St. Peter's falls at Archbishop Stepinac in CHSFL AAA semifinal
Photos and photo gallery by Stephen Hart
on November 15, 2015 3:23 PM, updated November 15, 2015 8:22 PM
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- For one quarter on Sunday, the magic was still working for St. Peter's.
The Eagles held top-seeded Archbishop Stepinac scoreless for the first 12-plus minutes and likely entertained thoughts of pulling an upset in the CHSFL AAA semifinals.
But against a team as talented as the Crusaders, the one-dimensional Eagles had to play a perfect game to have any chance. And when the mistakes started popping up midway through the second quarter, Stepinac started putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
The undefeated defending city champions found the end zone three times in the second stanza, then pulled away in an ugly fourth quarter to roll to a 49-7 victory and a berth in next week's title tilt against second-seeded Cardinal Hayes, which defeated St. Anthony's on Saturday night.
Bobby Wing ran the ball 26 times for 66 yards for fifth-seeded St. Peter's (6-4), which broke Stepinac's shutout bid in the contest's final seconds. But by then, the Crusaders (10-0) had capitalized on a number of mistakes by the Eagles, whose inability to keep the Stepinac defense honest by challenging it with a balanced offense was another hurdle they couldn't overcome.
"We exceeded all expectations people outside of our locker room had for us," said SP head coach Mark DeCristoforo, whose club was coming off an emotional 22-21 first-round playoff win at Monsignor Farrell last week. "I've been with teams that have won championships and last year's team won nine games, but I've never been prouder of a team. This team maximized its potential and gave everything it had."
Stepinac fell on the opening squib kickoff at its 41 and moved to the SP 4 before the Eagles held and forced a field-goal attempt by Liam Butler that SP's Roger Montalvo blocked.
Late in the first quarter, the Crusaders drove from their 31 to the SP 3, only to again be met by a resistant defense. Stepinac quarterback Tyquell Fields tried a run up the middle but was stripped of the ball as the Eagles recovered, keeping the high-powered Crusaders off the scoreboard for a quarter in what was clearly a moral victory.
"We had a glimmer of hope there for a little while as we played over our heads, especially on defense," said DeCristoforo. "The field position was tough, though."
The Eagles' first three possessions started at their own 2, 16 and 2, respectively. On that third series, three straight runs by Wing netted St. Peter's its initial first down at the AS 23. But being pinned in their own end made the run-oriented Eagles even more conservative, so when a holding penalty forced St. Peter's into a passing down on third-and-13, the Crusaders were ready.
Quarterback Joe Mazziotta rolled right and was intercepted by safety Jaychar Howell at the SP 32. Four plays later, Fields connected with Terrell Morrison on a 15-yard TD pass for a 6-0 lead 3:50 into the second quarter.
"There's little room for error against them," said DeCristoforo of the Crusaders. "They're the only team we play where we watch their safeties on every down. They were teeing off on Bobby (Wing), stuffing the line. And if it's not a run, they're always around the ball."
FOLLOW YOUR TEAMS:Download the HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS app!
Fields didn't have any problems throwing the ball, completing 17 of 23 passes for 174 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. After the Crusaders forced a three-and-out from the Eagles, Stepinac's senior signal-caller connected on 4 of 5 passes on the ensuing series, culminating with a 5-yard TD toss to Jesse Brown and a 12-0 advantage.
The same scenario played out moments later, as another SP three-and-out was followed by a five-play Stepinac scoring drive, ending with another 5-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 1:16 to go before halftime.
"We are a 50-50 team," said Stepinac head coach Mike O'Donnell of his team's run/pass breakdown. "(Fields) has been great for us."
FROM BAD TO WORSE
The Eagles had the first possession of the second half, and it turned out to be a very bittersweet series.
Mazziotta completed his first pass of the afternoon on the first play from scrimmage, a 10-yarder to A.J. Mistler. Along the way, St. Peter's would convert on a pair of fourth-and-one runs and Mazziotta would connect on two more passes, but the 16-play march eventually ended on a fourth-down incompletion from the AS 41.
The Crusaders responded with a nine-play series that ended with a 25-yard Butler for a 22-0 margin entering the fourth quarter. The final 12 minutes were incredibly ugly for the Eagles -- two lost fumbles (including one returned 17 yards for a touchdown), a shanked punt, an interception and a kickoff that wasn't fielded which led to another TD by the Crusaders.
After yielding 27 points in the period, St. Peter's ended Stepinac's shutout bid with 13 seconds remaining on John Rini's TD tote on fourth-and-goal from the 4.
"They did a good job of putting themselves where they wanted to be early on, then our athletes took over," said O'Donnell of the Eagles. "The score is, obviously, misleading. St. Peter's played its heart out and had an unbelievable season."