For the second time in three years, Stepinac will meet St. Anthony’s in the CHSFL playoffs. This year, the teams will play at St. Anthony’s in the semifinal in a rematch of a game won 31-14 by St. Anthony’s on Sept. 21 at Stepinac. The game was tied 14-14 at halftime before the Friars took complete control in the second half. They scored the final 17 points of the game and nearly outgained the Crudaders 2-to-1.
Stepinac held a plus-3 edge in turnover ratio and had four possessions inside the St. Anthony’s 30 where the offense failed to score a single point. Those facts make this game very much open to interpretation.
Certainly, Stepinac can have confidence that it can play with the Friars provided it finishes some drives. However, that hasn’t been the team’s strong suit. The offense has struggled mightily inside the red zone against quality opponents.
“We’ll make our adjustments,” senior lineman Brian Harris said. “I’m confident in my team.”
By the same token, the Stepinac defense allowed 298 yards and three touchdowns rushing to Jordan Gowins, the St. Anthony’s star back. Gowins had success in the first half, but he and the Friar offensive and defensive fronts took complete control of the game in the second half.
Gowins broke the game open with a 84-yard touchdown run on third down in the third quarter.
“I think the first time we played them, we played them pretty even in the first half,” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “We might have actually outplayed them in the first half. We gave up a long run in the third quarter that changed the momentum.”
O’Donnell told me that Stepinac was “a little too uptempo” in the teams’ last meeting. The Crusaders do have the ability to sustain drives, bit they’ll have to do that while putting points on the board. Can they do it?
Either way, getting to the game, against the perennial league favorite, is an achievement in itself for Stepinac. Whether or not the Crusaders take advantage remains to be seen.
“We’re really excited about playing them in the semifinals with a shot to go to the finals,” O’Donnell said. “it’s a great challenge for our program. We’re looking forward to it.”
“We’re going to expect them to come out firing because it’s the second round of the playoffs,” quarterback Brandon Coleman said. “We’re just going to have to come and do the same.”
CHSFL AAA semifinal
No. 1 St. Anthony’s (9-1) vs. No. 4 Stepinac (7-3)
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
Where: St. Anthony’s High School
Key players: St. Anthony’s — Jordan Gowins (5-11, 210), Jr., RB; Greg Galligan (6-2, 185), Sr., QB; Naim Jones (5-11, 160), Sr., RB. Stepinac — Damarcus Miller (6-1, 170), Jr., WR/LB/DB; Gavin Heslop (6-1, 180), Jr., HB/CB; Brandon Coleman (5-10, 160), Jr., QB.
Outlook: When the teams met on Sept. 21, St. Anthony’s won 31-14, but Stepinac had its chances against the league’s kingpin. The Crusaders won the turnover battle 3-0, but they had four drives stall inside the St. Anthony’s 25-yard line, including three of them in the second half as the Friars racked up 17 unanswered points. Now, on the road, Stepinac will have to find a way to contain Gowins (1,718 yards, 22 TDs), who rushed for 298 yards and three scores as St. Anthony’s nearly doubled Stepinac in offensive yardage, 468-239. For their part, the Crusaders showed an improved run defense last week. After Iona Prep ran all over them in a 40-14 regular season win, Stepinac held the Gaels to just 55 yards rushing to win last week’s rematch 10-7.
Up next: The winner will play the winner of the semifinal between No. 2 Chaminade and No. 6 Holy Cross on Saturday, Nov. 23 at Mitchel Field in Uniondale for the championship. The time is to be determined.