By Bond Brungard, Special to The News
WHITE PLAINS — St. Francis reached the Catholic High School Athletic Association football title game against Archbishop Stepinac and the Red Raiders ran into a state defending champion with no desire to give up any ground on its home turf.
St. Francis quarterback Jake Ritts, a sophomore who threw for more than 3,000 yards in his first full varsity season, found himself with little time to run the offense and was sacked 11 times, five times in the first quarter, as the Crusaders built a 42-7 lead at the half on the way to a 49-7 victory to win consecutive titles.
“It was just super-hard,” Ritts said of the Crusader pass rush anchored by three Division I-caliber linemen. “I didn’t have much time to throw. I did my best.”
St. Francis (5-7) took the game’s first possession, but a blocked punt by the Crusaders resulted in a 7-0 lead for the home team when Stepinac’s Mekhi Green scooped the ball up and went to the end zone.
Leading 14-0, Stepinac’s Shawn Harris went to the end zone with a 50-yard touchdown off a screen pass, and St. Francis found itself in a 21-0 hole at the end of the first quarter. And the lead continued to grow when Quentin McCauley pulled down a 33-yard touchdown catch with a 7:14 left in the second quarter for a 28-0 Stepinac lead.
Finally, with 3:11 to go the half, St. Francis completed a drive when Ritts connected with Antonio Corsi with a 7-yard touchdown catch for the Red Raiders’ only score.
The Crusaders (8-4), however, were not finished. Stepinac’s Harris scored with a 62-yard catch with 2:40 left in the second quarter. Stepinac had the ball again very late in the second quarter when Malik Grant picked up a bad snap and scored to give the Crusaders a 42-7 lead with a eight seconds to go before halftime.
In the third quarter, Ritts was sacked on St. Francis’ 29-yard line, his 10th of the afternoon. He got up and went back to work to take the Red Raiders to Stepinac’s 10-yard line. And then on fourth down with four yards to go, Ritts tried to complete a pass for a touchdown, but the throw was incomplete to end the drive and any chance to get closer to Stepinac.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but with 9:26 left in the fourth quarter, Stepinac’s McCauley made it 49-7 with a 19-yard touchdown catch. St. Francis had another chance to score, but one of Ritts’ passes was tipped as the Red Raiders approached in the red zone, and Stepinac’s James McCauley intercepted the pass in the end zone to end the drive for the Red Raiders.
“They were just a better team than us today without a doubt,” St. Francis coach Jerry Smith said. ‘They were a little faster, bigger and stronger. They just executed a lot better than we did. We could not get our communication going to solve the pressure.”
Despite the constant pressure, Ritts managed to throw the ball 48 times with 27 completions for 259 yards. Corsi caught nine passes for 114 yards. Xzavier Janczylik also caught seven passes for 101 yards, but Stepinac shut down the run game.
Ritts enjoyed his first full varsity season as his team reached the state title game. He would have felt a lot better, however, to head home with a state championship.
“It feels good,” said Ritts, for the chance to play for a title. “But honestly we did not win it all, so I kind of feel bad.”