NEW ROCHELLE — With about 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter Saturday at Iona Prep, the celebration began to erupt on the Stepinac sideline and naturally so. The Crusaders had stopped Iona Prep cold on fourth down, snuffing out one last pass play on a sun-splashed afternoon that saw them roasted for over 400 yards through the air. The defense deserved a second to exhale.
Right? Well, with the wrong down on the down marker, the officials incorrectly awarded Iona Prep with what amounted to a fifth down.
It didn’t matter.
Stepinac made one last stop. Junior Trill Williams intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 70 yards to cap a wild 42-34 victory in the 69th meeting between the rivals.
“Sometimes you just shake your head and try to figure it out,” said Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell, whose team beat the Gaels for the fifth straight time.
They did it thanks to Williams, who scored five of his team’s six touchdowns while battling cramps that forced him to the sideline for treatment.
“I lost all my energy, but I still tried to fight for my team,” Williams said. “They’re a big part of me and I love them, so I had to keep fighting for them.”
The Crusaders trailed 14-7 early, rallied to lead 28-14, then had to respond again after Iona Prep tied it 28-28 in the fourth quarter. They turned to trickery, with backup quarterback Tyler Winston splitting out at wide receiver, taking the hand-off and lofting a 50-yard bomb on target to Brandon Gasparre with 7:35 to play.
After a couple empty possessions, the Gaels drove 85 yards and pulled within 35-34 on Rodney Samson Jr.’s 3-yard plunge. New coach Joe Spagnolo, the former Stepinac offensive coordinator, opted to go for two, but Mike Apostolopoulos’ pass to Johnryan Freeman was broken up by Stepinac’s Justin Hariston.
“I told the kids before the drive, ‘When we score, we’re going for two,'” Spagnolo said. “Right now we do have some inconsistency in the special teams game. We were down a couple guys on defense. The way I took at it is, if we can’t get three yards, we don’t deserve to win the game.”
Still, Iona Prep had one more chance after Samson Jr. recovered the ensuing onside kick, which led to the fifth-down pass intercepted by Williams.
Player of the game: Trill Williams, Stepinac. If Williams was superhuman, who knows what he would’ve done. The junior was quite productive anyway, fighting through cramps to score five of Stepinac’s six touchdowns. He ran for three on the ground, caught an 18-yarder for the game’s first score and added the interception return for the clincher on the bizarre fifth-down stop.
Stat line: Stepinac (2-0) — Williams had six carries for 64 yards. Antonio Giannico added 13 carries for 56 yards and had four catches for 41 yards. … Michael Nicosia went 15 for 28 for 143 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Gasparre had seven receptions for 117 yards, including the go-ahead 50-yarder. … Izayah Powell had two sacks and a key fourth-and-1 tackle-for-loss late in the third quarter. Iona Prep (0-2) — Apostolopoulos went 29 for 50 for 342 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Michael DeGasparis had 13 catches for 211 yards and two scores, including a 64-yarder from Lamont McGriff on a halfback pass. … Ki’shyne Shipmon had nine catches for 109 yards, including a 49-yard grab to set up Iona’s last touchdown. … Rodney Samson Jr. rushed for for his second touchdown from 3 yards out to pull the Gaels within 35-34.
Quotable: “Trill’s a cheat code,” Stepinac senior Antonio Giannico said. “He went off and he’s going to go off the rest of the season. He’s going to get a lot of scholarship offers and hopefully one day make it to the NFL for us.”