Saint Stephen’s players arrived at Moore Athletic Complex at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. By 7 a.m., they were on the field.
Kickoff for the Falcons game against Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic was more than 3 1/2 hours away, but players wanted — believed they needed — an early morning walkthrough, a makeshift practice to shake off the rust of three days of inactivity caused by Hurricane Hermine.
The decision paid off. In a game that featured plenty of rust on both sides, Saint Stephen’s cruised to a 41-6 win.
“I don’t think any of us have ever played with a day off and to come out here having not played for three days,” Creneti said. “It’s an odd week, so coming away with a win is huge.”
The teams combined to complete five passes. Santa Fe Catholic alone fumbled the ball away five times during the second half. Neither team came close to 300 yards of offense. Most of Saint Stephen’s offense came from Fred Billy’s legs. On the fifth play, the quarterback dashed 52 yards for a touchdown.
After Billy’s first touchdown run, the Falcons (1-1) found their stride. Saint Stephen’s raced to a 21-point lead in the first quarter on a pair of touchdowns by the quarterback and another by running back Jordan Murrell. Less than 10 months after a 33-point loss to Santa Fe in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship game, Saint Stephen’s, which had circled this rematch on the calendar as soon as it was scheduled in January, found some redemption with the blowout win.
Billy finished with 133 yards and three touchdowns on seven carries. Murrell added another touchdown at linebacker when he scooped up a fumble and ran it back 20 yards during the third quarter for the Falcons’ final touchdown.
The Falcons’ defense and the simplicity of Billy running the option let Saint Stephen’s produce the blowout despite producing 251 yards of offense and only three points from three second-half trips to the red zone. With rain pounding the campus at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School for most of the second half, play by both teams was sloppy.
“I felt really good about the way we played. There was sometimes we didn’t wrap up the tackle and they had a good gain, but for the most part we did good,” said Murrell, who also ran the ball twice for 28 yards.
The Falcons held the Hawks (0-2) to four first downs, including one during the second half. Thirteen of Santa Fe Catholic’s 38 plays from scrimmage went for negative yardage or no gain. Seventy-seven of Santa Fe Catholic’s 97 yards came on two big plays by Damario Vanover.
The running back was one of the few holdovers from last year’s SSAC-champion Hawks. He was the focal point of Saint Stephen’s scouting report, and the Falcons held him to 68 yards on the ground and 29 more through the air. He finished the first quarter by breaking off a 48-yard run and began the second with a one-handed catch on a fourth-down screen pass for a 29-yard touchdown.
“From last year, we knew he was a good player because he’s won a lot of games against us in past years,” Murrell said. “We knew we had to wrap up when we tackle him because he can break tackles and go far.”
The Falcons entered the weekend hoping to make a statement against a perennial conference power. With a blowout, they proved why they’re now the team to beat in the SSAC.
Said Creneti: “We felt good about the things we did in the first half.”
Saint Stephen’s 41, Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic 6
Santa Fe Catholic
SS— Fred Billy 52 run (Alex Virgilio kick), 9:11
SS— Billy 66 run (Virgilio kick), 5:25
SS— Jordan Murrell 17 run (Virgilio kick), 3:00
SFC— Damario Vanover 29 pass from JT Taylor (kick blocked), 11:06
SS— Virgilio 32 field goal, 3:52
SS— Billy 10 run (Virgilio kick), 2:00
SS— Murrell 20 fumble recovery (Virgilio kick), 8:27
SS— Virgilio 29 field goal, 1:26
Rushing: Santa Fe Catholic: Vanover 7-68, Sam Studiale 9-(-5), Taylor 6-(-9), Tyler Bell 3-2, Jeremiah Davis 6-11, Jonathan Scharf 1-(-1), David Tomkow 1-1, Total 33-67; Saint Stephen’s: Demetrius Davis 11-21, Murrell 2-28, Billy 7-133, Ryan Thompson 1-(-5), Truman Carlsen 3-0, Cam Vining 6-36, Jett Gillum 1-(-1), Jarrett Millican 2-5, Total 33-217.
Passing: Santa Fe Catholic: Taylor 1-1-0, 29, Bell 1-4-0, 1, Total 2-5-0, 30; Saint Stephen’s: Billy 3-7-1, 34, Total 3-7-1, 34.
Receiving: Santa Fe Catholic: Vanover 1-29, Studiale 1-1, Total 2-30; Saint Stephen’s: Peyton Vining 1-6, Davis 1-24, Murrell 1-4, Total 3-34.