Austin Taps was ejected from Archbishop Stepinac’s game two weeks ago for fighting and suspended for last week’s contest against Kellenberg. A good student and mild-mannered kid, Taps was frustrated – Crusaders coach Mike O’Donnell said he and his staff saw nothing on the game film.
If anything, though, it gave the senior tight end/defensive end some renewed motivation.
“I think I had to make up for missing the last game,” Taps said. “I had to come back with a little vengeance.”
It didn’t take him long to assert himself. Taps caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mark White in the first quarter for Stepinac’s second score. It would be all the Crusaders needed in a 14-12 win over rival Mount St. Michael in CHSFL Class AAA action Saturday in The Bronx. Taps also had an interception of Mount quarterback Najae Brown in that same quarter and the game-sealing sack of Brown as time expired in the fourth.
Stepinac's Austin Taps had a touchdown catch, an interception and the game-sealing sack against Mount.
Stepinac's Mark White gets tackled by Mount St. Michael's Daniel Santos.
“We made a big point to him about it, walking away and doing the right thing,” O’Donnell said about the suspension. “We talked about how he lost a game and a half of tape to send to colleges. We told him we needed some more game film.”
Taps has heavy interest from UPenn and Villanova. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder is an outstanding athlete – he also plays on the school’s perennial Class A contending boys basketball team. O’Donnell thinks he’s being under-recruited.
“I think Austin is one of the best players in this area,” the coach said. “I don’t know why he doesn’t have a scholarship yet.”
Mount (1-2, 1-2 ‘AAA’) had a chance to win on its final drive because it snapped out of a first-quarter funk and kept Stepinac (4-0, 3-0) off the scoreboard for the final 39:10 of the game. Brown and fullback Kenny Acquah wore down the Crusaders defense in the second half with the Mountaineers wishbone, smash mouth attack. Brown (21 carries, 75 yards) scored from 9 yards out with 6:02 left in the third and Acquah (15, 61) dived in for a 1-yard touchdown with 9:37 left in the game, but both two-point conversions failed.
After falling to Chaminade, 21-20, last week, Mount has now lost two straight games by a combined three points.
“We make too many mistakes and then we’re constantly trying to fight back,” Mountaineers coach Mario Valentini said. … “We’re that close. But close isn’t good enough.”
Stepinac has opened up the season strong after coming up to the ‘AAA’ following a ‘AA’ championship in 2010. The Crusaders have prevailed in three pretty hard-fought battles, too, including that 28-20 win over Chaminade when the Flyers also had a chance to tie in their final drive.
“That’s a vital part of our team,” Taps said of finishing games. “We’re able to close out and I think that’s really important for a football team.”
What’s more impressive is that Stepinac has done it all on the road with its field being redone. The Crusaders will host St. Anthony’s on Friday night at White Plains HS. Before the nine-time ‘AAA’ champs come to town, Stepinac has a chance to enjoy this victory, at least for a little while.
“Our kids, they go to Long Island, they play Kellenberg and Chaminade, they don’t really understand what that means,” O’Donnell said. “The coaches try to explain to them what those schools are about – the great tradition, the league and everything else. Mount, they understand. They got excited in practice this week.”
No one more than Taps.