Who: St. Francis Red Raiders (7-4) vs. Archbishop Stepinac Crusaders (11-0)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Grand Island High School’s Gene Masters Field, 1100 Ransom Road, Grand Island.
Rankings: Archbishop Stepinac of White Plains is the state’s co-No. 1 team in Class AA with Aquinas. St. Francis moves from honorable mention to No. 10 in the poll.
St. Francis in final: 0-0. This is the Red Raiders’ first appearance in the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association championship game.
Archbishop Stepinac in final: 0-1. The Crusaders lost in the inaugural championship game last season at Mitchell Field in Uniondale to Canisius, 23-10.
Coaches: St. Francis, Jerry Smith, 28th season (148-117-4); Stepinac, Mike O’Donnell, 28th season (175-134-1).
St. Francis key players and stats: Jr. QB Jerry Hickson, 6-2/200 (170-337, 2,221 yards, 21 TDs, 13 INTs), Sr. RB Brandon Metz, 5-9/185 (162-1,161, 16 TDs; 43 catches, 614 yards, 4 TDs), Sr. RB/LB Robert Dempsey, 5-7/170 (75-475, 6 TDs; 19 catches, 199 yards, 1 TD), Jr. LB Devin Delmont, 5-10/195 (92 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FR), Sr. LB Michael Williams, 5-9/180 (88 tackles, 1 TFL), Sr. S Taureen Davis, 6-1/188 (77 tackles, 12 TFL, 10 sacks, 2 FR).
Archbishop Stepinac key players and stats: Sr. QB Tyquell Fields, 6-3/190 (161-262, 2,029, 20 TDs, 4 INTs), Jr. RB Antonio Giannico, 5-11/200 (98-864, 9 TDs), Sr. WR/DB T.J. Morrison, 5-11/180 (24-318, 6 TDs; 35 tackles, 9 passes defensed, 5 INTs), Sr. LB Daniel Negron, 6-0/220 (80 tackles, 3 PD, 1 sack), Sr. DE Malcolm Koonce, 6-3/251 (58 tackles, 9 sacks, 6 TFL), Sr. LT David Harris, 6-4/315.
How they got here: St. Francis reached the final by defeating defending state Catholic champion Canisius, 42-7, last week in the Monsignor Martin Association championship game. Archbishop Stepinac advanced by beating Cardinal Hayes of New York City, 20-12.
Pre-snap read: St. Francis is playing its best football at the right time of the season as it brings a four-game winning streak into the final.
The Red Raiders will need to be at their best if they are to take down the top team in the state looking to avenge last year’s title-game outcome. Look for St. Francis to try to mix it up passing and running much like it did in its last two wins. Quarterback Jerry Hickson has passed for five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games to lead a St. Francis offense that’s averaged 45.5 points over that stretch. Metz has scored a total of six touchdowns in his last two games.
Both teams like to go vertical, so this could wind up being a high-scoring affair.
Stepniac has some talent, including returning receiver T.J. Morrison. He’ll slide from corner to safety to fill in for an injured Jay-char Howell. Defensive end Malcolm Koonce has nine sacks and is quite the physical specimen.
What’s next: Season’s over.
At buffalonews.com: The #PrepTalkLive blog will have game updates and play-by-play of key moments from the state final. You can comment in the blog or via Twitter by tweeting with the hashtag #preptalklive.
– Miguel Rodriguez