By Matt Diano:
When: Saturday November 18th, 2016
Where: Mitchel Field Athletic Complex
The last time they met:
-Stepinac dealt the Friars their only loss of the 2017 season, 38-19, on September 15th
-Crusader Senior Quarterback, Michael Nicosia, completed 11 of his 19 pass attempts for 271 yards and four TDs.
-On the receiving end of two of those aforementioned touchdown hurls was reigning Player of the Week honoree, Shawn Harris, who accumulated 75 yards as a receiver on this two grabs….The junior was also very dangerous on special teams, averaging 35 yards on three KO returns to give his school excellent starting field position.
-While Harris may have scored twice, it was Alex Thomas who had the best overall night out wide, racking up 145 yards and 1 TD on three snatches…Tyler Winston (3 for 31) caught the remaining TD ball.
-Using a ball carrier by committee approach, AS ran for an average of 6.4 yards, totaling 224 yards on the ground…Nicosia (73 yards on 10 carries) and junior, Jamal Dallas (71 yards on 10 touches) were the top-2 rushers in the game for the Crusaders….Trill Williams took a snap from the wildcat formation and trekked 29 yards for the only rushing TD of the game for Stepinac.
-Stepinac’s defense played outstanding in stuffing the run; they held a Friar squad that averaged 182 yards rushing on the season to just 82 yards total on 34 attempts (2.4/carry)….A big reason for their success was the play of junior LB, Kevin Gray, who posted a season-high 19 stops…Fellow linebacker, Justin Hairston, made 12 tackles of his own, while D-Linemen, Matt Mitrakos and Joseph Garbowski, set the example up front with eight and seven stops respectively
-Providing a fierce pass rush for AS was junior, Doug Simmons, who posted two of his league-leading 16 sacks….Alexis Pena, whose versatility was on full display (6 tackles) contributed the third sack of the game for Stepinac
-Crusader junior place-kicker, Nate Henderson, was incredibly steady, converting his only FG attempt from 28-yards away, and going a perfect 5-for-5 on PATs.
-In the defeat, STA dual-threat quarterback, Greg Campisi, still had a respectable evening, throwing for 192 yards on 19-for-26 passing, with one TD, and running for another TD on an five-yard scamper.
-Senior TB, Sean Bryan, who entered the game fresh off of a 254 yard effort in a non-league win over Delbarton, was contained to just 39 yards on 14 carries. This was his lowest output of the season in appearances where he received 5 or more touches. He was also kept out of the end zone, which only happened three times in the Friars’ 10 games.
-In the losing effort, both WR Julian Chung (6 catches for 105) yards and Tight End, Conor Ryan (5 for 46, 1 TD) had solid games in leading the list of receivers.
-Senior DB, Phil Platania, was responsible for creating the only turnover of the game for St. Anthony’s, when he picked off Nicosia and returned it 15 yards.
-Just like Stepinac got an excellent game out of their PK, so too did the Friars, as Jeremy Miller connected on a pair of 3-pointers (long of 42) and hit his only PAT try to personally put seven points on the board for STA.
A showdown of the perennial powerhouse (St. Anthony’s) versus the present-day dynasty (Stepinac), since the year 2000, 13 CHSFL titles have been won between the two schools, with the Friars claiming 11 (including seven in a row from 2001-2007), and the Crusaders seizing two of the last three (2014, 2015)….Having an amazing 15-year streak of reaching championship weekend snapped in 2014, the Rich Reichert coached Friars approach the weekend looking to prove that the last three seasons were flukes and that the program is as strong as ever !!!! Stepinac on the other hand, making their fourth consecutive appearances in the title contest, is out to prove that there while they respect the legacy of the Black & Gold, this is a new era, and that era exists in Westchester, not Long Island.
