MIDDLETOWN — t’s a far cry from some of the patchy grass field and dirt surfaces they’ve had to practice on in Westchester, but gorgeous Faller Field is the 11th different location Archbishop Stepinac has played football on this year.
The Crusaders are road warriors, at least until their new FieldTurf complex is ready next month.
“Our toughest challenge is having those long bus rides and getting on the field ready to play from the first snap,” senior fullback Caleb Gilligan-Evans said.
Saturday night’s journey to Middletown was a mixed bag. Stepinac was sloppy and trailed early, but bounced back for a decisive 41-14 season-opening victory over the host Middies.
“It was a good test for us coming into a crazy environment,” junior quarterback Mark White said. “This should get us to work harder inpractice and get off the bus ready to play.”
Middletown (1-1) jumped in front, 7-0, on a 77-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Houghtaling to Jalon White and then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
The Crusaders had stepped off the bus and right into the cauldron, something that concerned coach Mike O’Donnell on the ride up.
“We were worried about getting off the bus and they punched us in the mouth and then they recovered the kickoff,” he said. “Turnovers are a big thing in the game. We had five takeaways, which is usually going to put you in a good situation.”
With White and Daniel Hoffer splitting time at quarterback, Gilligan-Evans barreling through defenders and Austin Taps and Vinny Narog’s catching ability, Stepinac is as versatile offensively as it was when it cruised to the CHSFL Class AA title a year ago.
That was on full display against the Middies, as Hoffer connected with Justin Thomas for a 35-yard touchdown pass, Gilligan-Evans powered the ball in from 1-yard out and Hoffer found Narog for a 46-yard score to put the Crusaders in front 21-7 at the end of the first quarter.
After Houghtaling scored on a 4-yard keeper, Hoffer responded with a 2-yard touchdown to extend Stepinac’s lead to 27-14.
“I feel like we have a lot of faces to our offense,” Gilligan-Evans said. “You never know who is going to strike. We have a lot of options and that’s what keeps defenses on their toes.”
White added a 2-yard score and Przemyslaw Popek kicked field goals of 25 and 41 yards to cap the scoring for the Crusaders, who get back onthe bus next Saturday to take on Chaminade in their league opener.
“It’s so hard to gauge them against Chaminade, St. Anthony’s and everyone else, but we can’t make mistakes like we made today and expect to win in the ‘AAA,’ whether its fumbling or getting beat deep a couple of times,” O’Donnell said. “That stuff has to stop, but they’re fixable mistakes.”
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