Stepinac’s Chrystian Lopez almost didn’t play football this season. The senior happens to be a great lacrosse player and over the summer, Lopez was considering not playing football to focus on his main sport.
Lopez ultimately decided to finish off his final year by playing both and the Crusaders should thank him; they have their third straight Turkey Bowl win because of his decision.
Stepinac (4-6) rallied from an 18-point deficit to defeat White Plains 19-18 on Lopez’s game-winning 9-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining in the game. This was the third straight win for the Crusaders in their annual Thanksgiving matchup against White Plains (1-7) and their sixth in the last seven years.
“Thank God I did play,” Lopez said with a smile. “If I didn’t I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed my senior year as much. I’m thankful I did.
“I couldn’t let the (game-winning catch) slip through; I had to come away with it. I had to help the team and do whatever I can to win this game.”
Stepinac quarterback Dan Hoffer scrambled on a broken play late in the game and found Lopez in the corner of the end zone to snatch away the win from White Plains. The Tigers led 18-0 with six minutes left in the third quarter but Hoffer led the Crusaders to the big comeback, taking a hand in all three Stepinac touchdowns.
“I had just hoped I threw it to (Lopez) perfectly,” Hoffer said of the final play. “It was a great play by Chrystian knowing that the kid was going to come up on me. I just threw it up; I have great chemistry with him and I knew he was going to come down with it.
“We just stayed positive in the second half,” Hoffer continued. “I told the team that we were going to win this game. No matter what I have to do, I’m going to do it. We all did it together and it was a great experience. I’m so happy to be a part of it. I told my brother (a former Stepinac player) that I was going to finish what he started. To know that he was on the sideline watching me was awesome. I can go and eat Thanksgiving turkey with a smile on my face.”
Hoffer was 8-for-19 for 98 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a 3-yard touchdown, but it was the play of Ryan Burnett that boosted the Stepinac offense. Burnett ran for 156 yards on 21 carries and took home Stepinac’s sportsmanship award.
“(When Lopez caught the touchdown) it felt like everything,” Burnett said. “We were down and fought back to win the game; anything is possible if you work hard. We had a lot of emotion in the first half, but we came into the locker room and calmed down. We got back to business and played how we really play.”
Lopez finished with four catches and 41 yards including another huge catch early in the fourth quarter to keep Stepinac alive. Justin Thomas had a 24-yard touchdown late in the third quarter and Mathew Schumacher and Jason Kennedy had a sack.
Malcom Majors made the play of the game, intercepting a pass and returning it to the White Plains 48-yard line to set up Stepinac’s final drive.
“We were really able to turn it around and move the ball in the second half,” said Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell. “White Plains has a lot of talent and my hat’s off to them, they did a great job. But this is just the 15th win in 42 (Turkey Bowl) games for our school. We were on the wrong end of this for so many years and now we have three in a row again. This was a great game and a great win.”
White Plains’ Brandon Williams took home the White Plains sportsmanship award while rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Williams filled in at quarterback for junior starter Cameron Crabbe, who was suspended for a rough facemask tackle back in White Plains’ last game on October 19. Williams also threw for 74 yards on 6-for-8 passing.
“It means a lot to me to perform this well,” Williams said. “This is my first year playing varsity football and this was my first game starting at quarterback ever. It’s great to perform this well, it was just unfortunate that we couldn’t finish it off for the win.”
Josh Renfroe recovered a botched snap in the endzone for White Plains’ first touchdown of the game and Murilo Rosendo kicked a 26-yard field goal in the third quarter. White Plains captain Robbie Lorden played tough in the trenches and had a sack and Ari Shamery and Chris Jordan ran the ball tough out of the backfield.
“I think Stepinac woke up and played much better in the second half,” said White Plains coach Skip Stevens. “We weren’t able to get a few first downs when we needed to and I don’t know if it was because of the time off or what but we weren’t at the right game speed in the second half. Stepinac played very well but I’m very proud to coach our kids. They love each other, care about each other and conduct themselves as young men. Obviously we’re very frustrated right now, but I think our kids showed class throughout the whole season.”
Follow Jordan Griffith on Twitter: @MSGV_JGriffith
This game will air on MSGVarsity on Monday, November 26 at