Stepinac High School invited Central Dauphin East High School from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to White Plains to open their 2018 varsity football season. On Saturday, in their Home Opener, the Crusaders christened their 2018 season with a 32-14 victory over the Panthers from the Mid-Penn Commonwealth Conference.
The Crusaders (1-0) shut out the Panthers 15-0, in the first half, which included a Safety by middle linebacker Kevin Gray in the first quarter. Gray ended the game with an astonishing 14 solo tackles and three sacks, while contributing on four other tackles.
Defensive end Dougie Simmons assisted on the Safety and orchestrated his usual reign of terror on offenses with two sacks and nine total tackles in the game. Junior Kevin McKenna also had two sacks.
“With our young offense and new quarterback, the defense was aware coming into the game that we needed to set the tone. I think we did a good job of that starting off with the safety,” stated the upperclassman Gray.
Crusaders junior quarterback Joey Carino showed early in the game he was ready to lead the team. Carino took over the reins from Stepinac legend Mike Nicosia, who graduated in May. The young quarterback hit CJ Wise with a 24-yard pass at 9:47 in the first quarter to start the scoring for the Crusaders.
Carino fared well on the day while completing 7-of-14 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns. He also hit Dominic (Mr. #1) Nicolo with a 33-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to seal the game for the Crusaders. The junior QB also carried the ball 12 times for 29 yards.
“It felt good. I was very comfortable,” said Carino, regarding the Home Opener. “The offensive line played great, the receivers were great and running backs and defense also played really well. It was a great team effort,” proudly emphasized the young quarterback.
Nonetheless, the Panthers were not ready to go home after the first half. Central Dauphin struck first in the third quarter when Head Coach Aaron Balding called a pitch-pass play, which converted into a 67-yard touchdown.
The Crusaders defense seemed to be caught off-guard when Panthers quarterback Jerimiah Green pitched to running back Ashton Morrison, who threw a strike to wide receiver Shawn Brown for the score.
But just as the Panthers motivation began to soar, “The Cape Crusader” Shawn Harris, Jr. awaited the ensuing kick-off. Crusaders fans were anticipating a big play from Harris all afternoon and it could not have come at a better time. Harris zigzagged through the Panthers special team and refused to be caught, he ran 98 yards for a touchdown to put the Crusaders ahead, 22-7.
“I had a bad start in the first half and felt I needed a strong second half. I just saw the hole open up and took it to the house,” said Harris, who had 229 All-Purpose yards in the game. Crusaders running back Malik Grant injured his ankle and was sidelined early in the game. But Mekhi Green gained 72 yards on 10 carries filling in for Grant.
Central Dauphin answered with a Green to Brown 65-yard TD pass. But Crusaders Kicker Nate Henderson ended the third quarter with his third field goal in the game to make the score 25-14.
However, the Panthers were not leaving White Plains licking their wounds. They orchestrated another drive to the two-yard line of the Crusaders with 1:47 left in the game. But senior defensive end Joe Garbowski was waiting and got the team’s eighth sack in the game. Garbowski also forced a Panthers fumble on the sack and recovered it to end the game.
“Central Dauphin is a quality team. It was a great game for us. We had a nice discussion before and after the game with the coaches and we are going to go down there next year and play them again,” said Mike O’Donnell, beginning his 31st season as the Crusaders Head Coach.