Saint Stephen’s head coach Tod Creneti congratulated Peyton Vining with the following words: “That’s track speed right there.”
Those words referenced Vining’s burst to the end zone early in the Falcons’ 42-33 victory over visiting Seffner Christian on Thursday.
Later, they seemed prophetic as Vining made the key tackle in preserving the Falcons’ lead late in the fourth quarter against a Crusaders team that stormed back from a 22-point deficit.
“Having a guy, who can run, coming off the edge is invaluable,” Creneti said.
Saint Stephen’s (7-1) clung to a 35-33 lead with 5:16 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Seffner Christian (5-3) chose to go for a two-point conversion following running back Tyrell Carter’s third touchdown run. Vining, a wide receiver/linebacker, burst off the edge and dived toward Crusaders quarterback Jacob McLaughlin’s legs before pulling him down well shy of the end zone.
“I was just looking at the scoreboard and I knew that was critical, because they were down two,” Vining said. “So I saw the quarterback in the backfield by himself and I had no responsibilities other than to stop him. ... Luckily, I got him.”
Saint Stephen’s quarterback Fred Billy made sure Vining’s stop stood up when he capped the Falcons subsequent possession with a 14-yard touchdown run. Three plays before that scamper, though, Billy shimmied his way past would-be tacklers and leaped over another Seffner Christian diving attempt on his legs to get to paydirt.
However, Billy was called for a hurdling penalty, which delayed his fourth touchdown of the game by three plays.
“(I) let it go,” said Billy, who tallied 108 of his 171 rushing yards in the second half. “I gotta do what I gotta do to get back into the end zone. That play was over. So I was like, ‘Next play. Can’t worry about that play. Next play. Next play.’ Because we’ve got to win the game.”
Saint Stephen’s built a 21-0 lead in the first quarter behind Billy’s running and Vining’s 25-yard touchdown reception. Then Seffner Christian slowly engineered a comeback.
Running the ball 51 times, the Crusaders amassed 263 yards and clawed their way to within two points in the fourth quarter. They even responded following Saint Stephen’s Demetrius Davis returning an interception 98 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. That pick six was one of three turnovers for Seffner Christian.
Aiding the comeback effort was long drives on offense coupled with a quick Saint Stephen’s turnover at the end of the third quarter.
Vining said the defense was tired, but the chatter in the huddle prior to the two-point try was about how important the play was.
“This particular play was going to make or break what we did for the rest of the game,” Vining said.
Now the Falcons turn their attention to next week’s Sunshine State Athletic Conference playoffs, where they’ll host a postseason football game for the first time in program history. Thursday’s game was originally scheduled for Friday, but was moved because this weekend is college weekend for the student-athletes.
Saint Stephen’s 42, Seffner Christian 33
SS— Fred Billy 50 run (Alex Virgilio kick), 9:48
SS— Peyton Vining 25 pass from Billy (Virgilio kick), 5:00
SS— Billy 6 run (Virgilio kick), 2:52
SC— Jacob McLaughlin 5 run (Kick failed), 11:54
SS— Demetrius Davis 98 interception return (Virgilio kick), 6:00
SC— Tyrell Carter 3 run (Dean Barrow kick), 0:26
SS— Billy 1 run (Virgilio kick), 7:23
SC— Carter 23 run (Barrow kick), 1:28
SC— McLaughlin 4 run (Barrow kick), 0:00
SC— Carter 1 run (Run failed), 5:16
SS— Billy 14 run (Virgilio kick), 2:36
Rushing: Seffner Christian 51-263: McLaughlin 19-119, Carter 26-133, Isaiah Knowles 5-10, Jonathan Wall 1-1. Saint Stephen’s 27-180: Chase Brown 12-72, Billy 15-108.
Passing: Seffner Christian 6-22-2, 95: Knowles 5-21-2, 84; McLaughlin 1-1-0, 11. Saint Stephen’s 3-9-0, 42: Billy 3-9-0, 42.
Receiving: Seffner Christian 6-95: DJ Emsweller 1-44, Wall 2-19, Elijah Beniot 2-21, Daniel Belton 2-11. Saint Stephen’s 3-42: Davis 1-3, Vining 2-39.
Week 9 schedule
Bradenton Christian at St. Pete Canterbury, 7 p.m.
Out-of-Door Academy at Windermere Prep, 7 p.m.
Braden River at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.
Manatee at Riverview, 7:30 p.m.
Venice at Lakewood Ranch, 7:30 p.m.
Hardee at Southeast, 7:30 p.m.
Bayshore at Desoto County, 7:30 p.m.
IMG Academy at Trinity Christian, 7:30 p.m.