Around this time a year ago, all the talk in the Catholic High School Football League focused on a game that would never happen.
Fans, coaches, teammates pondered who would have won a contest between the league's undefeated "AAA" champions, St. Anthony's, and undefeated "AA" champions, Archbishop Stepinac. Since the two teams didn't meet during the regular season and rules forbade them from meeting after their title games, talking was all anyone could do.
"I know a lot of people would have liked to see us play St. Anthony's since we were the two champions," Stepinac senior tight end/defensive end Austin Taps said. "They'll get their wish this year."
Yes, they will.
Sure, it's one year later and the circumstances are different, but the heavily coveted matchup from last year will take place this Friday night when No. 1 St. Anthony's takes on No. 2 Stepinac for the "AAA" title at 7 p.m. at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, N.Y.
It's the second time in league history the defending "AAA" and "AA" champions will battle for the "AAA" title, with it last occurring in 2009 when Holy Trinity took on St. Anthony's. The Friars will also be searching for their third straight title and look to defeat the Crusaders for the second time this season.
"I think it's great," Taps said of the teams matching up in the title game one year later. "It's going to be a great game. They're a good team and we're clicking. We got to come out and give it our all and not hold anything back."
Before each season, the CHSFL has its coaches align the 20 teams into two divisions, the "AAA-AA" division for the top 12 teams and the "AA-A" division for the bottom eight. The top 12 all have the opportunity to potentially play for the "AAA" crown while the bottom eight teams can only play for the "AA" title in the best-case scenario.
Last year, St. Anthony's was in the top 12 while Stepinac ended up in the bottom eight. Stepinac coach Mike O'Donnell said he had his team in the bottom eight because there were a lot of question marks surrounding his team and constant struggles to put together a big roster with the school's small enrollment.
Ultimately, both teams went undefeated all season and won championships on the same day—raising the chatter about which team was the best in the conference and who would have won a game had the two teams been able to meet.
"It certainly would have been a good game," St. Anthony's coach Rich Reichert said.
This year, the teams were both placed in the top 12 and there were no worries about them possibly not meeting. In fact, they already have meet this season, a 55-29 win by St. Anthony's on Oct. 7, which makes Friday's title game one of adjustments.
Reichert, whose team is looking for its 10th title in 11 years, wants to see his team play better offensively and limit big plays when its on defense. The Friars have battled some injuries along the way and it's been far from an easy road to the title game but they once again have a great shot to end up as the league's beast.
"There's a lot of pressure that guys can be putting on themselves but we want them to think it's just another game," Reichert said. "Obviously, it's a championship game but we're going about our business like we've approached it week in and week out. It just happens to be our last game."
Stepinac, meanwhile, will be looking to win its first-ever "AAA" title and cut down on the turnovers that have plagued it in its two losses.
"We're extremely excited," senior fullback Caleb Gilligan-Evans said. "Especially with the way our semifinal game ended. It's just a good opportunity ahead and we have the chance to do something special. Our entire team can't wait."