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White Plains' Stepinac Football Team Tackles State's Top-Ranked Squad

Quarterback Brandon Coleman has been one of the key players in a versatile offensive machine for the Archbishop Stepinac football team. Photo Credit: Jim Sannerud/MaxPreps
Running back Malcolm Major leads the Stepinac rushing attack with 720 yards this season. Photo Credit: Jim Sannerud/MaxPreps

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Archbishop Stepinac High School and Canisius High School have been ranked 1-2 in the New York MaxPreps’ football ratings through most of fall. On Sunday, the teams will finally meet on the field.

The White Plains-based Crusaders (12-0) will play the Buffalo-based Crusaders (11-0) in the New York State Catholic League championship game Sunday at Mitchel Field in Uniondale. Kickoff is 2 p.m. The game is the state's first Catholic League championship.

Canisius has steamrolled its opposition, winning its last four games by an average of 33 points. It reached the Catholic League final with a 35-8 rout of Bishop Timon-St. Jude, also of Buffalo. It is ranked No. 1 in New York and 126th in the nation by MaxPreps.

Mitchell Thomas (1,629 yards rushing, 14 touchdowns) leads a powerful ground attack. Quarterback Jakob Loucks has thrown for 1,129 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“Canisius is a very good football team,’’ Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “They have numerous college football recruits on team. starting with Tyrone Wheatley. His dad played at Michigan and with the New York Giants. They have a swarming defense and a fast-paced offense.”

Stepinac has crushed most of its opponents as well. The Crusaders beat Iona Prep, 16-14, for the Catholic League High School Football League championship on Nov. 22. The Gaels are the only team Stepinac did not defeat by 10 or more points this year. Stepinac fell to fourth in the MaxPreps' ratings after the New York Public School championship games, and is ranked No. 252 in the nation. The complete New York state rankings are online .

“Going into season we knew we were talented but we also knew that our schedule was the most difficult we would have ever faced,’’ O’Donnell said. “Last year we finished 6-4 with losses to Iona, Chaminade and two to St Anthony's.  Knowing the stiff competition we face week in and week out it would be hard to guess we could win the AAA championship and go undefeated. Right now being ranked fourth in the tri-state area and being mentioned with some schools from New Jersey is something we may never see again. But we are excited for challenge.”

Stepinac is hard to defend because of its versatility. Malcolm Major (732 yards, six touchdowns) leads a balanced running attack. Tyquan Ennis (670 yards, 11 touchdowns) averages 11.4 yards per carry. Quarterback Brandon Coleman and running backs Gavin Heslop, Kobe Miranda and Tyquell Fields also have rushed for 300 or more yards this season. Coleman has also thrown for 11 touchdowns. Giancarlo Furio has 31 receptions and seven touchdowns.

O’Donnell said the two-week layoff between games has been hard for the Crusaders, but the outcome of Saturday’s game will not make-or-break one of the best years in team history.

“This is definitely a bonus game,’’ O’Donnell said. “Not matter what happens we are the New York AAA champions. We have had a great season and would like to finish strong but this game doesn't come with the same pressure as the Iona Prep game. Anytime the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in state come together for a game it will be something special. It is a chance for our kids to accomplish one more thing. They have answered the call each and every week so far this season.”

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