Billed in the pre-season as a potential finals preview, when the two schools squared at Stepinac during the second week of the 2017 season, the result was slightly shocking…While a Crusader victory certainly was not a surprise, the margin in which they delivered that “w” was completely unexpected…A big reason for the one-sided contest was the play on both sides of the line by Stepinac….If there is one thing that Friar Nation prided itself on during their decades-plus of dominance, it was that every time they stepped onto the field, they knew they were tougher than you in the trenches. However, on this Friday night in September, it was the host school that dictated terms to their visitors, holding STA to 100 yards fewer than their seasonal average on the ground….If the top-seeds from South Huntington hope to bring the plaque back to their campus for the first time since ’13, it is imperative that unlike the first meeting, they must demonstrate an ability to get the ground game working. While Campisi is more than capable of beating you with his arm, the bread-and-butter of the Friar offense has always been to use the explosive run game to set up the aerial attack…For this reason, STA is going to need to get solid games out of their usual 1-2 punch of Bryan and Campisi.
Held to a little more than 60 yards combined in the first meeting, Bryan (828 yards, 12 TDs on 120 carries) and Campisi (627 yards, 10 touchdowns on 90 touches) are both “take it to the house” type of runners….Last week in STA’s semifinal win over Iona Prep, Bryan punched the ball over the line on three separate occasions, finishing the game with 77 yards on 18 carries (4.3)…Campisi, who is a magician when it comes to escaping pressure and turning nothing into a big gainer, notched his second 100+ rushing game of his junior campaign, running for 101 and a score on 18 carries…..This is the Friar proficiency that we are used to seeing in big games and when push comes to shove, we anticipating seeing a much better effort the second time around from this potentially game-changing duo….Another name to be mindful of is junior Kyle Angus. In the past three weeks, he has seen his level of responsibility increased and has responded well to the heavier load, running for a season-high 66 yards on 12 touches in last Friday’s victory over the Gaels.
As noted above, while tradition tells us that the run is the key to success for the Friars, Campisi can definitely sling it around the field when necessary…Connecting at a remarkable rate of 73.1 percent (152-for-208), the Harvard (lacrosse) bound junior has thrown for 1,721 yards and 10 touchdowns this season…On the back end of all of those completions has been three primary faces—Chung (57 catches, 715 yards, 3 TDs), Heron Maurisseau-O’Neal (29 grabs for 436 yards, team-leading 5 TD receptions), and Ryan (26 snatches for 282 yards; his lone TD came against Stepinac)….Chung, who has also been utilized as a runner in short yardage situations (4 TDs on the ground) is the consummate playmaker. You’ll see him take a short completion and turn it into a huge play by using his speed and agility to make tacklers miss….The future UConn Husky, Maurisseau-O’Neal is your traditional, route-running, deep threat. He’s the person you put your #1 CB on, because if you don’t, he finds a way to make you regret it….Ryan is your chain mover. He has good size, steady hands, and is as tough as they come. When you need a 5 to 10 yard completion, you best believe he will be open and ready to make the catch.
Stepinac and their #2 (in AAA) rated offense will counter by incorporating a very balanced attack of their own….Averaging 33.1 points per game this season, if you look at the TD splits between the passing and ground game, you notice that the 26:22 ratio is about as even as you will find on the scholastic level…Simply put, they don’t have just one means of which to beat you. If you stack the box and try to stop the run, they will torch you in the air with their speed and accuracy. If you drop your linebackers back into coverage, you are inviting their array of talented backs to have a huge evening…
Unlike last year’s runner-up squad that featured a pair of dominant senior running backs in the persons of Antonio Giannico and Johnathan Gomez (1,682 yards, 17 TDs rushing between them; 48 catches for 634 and six TDs as pass catchers), the 2017 version of the Crusaders backfield does not have that workhorse, game-plan against them type of back…Instead, they come at you with depth….Four different players on the AS roster have run for 200+ yards this season, and a fifth, [Trill] Williams (194 yards, 4 TDs) is probably the most dangerous ball carrier of all, but is only used in special circumstance so that he can conserve energy as a shutdown CB on defense….Leading the team in rushing is the junior classman, [Jamal] Winston, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry on his 83 touches to enter the title game with 492 yards and one TD…Complementing Dallas for much of the season, but likely to see more than his fair share of touches (as both a runner, receiver, and return man) will be the always dynamic and electric Harris, who had season-highs for carries (16) and yards (116) last week in the semifinal win over defending champions, Cardinal Hayes. As noted above, Harris was used more as a deep ball/home run threat out wide when the two schools played in September. He may be called upon to be a jack-of-all trades tomorrow evening. Harris leads all Crusaders with six rushing touchdowns on the ground in 2017….Just behind Harris on the TD list with five is Malik Grant, who has tallied 271 yards on 51 carries…Rounding out the list of 200+ runners is Nicosia. Still an individual who is more comfortable in the pocket, the senior QB has shown a willingness to take what defenses give him. The perfect example of this was that first meeting when he ran for 73 of his 201 total yards in the early season win over STA.
