One of the defining plays of this championship season unfolded in front of the sideline Friday night in what seemed to be slow motion.
Archbishop Stepinac, trying to jump-start its offense and close the gap in a seven-point game, gave the ball to wideout Vincent Narog on a reverse. But St. Anthony’s senior safety , an All-American lacrosse player, closed on the receiver like a magnet.
In a flash, Stackpole jarred the ball free.
That’s when everything slowed down – at least for linebacker Anthony Leggio. The junior plucked the loose ball out of the cold night air mid-stride. And Leggio never looked back.
“Stackpole cracked the kid and the ball was in the air,” Leggio said. “I was looking at it. This could be a game changer. I caught it. Took it to the house.”
The sideline erupted as Leggio raced with the fumble 61 yards for a touchdown with 3:09 left in the third quarter, the finishing touches on a 14-0 win Friday night before a crowd of 1,000 at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale.
Top-seeded St. Anthony’s (10-0), the No. 1 team in the NYSSWA rankings, captured its championship with the win over Stepinac. It also ran its winning streak to 29 in a row, the second-longest in Suffolk history.
“This was the hardest one I can recall,” said St. Anthony’s Coach , who won his 13th league title and 10th in the last 11 seasons. “We couldn’t put teams away. We let teams hang around. But we always found a way to win.”
For Reichert, the . That ties him with former Bellport icon Joe Cipp Jr. as the winningest coach in Suffolk history.
“This is what it’s all about – winning championships,” Reichert said.
It was only fitting the Friars won this one on the backs of defensive stalwarts such as Stackpole, Leggio and tackle . The St. Anthony’s defense made one heroic stand after another this season. Three games were decided by a combined seven points.
Defense turned the tide against No. 2 Stepinac (8-3). The , in Week 5. The second meeting couldn’t have been more different.
Stepinac opened the game with a 15-play drive to the St. Anthony’s 24-yard-line. But Stackpole snuffed it out with an interception in the end zone that he returned to the 35.
“That was huge,” Reichert said. “It just settled everything down. We came out a little nervous on defense.”
The Friars turned around and put together a 16-play drive of their own, capped by Anthony Anderson’s 1-yard plunge over the left side. Matt Musgrove’s kick put St. Anthony’s up 7-0 with 6:26 left in the half.
“Our whole game plan was one down at a time,” said sophomore quarterback Greg Galligan, who assumed the starting job midseason. “So to score on the first possession was unbelievable. That’s exactly what we wanted.”
The Friars rushed for 222 yards and completed just one pass on the night. But it was enough. Galligan controlled the tempo.
The game ended the way it began – with the defense making a stop with the goal line at its collective back. Stepinac quarterback Mark White’s fourth-down run was stopped at the 5 with under a minute to play.
“It was a dogfight,” Galligan said.
“They did enough to win,” Reichert said. “When it’s all said and done, that’s all that really matters.”
CHSFL Class AAA Championship
Teams...................1.....2.....3.....4 – F
Stepinac................0.....0.....0.....0 – 0
St. Anthony’s.........0.....7.....7.....0 – 14
SA – Anderson 1 run (Musgrove kick)
SA – Leggio 61 fumble return (Musgrove kick)