Mike O’Donnell viewed Austin Taps as an underutilized offensive weapon so far this season.
“We all year long can’t believe we can’t get the ball to him,” the Archbishop Stepinac coach said. ... “We have been working real hard all week trying to find way to get him the ball.”
Quarterback Daniel Hoffer didn’t have that problem against Holy Cross. The junior connected with the senior tight end five times for 92 yards and two touchdowns. The duo were a big part of a dominant second quarter in which the second-seeded Crusaders scored all of its points in a 28-13 win over the No. 7 Knights in the CHSFL Class AAA quarterfinals in White Plains Sunday on Senior Day.
Stepinac's Daniel Hoffer threw two touchdown passes to Austin Taps against Holy Cross.
They host No. 3 Xaverian at a date and time to be determined in their first AAA semifinal appearance since 1997.
Hoffer hit Taps, who also had two sacks at defensive end, streaking over the middle for 45-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to make it 7-0. Stepinac went on to score 21 points in less than two minutes.
Three plays later. Vincent Narog picked off Holy Cross quarterback Yianni Gavalas (15-for-36, 166 yards) and returned it 33 yards to the house.
“Yianni was a little high early in the game,” Holy Cross coach Tom Pugh said. “Once he settled down, it was a little better in the third and fourth quarter. Prior to that it was not a good offensive day.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Garfield Heslop stripped Shyheim Wingate and Matthew Schumacher recovered the fumble on the Holy Cross 17-yard-line. Mark White would waltz in for a 6-yard score and then Hoffer hit Tapps for a 2-point conversion to give Stepinac (7-2) a 21-0 lead with 7:43 left in the first half. Hoffer completed 8-of-11 passes for 119 yards overall.
“It did seem to happen all at once,” Taps said.
He then added the Crusaders (7-2) final score. Hoffer lofted him a pass on a fade route to the back left corner of the end zone. The 25-yard score put Stepinac up 28-0 with less than two minutes to play before halftime.
“He threw up a great ball and enabled me to catch it,” Taps said. “It was a great pass.”
Pugh credited the Crusaders defense line with controlling the line of scrimmage. Gavalas was forced to scramb;e most of the afternoon like he did in Stepinac's 34-14 win during the regular season.
Hoffer felt his team was overconfident after halftime, and it showed. Stepinac turned the ball over four times and was kept off the scoreboard. Holy Cross (4-5) got touchdown runs of 3 and 1 yard from Wingate, but Garfield (two sacks), Shane Hogan and the rest of the Stepinac defense kept it from getting closer.
“We definitely have to finish against [Xaverian] because they’re a great team,” Garfield said.
With the win, this bunch of Crusaders, who have spent most of their time as an 'AA-A' program, have already put themselves amongst the program’s top teams, a year after winning a Class AA crown. They all talked about knowing how much it means to O’Donnell to be in this position as they look to play for a title at the highest level.
“It’s an honor to be in the semis for the AAA,” Hoffer said. ... “We are rising up. We are stating a name for ourselves.”