BRADENTON -- For a team that fumbled the opening kickoff and lost one of its top players to a serious injury in the first four minutes, Friday's Kickoff Classic went about as well as could be hoped for Saint Stephen's.
The Falcons used big plays from a freshman quarterback and an opportunistic defense to scored 23 unanswered points in the second quarter and hold on through an ugly second half for a 23-21 victory over Orlando Christian Prep at Moore Athletic Complex.
"We saw good things in flashes," Falcons head coach Tod Creneti said. "We need to be more consistent. We need to be more disciplined. I think discipline is the thing tonight that we come away understanding has to be a goal for us."
The victory was tempered, though, by the loss of senior running back Luc Goeders, who left with a leg injury with eight minutes, 15 seconds, left in the first quarter and did not return. Goeders was expected to carry the load in the backfield.
"It sounds like a serious injury," said Creneti, who declined to disclose the nature of the injury.
After the Warriors scored first early in the second quarter, Saint Stephen's quarterback Fred Billy set up the Falcons' first touchdown, a 10-yard run by Alex Virgilio, with a 66-yard pass to Griffin Donnelly. He scored the second on a 27-yard run. Billy finished with 85 yards rushing and 134 passing.
The Falcons later scored a defensive touchdown when Peyton Vining sacked Warriors quarterback Connor Marchionda and knocked the ball loose. Nick Rodhouse picked up the fumble and scored from 15 yards away.
Jake Westberry added three sacks and a tackle for loss, and Garret Barnes picked off a pass and collected a fumble recovery.
Saint Stephen's, which defeated Orlando Christian Prep 27-0 in last year's Kickoff Classic, made just enough defensive plays in a second half otherwise marked by leg cramps and penalties.
"It was very sloppy. It went from being a good football game to being a preseason game in a hurry," Creneti said. "They are faster and more physical than they've been. There were aggressive and got after it. We really needed to take the ball in the second half and establish something. We never did. ... We got into the mode where we had to hang on. There's something to be said for hanging on."
Donnelly finished with 121 yards receiving on three catches and had 57 yards rushing on 10 attempts.