Stepinac (6-3) took care of business in its final regular season game with a 28-14 victory over St. Joseph by-the-Sea (4-5) of Staten Island on Sunday afternoon. But the Crusaders still lost a game on their schedule.
After 42 straight years of playing against White Plains on Thanksgiving, Stepinac needs to find another opponent. Due to NYSPHSAA’s rules on game limits for teams not in the state tournament, White Plains is ineligible to play on Thanksgiving. The Tigers will reach their limit when they play North Rockland for the Section 1 title on Saturday.
Stepinac is now forced to find a new opponent for this season at best and long-term, at worst.
“We've known for years about this possibility and White Plains has done everything in its power for the last 10 years or so to do whatever they could to keep the game alive,” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “There’s going to be some pressure from outside the two schools (on Section 1 and the NYSPHSAA) to get the game played, but we heard that (Section 1) said it’s not happening.”
The game cancellation of the game became official Saturday night by Section 1 Executive Director Jennifer Simmons, hours after White Plains knocked off John Jay-East Fishkill in the Class AA semifianls.
On Sunday, none of the Turkey Bowl commotion was on the minds of the Stepinac seniors. With playoff positioning on the line, the Crusaders jumped out to a 21-0 lead against the Vikings by the third quarter behind touchdowns from Tyquan Ennis, Malcolm Major, and T.J. Morrison.
Sea began wearing down Stepinac a bit late in the second half and punched in a pair of touchdowns to cut the deficit to 21-14. The Vikings recovered the ensuing onside kick forcing the Stepinac defense to make a big stop with less than five minutes remaining.
With three minutes left, Stepinac faced a 4th-and-3 from the Sea 39. The Crusaders went for it. Quarterback Brandon Coleman busted a big run down to the 24-yard line. To cap it off, he sliced his way to a touchdown on the next carry to ice the victory.
“Coach was just telling us how its our last game on our home field, we need to pick this up to seal it,” wide receiver Jerry Thompson said. “Our offensive line gets picked on a bit, but they are underrated and made two great plays in a row to help us get the win.”
Coming into the weekend, Stepinac was seventh in the standings but had a chance to move up to fourth or down to ninth depending on everyone’s wins and losses. After all the chips fell, Stepinac finished fourth and will host Iona Prep in the quarterfinals.
“Winning the final game of the season was all we could control and now it gives us momentum no matter who we face in the playoffs,” senior two-way lineman Brian Harris said.
As for the Turkey Bowl, Harris is disappointed, but not completely concerned just yet.
“I grew up playing with all the guys on that team with the Bernies (White Plains’ youth football program) and it will be a shame if we can’t play them on Thanksgiving,” Harris said. “But, we’re focused on the playoffs right now, that’s all that matters for us at the moment.”
Stepinac is looking for an opponent on Thanksgiving no matter what. It’s a tradition that means a lot to the community and the alumni of the school.
“If we go to another rival or another opponent for a Turkey Bowl and start a new tradition, this will be the end of this event with White Plains. We can’t be worrying about this every year and its not White Plains’ fault, but we might have to look elsewhere permanently,” O’Donnell said. “We’ve had offers in the past to start a new tradition and break our contract with White Plains, but we want this game to be what it is and we want it for the entire city.”
For 2013, Stepinac is actively looking for an opponent and making phone calls. Nobody has entered into talks yet, but the Crusaders are hopeful.
“There’s been talk for years about playing Iona for Thanksgiving because they’ve lost their Turkey Bowl with New Rochelle recently and their alumni want a new tradition too,” O’Donnell said. “But if we play them in the playoffs next week, then we’re not going to be playing them on Thanksgiving (this year), obviously. For these kids here though, we want to play a game. We want a Turkey Bowl.”
Email John Malone at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MSGV_Malone