WHITE PLAINS – When Stepinac faced St. Anthony’s in the past, it usually hoped to survive the game. Winning wasn’t exactly secondary – just unlikely.
The dynamic between the teams has changed so much these last two years that the Crusaders now expect to win. They scorched the longtime CHSFL power again Saturday, running away 49-32 in a showdown of unbeaten state-ranked teams.
“They’ve always been the class of our league, but we’re in a different position now,” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “For years, we would come into this game and circle the wagons and hope that we came out alive. Not many teams won the week after they played St. Anthony’s, but it’s not exactly that way with us now.”
Instead, the Crusaders (6-0), the No. 2-ranked Class AA team in the state, displayed their deep pool of talent, which includes sophomore Trill Williams, who had a pair of interceptions. He returned one 15 yards for a touchdown to stake Stepinac to a 28-9 lead in the second quarter.
“It got our team hyped,” Williams said. “That’s what we had to do: Make big plays.”
The Crusaders allowed more than a few of them early in the second half, letting St. Anthony’s (5-1), the state’s No. 11-ranked team, back into the game. But Stepinac’s offense responded with three late scoring drives to regain control and finish off the Friars for a second straight year.
The game was played in honor of Joe Riverso, the former Stepinac coach who was killed in the attacks on Sept. 11.
Player of the game: Tyquell Fields, Stepinac. The senior, who was named the game’s MVP, finished 15 for 26 for 130 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 81 yards and a score. His biggest play all game didn’t result in a touchdown, but a key first down in the fourth quarter. Fields zinged an 11-yard completion through traffic to Kobe Miranda on fourth down. The pass set up a touchdown run by Antonio Giannico and allowed the Crusaders to regain a two-score lead, 35-25.
Turning point: After staking itself to a 28-9 lead, Stepinac encountered trouble in midway through the second half. St. Anthony’s trimmed its deficit to 28-22 and forced a three-and-out. The Crusader defense bent, but held the Friars to a field goal. It was then the offense helped Stepinac regain control of the contest, driving 62 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown.
Stat line: Malik Crawford led Stepinac with 13 carries for 135 yards and a touchdown. Kobe Miranda added 47 yards on the ground and Giannico had 46 yards and two touchdowns. … Five Crusaders had receptions, led by Jesse Brown’s five catches for 44 yards. T.J. Morrison caught a pair of touchdowns. … Despite the loss, St. Anthony’s outgained Stepinac 504-415. The Friars passed for 341 yards, including 305 for quarterback Tom Walsh.
Quotable: “They cut it to one score, but the offense did a great job of driving the ball,” O’Donnell said. “We had some big plays where it was fourth-and-1, third-and-1, and kept the sticks moving. It was a team effort.”