Stepinac edges Xaverian in CHSFL AAA semis
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After seeing No. 2-seeded Stepinac pull off a thrilling 27-21 OT win over No. 3-seeded Xaverian in Saturday's CHSFL AAA semifinal, Crusaders coach Mike O'Donnell didn't mince his words.
"One of the most unbelievable football games I've ever seen," O'Donnell said.
And it was historic, too.
Quarterback Mark White's 7-yard game-winning touchdown run lifted Stepinac into the CHSFL AAA championship for the first time in program history.
The Crusaders will square off against No. 1-seeded St. Anthony's in the finals on Saturday, November 19 at Mitchel Field in Hempstead, Long Island at a time to be determined.
"I'm really proud of our kids," O’Donnell said. “We made some pretty big mistakes, but they didn’t give up. There were a few times when I thought, ‘Oh no.' But these kids just won’t quit. You can’t ask for anything more.”
While White scored the game-winning touchdown, it was teammate Vincent Narog that made the game-winning play on defense. The senior linebacker stripped the ball from Xaverian quarterback Isaiah Kearney on the 2-yard line in overtime to seal it.
“I don’t even really know what happened,” said Narog, who also scored on a 75-yard reverse to give the Crusaders a 21-7 third-quarter lead. “(Kearney) broke the first line and got held up and I saw the ball and I just . . . I just went for it. I really don’t know what happened. Just a reflex, I think, but it worked.”
Despite four turnovers, Stepinac (8-2) held a commanding 21-7 with two minutes left in the third quarter, but the Clippers came storming back. Xaverian (7-3) — paced by Kearney's two rushing touchdowns and one passing — eventually tied it up and had the ball in Stepinac territory in the final seconds.
But Crusaders senior defensive end Garfield Heslop made an incredible play on third down, coming from the backside to nail Clippers standout running back Laray Smith for a loss. Xaverian's fourth-down pass then fell incomplete, shutting the door on any last-second heroics.
“(Garfield) just keeps getting better and better,” said bookend defensive end Austin Taps, who recorded 13 ½ tackles and two sacks. “He made an incredible play, but I think our whole defense knew what was at stake and that we needed to get it done. Win or go home, we had to leave it all on the field and I think everyone did.”
In overtime, Stepinac started with the ball on Xaverian's 10-yard line. White ran for 3 yards and then ran 7 more for the score. Overall, White ran for 115 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
“It’s incredible,” said White, who has helped replace the legendary Tyrell Goodman under center. “I literally can’t even get the words out of my mouth. This game was a roller-coaster, up and down, and to come away with a win and advance to the championship — it’s just incredible.”
For Stepinac, it was the biggest win on its brand new turf field, which was christened in a loss to Iona Prep on October 22.
“Look at this crowd, look at the support we had today,” Taps said, gesturing toward the stands. “This is amazing. You dream your whole life to get to moments like this and to come out on top. It’s just really special.”
In order to win the program's first CHSFL AAA championship, the Crusaders know they will have to increase their level of play. Stepinac fell to St. Anthony's, 55-29, back on October 7.
“We made some big big mistakes today,” O’Donnell said. “I think we won the game in the end, but I also think we almost lost it. So we need to minimize those mistakes and play four quarters at the same level of competition if we want to win a championship.”
While Taps agreed with his coach, he believes the team will be ready.
“Again, we have to leave everything on the field,” Taps said. “We’ll work some of the mental mistakes we made today out of our system this week in practice and we will be ready. It’s the championship game. How can you not be?”
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Email Jordan Griffith at JGriffit@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_JGriffith