The headline of my 2017 Stepinac High School Football Preview, which I wrote for the August 29th edition of The White Plains Examiner read: “Trill” Means More Thrills for Stepinac Football in 2017. The headline, which was written more than two and a half months ago, never proved truer than related to the outcome of the NYCHSFL AAA Championship on Saturday.
Number three Stepinac (9-2) defeated number one St. Anthony’s High School, 47-22, to win the 2017 NYCHSFL AAA Championship, at Mitchel Athletic Complex, in Uniondale, on Saturday.
This is the third time in four years that the Crusaders have won the CHSFL AAA Championship, which certainly substantiates Stepinac High School as a powerhouse in New York State High School Football.
Nonetheless, the final score of the game played on a blustery and rainy night on Long Island, does not reflect the competitiveness of St. Anthony’s (9-2), who won the regular season AAA League Title.
However, what the 25-point differential in Stepinac’s favor does reflect is the explosiveness of senior playmaker Atrilleon “Trill” Williams, the efficiency and poise under pressure of senior quarterback Michael Nicosia and the resiliency of the Stepinac defense, who could have easily let the game slip away for a Friars victory.
Williams lifted the Crusaders from the doldrums of possible defeat to an AAA Championship. Williams gained 188 total yards, scored four touchdowns, while making two interceptions on defense. His nickname is “Trill” which could easily evolve into “Thrill” Williams, once he darns the Orange of Syracuse University next season.
Williams missed most of the 2016 season with a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). The Crusaders star running back/cornerback watched from the sidelines on crutches, as Cardinal Hayes grabbed the AAA Crown, 41-39, from Stepinac last season.
But Williams returned healthy this season, which unquestionably “meant more thrills for Stepinac football.” Furthermore, he saved his best for the 2017 NYCHSFL AAA Championship. “Sadly I was on the sideline last season and when we lost it broke my heart. I had to make it up to them (my team),” said Williams.
Nicosia, while completing 19-of-28 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns and wide receiver Alex Thomas with his seven receptions for 110 yards were definitely the sparks for the Crusaders. But Williams was undoubtedly the engine.
Both the Crusaders offense and defense looked stagnant in the first quarter in the pouring rain in Uniondale. Friars Makhai Murphy returned a punt 75 yards for a score. Then a few minutes later running back Sean Bryan scampered eight yards for a touchdown to give the Friars an early lead 14-0.
But the Crusaders, while watching their AAA Title opportunity slipping away, regrouped and shocked the Friars with 33 unanswered points from the start of the second quarter with eight minutes remaining in the game.
Nicosia kept his poise and put his leadership qualities on full display. After hitting Thomas with a 50-yard pass play to the one-yard line, the Stepinac QB snuck it over the goal line himself.
Nicosia’s keeper woke up the Stepinac offense as well as the defense and senior defensive end Matt Mitrakos awakened with a huge sack on Friars QB Greg Campisi to get the ball back for the Crusaders.
Now it was time for “act one” of the “Trill” show, as Williams, seemingly tackled among three Friars defenders, broke away, reversed field and ran 56 yards for a touchdown.
Then, with 42 seconds left in the first half, Nicosia took a chance on senior wide receiver Sergio Pinto and hit him with an eight-yard touchdown pass to put the Crusaders in the lead 19-14, after two extra-point kicks were blocked by the Friars.
For some odd reason at 10:35 of the third quarter the Friars opted to fake a punt on fourth down on their own 35-yard line. Crusaders cornerback Isaiah Walker made a big hit to stop punter Jeremy Miller from rushing for a first down.
Hence, “Act Two” of the “Trill” show commenced. Williams received the ensuing punt and zigzagged across the field, while slipping tackles and ran 70 yards for a touchdown.
Williams’s “Third Act” came at the start of the fourth quarter, when he intercepted a Campisi pass and ran it back 45 yards for his third TD. Stepinac got tired of getting their extra-points blocked, so Nicosia pulled off a reverse and back-up QB Joey Carino hit him for a two-point conversion, 33-14.
Remarkably, Stepinac scored 33 unanswered points while their defense stood strong in the rain and did not allow the Friars to score for 21 minutes. Ever since their poor showing against Chaminade in their Quarterfinals win, the Crusaders defense has been fortified under Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Demarco
Oh and the “Trill” show had an “Act Four and Encore.” Williams caught a pass from Nicosia for his fourth touchdown and 15 seconds later in the fourth quarter made his second interception of the game as cornerback. “My team needed a playmaker and I made some plays,” said Williams.
Williams was voted Offensive MVP of the Championship Game for the “Trill” show. Junior middle linebacker Kevin Gray was selected Defensive MVP.
Stepinac will have a rematch with Canisius High School for the New York State Catholic High School Football Championship, at Stransky Athletic Complex, in Buffalo, on Saturday, Nov. 25, at 12 p.m. Canisius of the Monsignor Martin Catholic Football Association beat Stepinac in the inaugural NYS Catholic High School Championship in 2014.