The Stepinac Crusaders won their second straight New York CHSFL AAA Championship Saturday night at Fordham University in the Bronx. During the regular season, Stepinac had won games by margins of 40 points or more on several occasions, but Saturday had no easy task disposing of Cardinal Hayes, 20-12.
On the first possession, Stepinac went 58 yards on 7 plays in 7:19 minutes culminating in a Tyquell Fields’ 6-yard touchdown run to open the scoring for a 7-0 Stepinac lead. Cardinal Hayes’ offense had a chance to answer. Led by junior quarterback Christian Anderson, Hayes converted two third-downs and was marching steadily on the Crusaders vaunted and heralded defense anchored by Malcolm Koonce and Robinson De La Cruz.
As Hayes crossed the 50-yard line Anderson attempted a pass which was intercepted by Stepinac’s T.J. Morrison who jumped the square-out route ending the threat. With his fourth interception of the season, Morrison brought the ball back to the 39-yard line. Six plays later, the Crusaders’ Antonio Giannico would rumble four yards off left tackle into the end zone to make the score 14-0.
Cardinal Hayes best drive of the game came with 5:37 to go in the first half. Starting at the 28-yard line, Hayes moved the ball 60 yards to the Stepinac 14-yard line, which included the longest play from scrimmage; a 24-yard pass-play to Raheem Wilson. But, on fourth down, Hayes’ quarterback, Christian Anderson, again was intercepted by T.J. Morrison, who, this time brought the ball back 68 yards to the 30-yard line with 38 seconds to go in the half.
Fields completed two passes to Jesse Brown but couldn’t get into the end zone settling for a Liam Butler 25-yard field goal to take the Crusaders into the locker room up, 17-0. The Crusaders had the lead but looked anything but in total control.
The second half was a different story. Cardinal Hayes wasn’t going away quietly.
On Stepinac’s second possession of the second half, quarterback Tyquell Fields was picked off by Zahir Williams trying to throw a quick out, 43 yards later, the Cardinals were in business at the 7-yard line. A fake dive to the halfback, Anderson, looking like a man who had just won the lottery, dashed around the left side for the touchdown. Hayes’ inexplicable attempt at a two-point conversion would fail. With 4:32 left in the third, it’s a ballgame with Stepinac leading, 17-6.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Stepinac would add another Butler field goal to extend the Stepinac lead to 20-6.
Hayes had their chances. Near the end of the third quarter, on a fourth-down halfback wheel route, a wide-open Brian Vigo had the makings of a huge play but took his eyes off the ball and dropped a game-changing pass from Anderson.
With the score 20-12 on their final drive, Hayes committed three penalties; an illegal shift, a holding by an offense lineman and an illegal use of hands. Each penalty stalled the drive and any chance of beating the defending champions.
“We came out slow in the first half, better in the second half but didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win the game,” Hayes coach C.J. O’Neil said. Adding insult to injury, Stepinac’s Daniel Negron sacked Anderson for a 16-yard loss giving Hayes’ coach C.J. O’Niel little choice but to punt from his own 30-yard line and from there, Stepinac handing the ball off to Antonio Giannico for consistent 10-yard gains, was able to run out the clock.
“It feels good. Some of these guys, we’ve been together since we were 9 years old,” Tyquell Fields said after the game.
Offensive Championship Game MVP went to Tyquell Fields and defense MVP went to T.J. Morrison. Fields completed 11 of 23 pass attempts for 107 yards in leading the Crusaders offense while playing with an injured leg most of the second half.
Stepinac has now won 20-straight CHSFL games in garnering their 2nd straight NYCHSFL AAA title having beaten Iona Prep in last year’s Championship game.
Stepinac will now face St. Francis from the upstate Monsignor Martin Association on November 28th in Buffalo, N.Y. for the N.Y. State title.