Dejected Stepinac players watch as St. Anthony’s players celebrate their 14-0 win in the CHSFL AAA championship game on Friday. / Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News
UNIONDALE — The reverse to Vincent Narog had been one of Stepinac’s signature plays all season. That included last week, when it went for a 75-yard touchdown in a semifinal victory over Xaverian.
The Crusaders tried it again with momentum on their side midway through the third quarter. Their defense had just stoned St. Anthony’s on fourth-and-1 at midfield and their offense appeared toward tying the score.
Again, the reverse to Narog resulted in a touchdown. This time, however, the ball carrier wore the wrong uniform.
Senior defensive back Tim Stackpole popped the ball loose on a jarring hit at the St. Anthony’s 40. Teammate Anthony Leggio scooped up the fumble and raced 61 yards for a score that deflated Stepinac, which lost 14-0 Friday night to the top-seeded Friars in the CHSFL AAA championship at Mitchel Athletic Complex.
“I tried to get inside the block, but they filled the hole pretty quick,” said Narog, a senior two-way starter. “They were ready for it. He put a great hit on me. His helmet was right on the ball.”
Instead of going in to tie the score, Stepinac (8-3), the No. 2 seed, suddenly found itself down 14-0 with 3:09 left in the third quarter of its first league championship game in program history. The deficit was too much to overcome against stout, seasoned St. Anthony’s.
The Friars (10-0) won their 10th AAA championship in the last 11 seasons but played much different than in their 55-29 win during the regular season in White Plains. This time, their offense gained 215 yards — less than half of what it gained in the last meeting — but their defense limited Stepinac to 157, much of it coming on the Crusaders’ desperate final drive that was stopped at the Friars 6.
“We tried to forget the past this game. We tried to come back from last game,” senior Austin Taps said. “I honestly think we played better this time on both sides, but they just played a great game.”
Mark White provided much of Stepinac’s offense, rushing for a team-best 88 yards and completing three passes to Taps for 24 yards. The junior quarterback was tripped as he tried to escape the pocket on fourth-and-goal from the 6 with 51.2 seconds remaining to extinguish his team’s final rally.
“We just ran out of time,” White said. “They are a great team. We played to the best of our ability, but we just came up short.”
White had helped drive the Crusaders to the St. Anthony’s 25 on the first drive of the game, but a fourth-down pass by teammate Dan Hoffer was intercepted by Stackpole. The Friars responded with a 16-play, 65-yard drive that chewed up 10:11 and gave them a 7-0 lead.
The play was largely stagnant until Stepinac junior Tom Dedivani stuffed Anthony Anderson on fourth-and-short. But the turnover three plays later stopped every bit of Crusader momentum.
It proved especially deflating because the defense had played so much better in the rematch. The good feelings were erased in a matter of seconds.
“It was an unbelievable play by them and a backbreaker for us,” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “The kids gave all they had today. We played great on defense. I’m very proud of my team.”