday afternoon at Chaminade OTT Field in Garden City.
The Crusaders, playing in CHSFL’s ‘AAA’ for the first time this year, were able to fight off their past demons and pull off an exciting, 28-20 win over the Flyers.
“I've looked back in the record books and the last time I found a win when we played them was 1967,” Stepinac coach Mike O'Donnell. “That's a long time. We needed this win and I was happy to see it.”
Stepinac (2-0, 1-0 AAA) had to hang on until the very end to seal the victory. With the Crusaders up eight points late in the fourth quarter, Chaminade linebacker Chris D'Ambrioso was able to make a diving block of Przemyslaw Popek’s punt and recover the football on the Crusaders’ 19-yard line.
The game was on the line as Flyers quarterback Joseph Anile took the field knowing his team needed a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie. Then the Stepinac defense went to work.
Crusaders linebacker and captain Ryan Wasylenko sacked Anile, making Chaminade (0-1 AAA, 1-1) have to spike the ball on second down to stop the clock with 12.8 seconds left. On the next play, it was defensive tackle Kevin Pfeiffer who sacked Anile. The quarterback then threw a pass on fourth down to wide receiver Thomas Zenker, who was tackled on the 18 as time expired.
While Stepinac was able to pull through late in the game, O'Donnell knows his team needs some work.
“We have to play smarter; we did a lot of stupid things out there,” O'Donnell said. “It's a work in progress. We know that every game we have it's going to be a war. We had too many turnovers today.”
There were some ugly play on both sides Saturday.
O’Donnell watched his team fumble the ball four times, get picked off once, and commit six penalties while Chaminade fumbled three times, threw an interception, took six penalties and saw Anile sacked four times.
A big part of the win for the Crusaders was quarterback/safety Mark White who, despite losing two fumbles, ran for 92 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown run. White also took a lateral from quarterback Daniel Hoffer and threw it to wide receiver Vincent Narog for a touchdown that put the Crusaders up 20-7 with 1:36 remaining in the second quarter.
“Our team made everything possible for me,” White said. “Everyone did a great job to make this win possible. Coach hyped us up about the fact that we hadn't beat them in all those years, so we knew we had to do everything we could to win.”
Chaminade had its Alumni Day spoiled, but didn't go down without a fight. When White scored the game's opening touchdown, Anile began a drive that ended with him taking a 1-yard carry into the end zone to tie it up at 7 just a few minutes later.
The Crusaders, however, scored three unanswered touchdowns. One came by captain Caleb Gilligan-Evans on a 2-yard run, the second was a 28-yard pass from Hoffer to Narog and the third came on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Hoffer to running back Justin Thomas.
The Flyers seemed all but out of it late in the third until running back John Desepoli had a 9-yard running touchdown to bring the game to 28-13. With 6:30 to go in the fourth quarter, Anile was able to go on a 20-yard run into the end zone to pull the score within 28-20 before Chaminade fell short.
Flyers coach Stephen Boyd was glad his team rallied, but disappointed they couldn't complete the comeback.
“We were down 28-7 and we fought back,” Boyd said. “We need to fix ourselves. Giving a nice effort at the end was great, but at the end of the day if you don't win, it doesn't matter.”
For the Flyers, it was a game where they fell frustratingly short. For the Crusaders, it was a result 44 years in the making.