Here’s Vince Mercogliano’s story on Stepinac’s 35-14 loss to St. Anthony’s in the CHSFL AAA semifinals:
MELVILLE — Stepinac had managed to get to halftime tied against Long Island power St. Anthony’s when they met on Sept. 21, but Crusaders coach Mike O’Donnell knew that his team was going to be up against a different animal when they met the Friars on Saturday in the CHSFL AAA semifinal.
“They have gotten better and better and better every single week this season,” O’Donnell said. “I think earlier in the year, they were just switching to a new offense and they weren’t at full speed. Today, they just came out and pretty much did whatever they wanted to.”
Top-seeded St. Anthony’s picked No. 4 Stepinac apart in the first half, pulling its starters before the end of the third quarter on the way to a 35-14 win.
The Friars (10-1) will play No. 2 Chaminade in the championship game next Saturday.
“Stepinac does a good job of trying to line up in a lot of formations and find an advantage in doing that,” St. Anthony’s coach Rich Reichert said. “We prepared from that (September) game, seeing what they had some success with, and we harped on that a lot this week with our kids.”
The Crusaders (7-4) defense focused on stopping junior running back Jordan Gowins, who came into the game with 1,718 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. They bottled up the run and forced the Friars to punt on their first possession, but were hurt by the big play with 5:34 left to go in the first quarter.
With Stepinac clogging up the middle, St. Anthony’s quarterback Greg Galligan hit Naim Jones on a screen pass, and Jones broke it for a 64-yard touchdown.
“We were trying to take away the run because (Gowins) is just awesome,” O’Donnell said. “He’s the best player in the league, and we were trying to make them pass the ball. We accomplished that, but then they broke a couple.”
Rather than lean on Gowins, the Friars showed their versatility by continuing to feed Jones, who broke a 25-yard run that led to his 6-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter to extend the lead to 14-0.
“Naim is dynamic,” Reichert said. “When he gets his hands on the ball, he runs hard and he’s hard to tackle. He’s hard to bring down, and he’s got the speed to run away from guys. He showed that today.”
The Crusaders were able to move the ball inside St. Anthony’s 20 on the ensuing drive, but failed to convert on a fourth-down attempt.
Gowins broke a 36-yard touchdown run a few minutes later, and then Galligan hit Michael Russo on a 54-yard touchdown pass to send the Friars into the half with a 28-0 lead. They held Stepinac to just 59 total yards in the first half.
“They are the best team in the league, and they just have so much power and size,” O’Donnell said. “It was a difficult matchup for us.”