Austin Taps is a hard-working, blue-collar football player, but don’t take our word for it.
Following Archbishop Stepinac’s 14-12 win against rival Mount St. Michael in the Bronx Saturday afternoon in the Bronx, his uniform told the story.
No one on the undefeated Crusaders had a more mud-stained, formerly white uniform than Taps, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound senior tight end/defensive end from Mahopac, who has drawn interest from the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova and William & Mary.
“It looks like I have an alternate jersey,” Taps said. “It was nothing big to us, we played on grass all of last year.”
Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell considers Taps one of the most talented players in the area and doesn’t understand why he hasn’t secured a college scholarship just yet.
O’Donnell stresses the importance of game film to Taps and how serving a one-game suspension last week against Kellenberg following an ejection in Week Two against Chaminade hurt Taps.
“We told him we need more game film to send out,” O’Donnell said. “I think that might have motivated him a little bit this week.”
Taps had several highlights for potential recruiters Saturday.
He caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mark White to put Stepinac (4-0, 3-0 CHSFL Class AAA) in front 14-0 with 3:33 left in the first quarter, had a key interception at the Stepinac 14-yard line on Mount’s ensuing drive and sacked Najae Brown on the Mountaineers’ final possession.
“I feel I had to make up for missing the last game,” said Taps, who also had eight tackles and another sack. “I had to come back with a vengeance.”
A 51-yard kickoff return by Shane Hogan gave Stepinac, ranked No. 23 in the Tri-State by MSG Varsity, the ball at the 35-yard line. Moments later, bruising back Caleb Gilligan-Evans scored a 3-yard touchdown on a direct snap to put the Crusaders in front, 7-0, with 9:21 left in the first quarter.
Trailing 14-0 at the half, Mount (1-2) rallied after halftime.
Led by Richard Jones, the Mountaineers defense was stout and held Stepinac in check.
Brown scored on a 7-yard run on the first possession of the third quarter and Kenny Acquah punched the ball in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 9:37 left.
However, Mount wasn’t able to convert on the 2-point conversion, which for a second straight week proved to be costly and are partially responsible for the Mountaineers having consecutive league losses by a combined three points.
“We’ve got to get over the hump,” Mount coach Mario Valentini said. “We’ve got to make play at times that we have to make the plays, we can’t put ourselves in a hole…We’re right there, but we just have to make the opportune times.”
Stepinac, meanwhile, has won three consecutive close games to extend its winning streak to 16.
“I think that’s a vital part of our team, that we’re able to close out,” Taps said. “I think that’s really important to have on a football team.”
The Mountaineers will look to bounce back next Saturday at home against Holy Cross, while Stepinac hosts St. Anthony’s (LI) at White Plains HS Friday night in a highly anticipated game.
“We’re not going to make the Super Bowl out of it because no matter what happens, you have to beat them at the end of the year to win the championship,” O’Donnell said. “It’s a big game and…we’re going to give it our best.”
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