Highlights from the 2018 season for Manatee County football teams
Saint Stephen’s finally ran into a defensive juggernaut Saturday night, and the Falcons’ quest for a three-peat in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference vanished.
Orlando Christian Prep (9-2) forced four turnovers and got four touchdown passes from Connor Edel to beat Saint Stephen’s 35-14 in the SSAC’s Florida Bowl at The Master’s Academy.
Saint Stephen’s (10-2) came into the title game on a roll, having won 31 of its last 32 games. The Falcons had a 21-game win streak snapped on Sept. 7 when they lost to Windermere Prep 35-21.
“Regardless of what happened tonight, we’ve got to look back on a 10-2 season and feel good about the things we did accomplish,” Saint Stephen’s coach Tod Creneti said. “It’s easy to focus on what went wrong. We want to talk about what went right. We’re proud of our kids. They battled against a very good team.”
In finishing the season with an eight-game win streak, OCP (9-2) also got 127 yards rushing and a touchdown from Jalen Carr and seven catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns from Xavier Weaver.
The Warriors had finished SSAC runner-up in both 2013 and 2014.
“We played as good of a football game as you could possibly play,” OCP coach Guerschom Demosthenes said. “Our kids did extremely well. Saint Stephen’s is a pretty tough football team. We knew we’d have our hands full, but we executed and got some turnovers down the stretch.”
The Warriors reeled off 21 unanswered points to take a 28-7 lead before Saint Stephen’s (10-2) got an 11-yard TD run from DJ Clark midway through the fourth quarter. But OCP answered again when Weaver hauled in an 11-yard TD pass on a fade play.
“They were certainly the fastest team that we played,” Creneti said.
The schools slugged it out defensively in the first half. But Saint Stephen’s was its own worst enemy with three interceptions stopping drives, including its first two series, and nine penalties for 80 yards.
OCP took advantage of Saint Stephen’s second interception when Carr zigzagged 4 yards into the end zone with 3 minutes, 52 seconds left in the first quarter. Saint Stephen’s countered on its next series when Clark raced 37 yards up the middle for a TD, capping a three-play, 46-yard drive with 2:16 remaining in the first quarter.
Two series later, Saint Stephen’s looked poised to take the lead when it took the ball at its own 20-yard line and marched to the OCP 17-yard line. But a 15-yard penalty and an incomplete pass forced the Falcons to punt the ball away.
OCP then took a 14-7 lead when Edel threw a short pass to Weaver, who weaved in and out of traffic for a 23-yard TD with 6:23 left in the first half.
Saint Stephen’s then put together another impressive drive, powering to the OCP 6-yard line. The Falcons took advantage of three 15-yard penalties by OCP. But the drive stalled when Saint Stephen’s was called for offensive pass interference in the end zone on a touchdown pass to Ty Barker with 56 seconds left in the half, and BJ Wagner intercepted Xavier Williams three plays later.
Most of the second half, however, was a struggle for Saint Stephen’s.
“We made some plays early, (but) we were having a hard time making plays in the second half,” Creneti said.
Despite the loss, Clark had a strong performance with 141 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Williams passed for 102 yards, and Barker caught seven passes for 107 yards.