High school sports in the Lower Hudson Valley
Iona Prep and Stepinac have played football since 1950 and it quickly evolved into one of the county’s greatest rivalries. The early matchups of the 50s and 60s were reportedly attended by 5-10,000 fans.
The rivalry extends far beyond the football field, raging on the baseball diamond and basketball court as well. That’s especially true of late as Stepinac has raised its level of play in baseball and Iona Prep has improved in basketball, with each winning its division multiple times in recent years.
The passion is inherent on a number of levels. Not only are the two schools the only Westchester County teams in the CHSFL’s top divisions, the players often grow up playing sports with or against one another — be it on fields and in the White Plains, New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, Greenburgh or Yonkers rec leagues, or during CYO and Pop Warner games. The choice as to which school to attend often comes to this: Stepinac or Iona?
The rivals will renew their series on the football field Saturday night at 7 as Stepinac christens its new turf at Paul J. Marback Field. The festivities will begin around 5 with a blessing and dedication of the field, which is the jewel of a new project that saw the school raise $2 million.
The game has been named the Joe Riverso Memorial Game since 2001 in honor of former Stepinac assistant coach Joe Riverso, who was killed in the attacks on 9/11. Crusaders head coach Mike O’Donnell said this game has as much build up as any game since that fateful year, when the game was pushed to the final day of the regular season because of the attacks.
It was the first night game in school history, played under portable lights at Stepinac. Iona Prep led the game until there were under three minutes remaining and QB John O’Neil was intercepted by Tyler Nugent, who took it 43 yards to the house for the winning touchdown.
In a interesting note that is very indicative of the rivalry, O’Neill and Nugent were childhood friends and teammates in White Plains. They became enemies once they chose different high schools, a decision that ended their friendship. However, it was renewed when both went on to play college ball at Holy Cross and became teammates.
It is believed that the all-time series stands at 36-24-1 Iona Prep. Stepinac dominated the series through the mid 60s, winning from 1950-52, 56-62 and 1964 and 1966. The Gaels then began to earn the upperhand and that has continued through the present day. Iona Prep won every matchup from 1967-1972. Stepinac has earned just 10 wins over its rival since 1973, including just four since 1985 (1991, 2001-02 and 2010).
It is believed the teams have met every year other than 2009, when Iona Prep, off its AAA championship, used its open date to play Bergen Catholic at Giants Stadium. The Gaels actually beat Stepinac twice in 1993, winning by shutout both times, including 13-0 in the CHSFL’s A division championship. They held future NFL linebacker Eric Ogbogu to just 47 yards on 21 carries.
I’ll have more on this in Friday’s paper, but Stepinac has become a greater threat in recent meetings. During Iona Prep’s 2008 championship season, the Crusaders actually led the Gaels before falling 35-20. (No other team led Iona all season.) Tyrae Woodson-Samuels had an auspicious debut as Iona’s QB, throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns in his first varsity game.
Of course, last year the Crusaders broke though 23-6 last year behind 284 yards of offense, two touchdowns and three sacks from Tyrell Goodman.
I’m sure many of you have stories to share from the last 60 years. This is the place to do it, so fire away…