The more polished of the two quarterbacks in tomorrow’s title game, if his offensive line gives him ample time to work, he is a known sniper with this throws. The owner of a 64.1 percent completion rate, the 12th grade field general has tossed for 2,262 yards and 24 touchdowns (compared to just four INTs). He makes smart throws and has amazing field vision….Just like Campisi has his trio of favorite targets, so too does Nicosia, who has seen 18 of his previously referenced 24 TD hurls land in the direction of Winston (34 catches, 507 yards, 5 TDs), Thomas (32 catches, 854 yards, team-leading 7 TD grabs), or Harris (22 snatches for 407 yards and six 6’s).
As we alluded to in the “what happened last time” section of the preview, the play on defense will also be a huge deciding factor….While we have already highlighted some of the names that led the Crusaders to that eye-opening week #2 triumph, a few others that need to be mentioned are as follows: Kevin McKenna (2nd on the team with 70 tackles; coming off of a 19-stop effort in the win over Hayes), Joey Cappiello (64 tackles, 4 INTs, 8 pass defenses), Isaiah Walker (41 tackles, team-leading 14 successful PDs), Dexter Chance (41 tackles, 2 INTs), D’Andre Smith (41 tackles, 7 PDs), and Tyler Decrescenzo (42 tackles, 5 pass breaks-ups) are a sampling of the individuals you need to keep an eye on when Stepinac is on “D”.
Looking to erase the memories of their single imperfection will be the top-ranked Friar defense….Surrendering 13.5 on the season, the 38-point output against them is most definitely the exception and never the rule….After all, when you have beasts like Bucknell bound Grayson Cherubino, defending CHSAA State Wrestling champion, Nick Greer anchoring up front, Tyler Sorrentino, Ryan Vahey, and Tynan Hillery excelling as LBs, and Makhai Murphy (4 INTs), Platania (3 interceptions), and Gershom Delva patrolling the no fly zone, you are always going to be in a position to shutdown opposing offenses.
One last tidbit that we will reflect upon in the intangible of “experience”….Because they have reached this point in each of the previous three seasons, many of the players on the Stepinac roster knows what it feels like to deal with the adrenaline rush, the nerves, and all that accompanies playing for all the marbles….Student-athletes like Nicosia (20-for-31, 345 yards, 4 TDs), Harris (6 catches, 109 yards, 1 TD), Thomas (4 grabs for 45 yards), Pena (8 tackles, 1 sack), Hairston (6 stop), Simmons (5 tackles), Cappiello (5 tackles, 1 pass defense), Mitrakos (4 stops), and Gray (4 tackles) all saw considerable playing time in last year’s finals loss…Might this familiarity with the big stage allow them to come out of the gate more relaxed and poised? Given how the first meeting transpired, the last thing STA needs is for Stepinac to get off to a quick start. If they do, it might feel like déjà vu for the #1 seeds.
We’ll see everyone at Mitchel Athletic Complex Saturday