Crusaders Down Firebirds, 28-7, for Much Needed First Win of Season

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Stepinac High School quarterback Danny Hoffer was not sure if he was going to play on Saturday, against Kellenberg Memorial High School. The Stepinac captain suffered a bone bruise and did not practice most of the week.

Stepinac quarterback Danny Hoffer (right) throws over a block made by running-back Ryan Burnett (#4) in the Crusaders, 28-7 win over Kellenberg Memorial High School, on Saturday, at Stepinac. Photo by Billy Becerra

Hoffer found himself in Physical Therapy the day before the game instead of preparing with his team for a much needed win against the Firebirds.

However, Hoffer did play and led the Crusaders to their first win of the season over Kellenberg, 28-7, on Saturday, Sept. 22, at Stepinac. “I have been in physical therapy the last two days,” stated Hoffer. “I felt the injury a little during the game but I had to stick to it, as we needed this win and I could not let my team down,” stressed Hoffer.

Not sure if it was Hoffer playing injured or the young Crusaders rallying around their quarterback to show him support that motivated the team. Nonetheless the Crusaders were a much different team offensively and defensivly than they were in their first two games of the season.

Gone were the Special Teams committing bad snaps and dropping a punt from the previous week in the 31-28 loss Stepinac suffered to Xaverian High School. And if the Firebirds were planning to run through the middle of Stepinac’s defensive line like Isaiah Kearney and the Clippers did last game; then the Crusaders defensive line shocked them.

In fact, the Crusaders defense shutout the Firebirds in the first half. Furthermore, the Firebirds did not score any points against the Stepinac defense until 9:44 of the third quarter when quarterback Kyle Driscoll hit wide receiver Brendan Fitzgerald for a 40-yard touchdown pass. Moreover, even that play was covered well by Crusaders safety Narendra Itwaru and that was the only point scored in the game by Kellenberg.

“We (the defense) definitely came out with a chip on our shoulders this game. We really proved to everybody in the league that our defense is not to be taken lightly,” stated linebacker and Team Captain Tom Dedivani, who had three sacks in the game.

It was 14-0 at halftime and the Crusaders could finally procession to the locker room from the field at the break with their heads held high with optimism.

The game turned Stepinac’s way early in the first quarter when senior linebacker Sekret Kukaj recovered a fumble on the Firebirds 25-yard line. Hoffer strapped an extra pad on his bruised thigh and passed his team to the nine yard line.

Then the Crusaders “Quiet Man” senior running back Ryan Burnett plowed nine yards through the Firebirds line to score his first of two touchdowns in the first half.

Burnett has been quietly rushing for tough yards this season for the Crusaders. Burnett had 13 carries for 92 yards last week against Xaverian and 17 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns against Kellenberg. “Yes, the coaches tell me all the time that I have to keep running the ball hard so I can open up for ‘Hoff’ so he can throw the ball,” replied Burnett.

At 6:49 of the third quarter, the Stepinac defense proved their worth again, when junior linebacker Damarcus Miller snatched a pass out of the air from Firebirds quarterback Driscoll and ran 10 yards for a Crusaders touchdown. Stepinac senior defensive back Joanquin Spencer also had an interception in the game.

Remember last week in the third quarter when Stepinac sophomore Malcolm Major fumbled a punt, which led to a Xaverian touchdown. This week, Major dropped nothing but Firebirds tacklers behind him, as he returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the game for the Crusaders, 28-7.

It appears that Major, the speedy halfback for the Crusaders, who is in the process of converting his track skills to football prowess, is starting to get the knack of running on the gridiron. “I am actually adjusting to the speed of the game and breaking tackles. Also Danny (Hoffer) and I are starting click on bubble-screens and hand-offs,” revealed Major, who is the reigning CHSAA Intersectional Champion in the 100 Meters Dash.

Also, in contrast to the loss against Xaverian in the second game was that Stepinac kicker Michael Pizzuti not only got a chance to kick extra points due to accurate long-hiking. But he also converted on all four attempts.

This was a crucial victory for the Crusaders (1-2, 1-1 CHSFL AAA) against the Firebirds (1-2 AAA), as they go on the road for four tough league games starting next week.

The Crusaders play at Holy Cross, on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 1 p.m. at Bayside H. S. Then the Crusaders travel to St. Anthony’s High School, on Saturday, Oct.6, for a rematch of last year’s AAA Championship game.  Before taking on St. Joseph-by-the-sea, on Saturday, Oct. 13 and then visiting rival Iona Prep, on Saturday, Oct. 20, at 1:30 p.m.

The Stepinac versus Kellenberg game was delayed in the fourth quarter on Saturday, as inadvertent helmet-to-helmet contact caused and injury to Firebirds junior wide receiver Conor Gross. Gross stayed lying on his back on the field for about a half-hour until he was taken away on a gurney by ambulance.

However, Gross waved to fans as he was carried of the field, which was responded with loud cheers from the entire crowd. Furthermore, Stepinac football attending physician Dr. Martin Barschi commented after the game that Gross could move all his extremities and the procedure was mainly precautionary.

“It’s always a terrible, terrible thing but I think he is fine and it was more of a precautionary situation,” commented Crusaders Head Coach Mike O’Donnell. “We work hard on trying not to hit with our helmets in the Catholic High School League as does the NFL. We hope that Conor Gross is healthy and our best to him for a speedy recovery,” said O’Donnell, who clapped as well when Gross was carried off the field.




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