Led by QB Mark White, Stepinac forced and recovered a fumble at the 2-yard line in OT to win a CHSFL semifinal against Xaverian, 27-21, Saturday in White Plains. Matt Ehalt » HS blog »
In the span of a minute, silence turned into sheer jubilation and excitement for the Archbishop Stepinac football team.
After missing its extra point in the first overtime of Saturday's CHSFL semifinal against Xaverian, Stepinac forced and recovered a fumble at the two-yard line to secure a 27-21 victory Saturday in White Plains.
The win put Stepinac in the "AAA" title game for the first time in school history and left some players talking about it as the best game that they have ever played in.
"This is the best way to do it," quarterback Mark White said of the finish. "I've waited my whole life for this moment right here. I wish I could have this moment for life right now."
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: No. 2 Stepinac (8-2) led 21-7 late in the third quarter and outplayed Xaverian for most of the game but kept making offensive mistakes and No. 3 Xaverian (7-3) eventually tied the game with 7:52 left.
Stepinac lost four fumbles, tossed an interception, missed an extra point and a field goal and also had a high snap on a field goal attempt that led to sack. Those errors almost canceled out a great defensive effort by the Crusaders.
In overtime, Stepinac started with the ball and White (17 rushes for 114 yards) rushed in from seven yards out for his second touchdown of the game. Xaverian blocked the extra point, shocking the Stepinac sideline.
On Xaverian's first play of overtime, quarterback Isaiah Kearney (224 total yards, three touchdowns) ran up the middle for eight yards before Stepinac defensive end Austin Taps came over the top and ripped the ball from Kearney's hands. Teammate Shane Hogan hopped on the ball to seal the win and Stepinac's players rushed the field to celebrate.
"The one thing going through my mind was please don't let this slip through my hands, please don't," Hogan said.
He added: "Words can't describe how that felt."
TURNING POINT: Facing a fourth down at Stepinac's 43-yard line with 20 seconds left and the game tied at 21-21, Kearney hurled a bomb down the field toward receiver Tu Shaun Plummer, who had a step on the Stepinac defensive back. The ball had too much air under it and Plummer barely got his fingertips on it, bobbling it for a second before it fell incomplete.
Had Plummer hauled in the ball, which would have been a hard catch, his team would have been in field goal range with 12.5 seconds left.
"We saw two safeties high with about 18 seconds left and we said, 'Oh my God, this is it' and we have a play that defeats that coverage," Xaverian coach Joe DeSiena said. "We saw him come open and the wind kind of took the ball a little bit and it went right off his finger tips. I haven't seen too many balls got that guy's way that don't come down in his hands."
PLAYER OF THE GAME: White is part of a two-quarterback system but he was the one mostly under center Saturday. While he lost a fumble and saw a high snap go off his fingertips and lead to another turnover, he was getting nice chunks of yards each time he ran. His first score gave Stepinac a 14-7 lead in the third.
"I came out nervous in the first half and my team picked me up in the locker room and the team said everything they needed to say to me and I performed," White said. "I put the team on my back. The coaches called great plays and the line did everything they could and so did the defense. I'm just happy right now."
UP NEXT: Stepinac will meet the winner of the Iona Prep vs. St. Anthony's semifinal game in the "AAA" title game next week. Xaverian's season is over.
"It's unbelievable," Hogan said. "Nobody believed we were going to make it this far except for the coaches and us and we're still not done. We still have one game to go."