Last-second field goal ends St. Joseph by-the-Sea's undefeated season
St. Joseph by-the-Sea's Andrew Russo rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown against Archbishop Stepinac on Saturday. - (Staten Island Advance/Anthony DePrimo)
Suffice it to say that since it committed to running its double-wing offense about a decade ago, St. Joseph by-the-Sea has seen its share of different defenses geared to stop the run-dominated formation.
Archbishop Stepinac threw its hat in the ring Saturday and although Sea once again compiled lofty numbers, the Crusaders’ bend-but-don’t-break defensive stands more often than not kept the Vikings out of the end zone.
In fact, despite allowing a 16-play, 7:58 drive with the score tied in the final period, Stepinac again denied the Vikings points before riding senior kicker Michael Pizzuti’s 23-yard field goal to a 17-14 CHSFL victory in the waning seconds.
Despite outstanding efforts from running back Andrew Russo (151 yards rushing, TD) and quarterback Ryan Minlionica (136 rushing yards), the Vikings suffered their first loss of the season in six tries.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit (too much today with penalties)," said Sea head coach Rich Clark, whose team had its lowest offensive production point-wise after entering the game averaging 37.2 points per contest. "Hey, hats off to Stepinac. They made us earn it all game today and we only averaged about three yards per clip (on run plays), so we really couldn’t afford to take penalties and set us back."
The Vikings were held off the scoreboard for nearly three quarters against the Crusaders, who played something similar to a 46-defense.
"They had a stand-up nose guard (Sterling Lovelock) who caused us fits early on," explained the Sea coach. "You never know what they’re going to come up with to stuff and stop us, but they were able to do it for awhile before we finally made adjustments."
Thanks to Ryan Burnett’s (125 yards rushing) 1-yard TD run at the end of the first half and quarterback Dan Hoffer’s 13-yard TD strike to Justin Thomas (6 catches, 122 yards) early in the third, the Crusaders (2-3) were able to build a 14-0 lead.
But the Vikings were finally able to get untracked offensively behind Russo and Minlionica and scored on back-to-back possessions that ended with Russo TD runs of 3 (following a 12-play, 73-yard drive) and 71 yards that tied the score at 14.
Russo nearly gave the Vikings a two-point lead following the second touchdown, but was stopped at the goal-line to keep the score tied.
"We needed that," said Clark. "We had them reeling, but we missed on the PAT."
Nonetheless, Sea, which received a strong game from defensive end Brandan Spears, stopped Stepinac on its ensuing possession before taking over at its own 22 with 9:55 to play.
But although the Vikings appeared to move the ball with ease as it moved upfield, they eventually stalled at the Stepinac 32 and the Crusaders took possession with 1:57 left.
Aided by a 35-yard catch by Thomas (who caught the ball despite a tip from Sea DB Cesar Fernandez), the Crusaders faced a second-and-goal from the Sea 6 with 7.3 seconds to play when Stepinac coach Michael O’Donnell called on the left-footed Pizzzuti to break the tie.
Pizzuti nailed his second field goal of the season with just 2.1 ticks remaining to give the Crusaders the win.