Stepinac Football Opens 2019 Season in the Rumble on the Raritan

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The Stepinac Football Team takes the field at SHI Stadium at Rutgers University to open their 2019 campaign against Lincoln High School in the Rumble on the Raritan. The Crusaders defeated Lincoln, 34-14, in the Northeast High School Football Rivalry Series on Saturday. Albert Coqueran Photo

On Sept. 7, Stepinac Football began to defend its 2018 NYS CHSAA and CHSFL AAA Championships in the Rumble on the Raritan, at Rutgers University, in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Stepinac fared well in the Northeast High School Football Rivalry Series by beating Lincoln High School, 34-14, at SHI Stadium, at Rutgers. Lincoln from Brooklyn competes in the Section 12 PSAL City League with public high school elite football teams such as Boys and Girls, Tottenville and championship favorite this season Erasmus Hall.

It is the first time the Crusaders played on the big stage at SHI Stadium, the home of the Big Ten Conference Rutgers Scarlet Knights. In the first half it seemed the Crusaders might have had some jitters while opening their 2019 campaign on the big stage at Rutgers.

The Crusaders could only manage one score in the first half when quarterback Joey Carino hit wide receiver Myles Walker with a 30-yard TD strike in the first quarter. Another touchdown on the ground by two-way player Kevin McKenna was called back due to a holding penalty on the Crusaders.

The Crusaders offense stalled in the first half amid the rush of the Railsplitters defensive line. Carino scampered from defenders without time to pass, which made it evident that improvement is a necessity concerning the offensive line of the Crusaders.

No longer forming the Stepinac offensive line are graduates Chris Fawx, who presently plays for Temple University, James Prince now playing for his father Ron Prince, the newly hired Head Coach of Howard University, Jonathan Mucciolo who joined the Sacred Heart Pioneers or Shadi Rabadi and Ajani Cornelius. The offensive line last season was a major factor in the Crusaders NYS and CHSFL Championships.

Stepinac departed SHI field at halftime losing 8-7, after Lincoln quarterback Jahzair Hubbard found running back Israel Abonikundu in the slot with a 31-yard touchdown pass. Abonikundu also ran for the two-point conversion.

Nonetheless, whatever was said in the Crusaders halftime meeting by Head Coach Mike O’Donnell and Offensive Coordinator Joe Venice, the effect was that the Stepinac offense came out for the third quarter like a new team.

“We just told them to keep doing what they were supposed to be doing and we made a few adjustments,” commented O’Donnell. “We were having some trouble upfront; they were putting a lot of pressure on us. However, our defense did a great job holding them to eight points in the first half,” evaluated O’Donnell.

As Stepinac’s defense stood strong, the Crusaders scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter to take the lead 28-7. Carino was still scrambling but found time to hit wide receiver Quentin McCauley with a 28-yard touchdown pass at 8:30 of the third quarter.

Two minutes later, probably the biggest play of the game occurred when McKenna a linebacker blocked a punt and the Crusaders recovered on the 27-yard line of the Railsplitters.

Carino snuck the ball over the goal line after Mekhi Green ran to the one-yard line and suddenly the Crusaders were in the lead 20-8. Stepinac added one more score before the third frame ended. Carino hit McCauley again, this time for an explosive 52-yard pass-and- run play to put the Crusaders in the lead, 27-8.

The Rumble at the Raritan turned into the coming out party for senior wide receivers Walker and McCauley. Walker had five receptions for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Walker also caught a TD pass from sophomore backup QB James McCauley, (Quentin’s younger brother), in the fourth quarter. Quentin McCauley finished the game with three receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns.

Carino completed 12-of-20 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns. The senior also ran for a TD. “Our team was down a little at halftime but once we got going everything started connecting and we started scoring some points,” said Carino. “When Coach O’D told us we were going to play such a great team as Lincoln at Rutgers, we wanted to take everything in and take full advantage of the opportunity,” stated Carino.

Next up for the Crusaders is longtime nemesis Chaminade High School. The CHSFL AAA challenge will be held at Chaminade, in Mineola, NY, on Saturday, Sept. 14, at 1:30 p.m.

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