Even before Archbishop Stepinac played St. Anthony's last Friday, Stepinac head coach Mike O'Donnell had his thoughts on Saturday's game against Holy Cross.
He downplayed the significance of that game against the Friars, despite both teams being undefeated at the time, not wanting to build that game up so much that Saturday's game got overlooked. He didn't want any rollover effects from a game his team ultimately lost.
"He stressed that all week," junior quarterback Mark White said. "He said statistically it shows that teams that lose to St. Anthony's create a losing streak so he really stressed this game and worked hard in practice to get us to keep going and get a winning streak back."
The winning streak is now at one after Stepinac played perhaps its most complete game in weeks as it took care of Holy Cross 34-14 on Saturday afternoon at SUNY Purchase in Purchase, N.Y. The Crusaders (5-1) outscored the Knights (3-3) 20-0 in the second half.
"I think of all the games we had, this game really set a statement," White said. "I think this is one of our best games and there is more to come, but this really set a statement for us."
HOW THE GAME WAS WON: A strong defensive effort propelled Stepinac. Despite turning the ball over three times in the first half, Stepinac's defense only allowed points off one of those turnovers and the teams were tied at 14-14 at the half.
To start the third quarter, Stepinac recovered a fumble and scored on the ensuing drive on the first of White's two rushing touchdowns to take a 21-14 lead. White's last touchdown sealed the game by making it 28-14 with 5:14 left.
Caleb Gilligan-Evans led the rushing attack with 113 yards and one touchdown while quarterback Daniel Hoffer completed 7-of-13 passes for 177 yards and two scores. Vincent Narog hauled in two touchdown passes.
O'Donnell thought personnel moves helped the defense. It promoted safety Narenda Itwaru from JV to varsity, while also moving Garfield Heslop from linebacker to defensive end.
"We didn't play as good as we thought we would against St. Anthony's so we needed to make a statement this week by shutting them down," senior linebacker Ryan Wasylenko said about the defense. "I think we did."
TURNING POINT: The first drive of the second half changed the game's momentum. On a 3rd-and-6 at the Holy Cross 45-yard line, Holy Cross quarterback Yianni Gavalas found Lawrence Laventure for a first down but the senior receiver fumbled the ball while being tackled and Wasylenko hopped on it.
Both coaches though Laventure was down but the referees ruled it a fumble and Stepinac scored a touchdown off the turnover to take a 21-14 lead.
"That play turned the game around," Holy Cross head coach Tom Pugh said. "We came out and get two first downs, we're going for the third, that would have been a first down and fumble and all of a sudden they break a touchdown and it's 21-14."
PLAYER OF THE GAME: White finished with 125 total yards on the day (66 rushing, 48 receiving and 11 passing) and came up big in the second half, rushing 13 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns. In the first half he made some dazzling catches as a receiver.
"Our line is huge, we have a great line and I just run behind them and Caleb Gilligan-Evans and he just blocks for me," White said. "I just rely on my teammates to make everything. I just find ways to get the team going."
UP NEXT: Stepinac gets to play its first home game on its new field when it hosts Iona Prep at 7 p.m. next Saturday. Holy Cross gets a home game against Kellenberg on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.