Stepinac gets back on track
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When Stepinac fell to St. Anthony’s last week, Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell knew his team needed to get over the loss quickly. Not only was Stepinac in need of a win that would help its overall playoff position, but all but one of the teams that lost against St. Anthony’s this year ended up losing the next week, too.
“Coach emphasized all week that 90 percent of the time, teams that lost to St. Anthony’s ended up losing again the next week,”Stepinac receiver Vincent Narog said. “We knew we had to step up and play big if we wanted any shot at accomplishing our goals this year. We stepped up.”
If Stepinac wanted a rematch against St. Anthony’s and a shot at the CHSFL AAA championship, losing to Holy Cross on Saturday at SUNY Purchase was not an option.
Fortunately for the Crusaders, they avoided the trap, dominating the second half en route to a 34-14 win over Holy Cross.
“The kids did a great job this whole week after our last game,” O’Donnell said. “What really brought us down about last week was that, yes St. Anthony’s is a great team, but we also played bad. We needed to bounce back and our guys did so well handling that. We stayed focused in practice and didn’t let last week or any of the outside noise get to us and we came out and played a total game today.”
Stepinac scored early in the first quarter, but Holy Cross bounced back and took the lead after a huge momentum-turning muffed punt by the Crusaders. After the ensuing kickoff, however, Narog took a screen pass 75 yards for a score and brought Stepinac back to life. After the half, the Crusaders did not allow Holy Cross to move the ball and went on to score 20 points to seal the win.
Narog finished with three receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns and Yale-bound fullback Caleb Gilligan-Evans ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
But the real story of the day was the pair of Stepinac quarterbacks, Mark White and Daniel Hoffer. The Crusaders found the perfect balance between the two juniors, with Hoffer passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns and White rushing for 62 yards and two touchdowns and also catching three passes for 47 yards.
“We worked all summer to find this balance,” Hoffer said. “Every day we were out there trying to find the best way to utilize both of our strengths. Mark and I have such a good connection, we’re best friends on and off the field, and it allows us to make this work.”
“We’re like brothers,” White continued. “Our lockers are next to each other, we’re at each other’s house on days off; it’s allowed us both to mature and become better football players. He helps me with what I need to work on, I help him with what he needs to work on and it has taken us to a new level.”
The Stepinac defense also played big when it mattered, forcing Holy Cross into mistakes. Holy Cross drove into Stepinac's red zone twice but was pushed back to force third-and-27 and third-and-39 situations on both drives. The defense also forced three big fumbles.
Holy Cross’ Shyheim Wingate ran for two touchdowns and 87 yards and quarterback Yianni Gavalas threw for 120 yards.
Next week, Stepinac will host Iona Prep in what could be the biggest game of the season for both teams. Iona Prep lost to Chaminade today, so the Gaels could be playing for an AAA playoff spot.
For Stepinac, the game has even more meaning. The Crusaders will christen their brand new turf field complex with a chance to earn the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, which would give them home-field advantage till the championship.
That — coupled with the Stepinac-Iona rivalry — has Stepinac foaming at the mouth.
“This is going to be the biggest game of the year for us so far,” White said. “We’re coming home to all of our fans on our new field so it’s going to be an incredible atmosphere. We can’t wait.”
O’Donnell agreed, putting the overall perspective of next Saturday’s event at the forefront.
“It’s the first time we’re going to be able to walk out of our locker room and right onto the turf for a game,” O’Donnell said. “It’s not only a big game for us, but a big moment for the Stepinac community. There’s going to be a lot of people there and it will be a great game against another great team. The fans are excited, us coaches are excited and our players sure are excited.”
Email Jordan Griffith at Jgriffit@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_JGriffith