H.S. football: Iona Prep wins on Stepinac's new turf
12:38 AM, Oct. 23, 2011 |
Iona Prep's Michael Sullivan, right, hugs Matthew Berni during the team's last possession of its 30-17 win over Stepinac on Saturday. / Xavier Mascareñas/The Journal News
WHITE PLAINS — For Iona Prep to call a trick play on the game's opening series was really as much about philosophy as surprise. If it works, great. If not, it may serve a greater purpose.
"In a big game like this, everyone's so intense, go giddy-up and ready-to-go," coach Vic Quirolo said. "We're basically trying to say, hey, play loose. Don't go out there and be tight."
Under the lights and before a sprawling crowd at Stepinac High School in the annual Joe Riverso Memorial Game, Quirolo's philosophy proved doubly beneficial. Justin Combs connected with Omari Buster on an 80-yard reverse pass, and the Gaels were never threatened in a 30-17 victory over the Crusaders.
The Gaels (5-2) struck on the very first play on Stepinac's new turf, silencing an emotional crowd. They led throughout, opening up a double-digit lead for most of the night.
"The last couple of years, it seems like they always come out with a trick play on the first series," said Stepinac coach Mike O'Donnell, whose program had dedicated its new turf field in a pregame ceremony. "They caught us with that, we got behind, and we struggled all night. They won the war up front. They were kicking our butt pretty good on the line of scrimmage."
Iona Prep paved the way for three touchdowns runs by quarterback Mario Biaggi, who shook off a four-interception game in last week's last-second loss to Chaminade to lead an offense that baffled Stepinac (5-2) with its power, speed and no-huddle pace.
"Personally, this felt good," Biaggi said.
The junior scored on a 4-yard run to give Iona Prep a 16-3 lead with 3:09 left in the first half. He added a 30-yard keeper in the third quarter to extend the Gaels' lead to 23-3, then answered Stepinac's first touchdown with a 1-yard sneak.
Even with all the points it posted, Iona Prep still needed to contend with the Crusaders' high-powered offense, and it did. Dan Fischer intercepted two passes, and Aaaqil Sheppard recorded a pair of sacks and a forced fumble.
"We kept changing it up," Fischer said. "We were mixing things up. We never stayed in one thing."
O'Donnell agreed, saying, "We just couldn't get in sync on offense."
Versatile junior Mark White provided Stepinac's biggest spark, rushing for both touchdowns and delivering big plays in the pass and run games as a quarterback and receiver, and on special teams. But the Gaels played with a fervor all night, fueled all week, they said, by last year's humbling 23-6 defeat at home to the Crusaders.
"We had four really, really great days of practice, and then came here and played four really, really great quarters of football," Sheppard said.