Great start. Horrible ending.
That was the story of St. Anthony’s CHSFL AAA showdown against Archbishop Stepinac on Saturday and it is sure to fuel the Friars through the rest of the month headingleading into the postseason.
St. Anthony’s led by nine with five minutes left in the third quarter and by three with eight minutes left in the game, but ended up suffering a 40-36 loss at the Friars’ Cy Donnelly Field.
St. Anthony’s led 36-33 with 8:00 to play after Frank Ruta scored on a 3-yard plunge and quarterback Dante Torres connected with receiver Kenyon Miles for a two-point conversion. The Friars got a chance to seal the win when linebacker Andrew Bardak ended the ensuing Crusader drive with an interception and return to the Stepinac 30, but they neither closed the deal nor devoured the clock.
Stepinac (4-2, 4-1) got the ball back on downs with 5:53 remaining, went on a nine-play drive and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 9-yard run by running back Bryce Davis with 2:25 to play. The last minutes of the game included three turnovers by the two teams, but no points for St. Anthony’s (3-2, 3-1). The Crusaders scored 21 of the last 28 points in the contest.
"We have the talent and we play with the right physicality," Bardak said. "We should be capable of putting it all together. If we focus on cutting down on mistakes — and we made plenty on defense including myself — we’re going to be a very dangerous team by the end of the season."
"We’re not where we need to be yet," Torres said. "If we do more of the little things, outcomes like this will end differently. There is so much potential here."
The potential was clear with St. Anthony’s rolling up 405 yards of total offense with Torres completing 21 of 35 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns. Nine different receivers had receptions and three had four or more.
But so were the mistakes. Torres threw three interceptions and the offensive line allowed three sacks. The team went 6-for-14 on third down conversions and 1-for-3 on fourth down chances. And Stepinac was able to rush for 123 yards after halftime.
Kejuan Preston rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown, Dae Shawn Allen had TDs on runs of 11 and 7 yards and Serge Lagerdere returned a kickoff 76 yards for a score and caught a touchdown pass for Stepinac.
Korey Duff Jr. had four receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown and recovered a fumble, Jaeden Jenkins and Josh Escobar caught touchdown passes and Bardak had 11 tackles — three for losses — and the interception for the Friars.
"Maybe you have some great individual performances, but the scoreboard tells you the bottom line for the team," St. Anthony’s coach Joe Minucci said. "When you put up 36 and lose, the defense has to do a better job. We all need to get better."
The zaniest play of the game came after Davis’ touchdown put the Crusaders up 40-36. The Friars were looking at a third-and-6 from their own 24 when Torres got picked off by Anthony Afano, but he coughed the ball up returning it and Duff ended up recovering; the Friars ended up with a first down on their own 21 and a second ‘last chance.’
Three plays later Stepinac’s Jack Donahoe intercepted Torres on the Friars last offensive snap.
"They have a lot of weapons, are still at the top of our league and I expect [St. Anthony’s] will be in this thing to the end," Crusaders coach Mike O’Donnell said.
"This is a game we should have won," Duff Jr. said. "We will keep getting better and we will be ready for them in the playoffs."