Archbishop Stepinac football coach Mike O'Donnell preached to his team this week that it had to focus on ball security and couldn't afford to turn the ball over Friday night in the CHSFL "AAA" title game against St. Anthony's.
Ultimately, and unfortunately for Stepinac, the coach's words proved to be true as his team lost a fumble, threw an interception and turned the ball over on downs and it made the difference in a 14-0 loss to St. Anthony's on Friday night at Mitchel Field in Uniondale, N.Y.
The big play came when Vincent Narog fumbled after being tackled hard by St. Anthony's Tim Stackpole and the ball landed in the arms of St. Anthony's linebacker Anthony Leggio, who returned it 61 yards for a score to make it 14-0 with 3:09 left in the third quarter.
"Obviously the turnover on the reverse was pretty much the game," O'Donnell said. "We kind of had momentum, down 7-0, and really in good position. We had just stopped them and it seemed like momentum was going in our favor and we went to a play that has worked for us all year. The kid got a good shot in, the ball popped loose and their kid made an unbelievable play."
The Crusaders (8-3) struggled to get anything going offensively. They only got the ball into the redzone on the final drive, when they were stopped at the five-yard line with less than one minute left in the game.
On the first drive of the game, quarterback Daniel Hoffer threw an interception on a pass to the endzone on fourth down at the Friars' 25-yard line. Stepinac was led by quarterback Mark White, who ran for 82 yards and threw for 24 yards in a game centered around the defenses.
"Their defense played great, St. Anthony's defense is probably the best in the league and they showed why they are so good today," O'Donnell said. "They swarmed to the ball and hit you hard."
While Stepinac fell short, it was a banner season for the Crusaders. After winning the "AA" title last year, they made the "AAA" title game for the first time in program history. Stepinac proved it belonged with the big boys in the league and ultimately came a few plays short against the league's perennial powerhouse.
"We're really proud of the kids and how they played," O'Donnell said. "All year long we got better and better and I think there isn't much more you can ask from a bunch of kids."