St. Joseph-by-the Sea didn’t talk about the storm, the displacements, or anything about Hurricane Sandy before its CHSFL “AAA” quarterfinal game against Archbishop Stepinac. Instead, the Vikings talked about how no team from St. Joseph-by-the-Sea ever won a playoff game.
One play made history.
The Vikings stopped Ryan Burnett on a direct snap on a 2-point conversion in the first overtime to seal a 22-20 playoff victory. Sea will travel to St. Anthony’s next week in the CHSFL semifinals.
“That was a huge stop by the defense, they played with toughness all game,” quarterback Ryan Minlionica said. “We wanted this game for the seniors so bad and on our home field and it came down to that stop.”
Minlionica put Sea in position to win the game with his second touchdown pass to Andrew Russo on third-and-5 during the overtime. Nick King, who hadn’t played offense all game, ran in the two-point conversion for Sea from one yard out. Stepinac stopped the initial attempt, but was flagged for a facemask penalty.
“Nick is one of our best runners, but he’s a great defensive player too and we’ve been saving him a bit because of an ankle injury,” Sea coach Rich Clark said. “There’s no better time to unleash him then in overtime in the playoffs, right?”
Stepinac scored in overtime on a Dan Hoffer pass to Justin Thomas from 14 yards out. The Crusaders had a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but a mistimed direct snap to Burnett brought Stepinac back to the 14.
“It seems like anytime we did something well, we shot ourselves in the foot,” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “All year we thought we didn’t play as well as we expected.”
Stepinac led 14-0 at halftime with some big defensive stops, and big throws from Hoffer to Justin Thomas. He finished with 10 catches for 94 yards and a score. The Crusaders scored in the second quarter on a shovel pass to fullback Brian Rzemieniewski from eight yards out. They padded their lead with a 52-yard touchdown run from Burnett. He finished with 27 carries for 110 yards.
Sea refused to give up.
Minlionica hit Russo for a 74-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to get on the board. The junior quarterback finished the day as the Vikings leading rusher with 20 carries for 95 yards. Frank Calcutta added 94 yards on 24 carries.
“This team is filled with guys with heart, that’s what we’re all about,” Millionica said. “We never thought about giving up.”
With Sea’s grind-it-out offense, Minlionica’s prowess in the passing game helped open it up for the Vikings.
“We like to wear people down and get three yards,” Clark said. “Ryan is a great quarterback though, he can throw when we need him to and he looked good today.”
Russo accounted for all three Sea touchdowns. He had 52 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries and 97 yards receiving on three catches. His second touchdown brought the Vikings within 14-12. Minlionica ran in the game-tying 2-point conversion. The Vikings were 2-for-3 on 2-point conversions in the game.
“We don’t have a kicker, I’d love to have one because we’re probably the only AAA team without one,” Clark said. “But, the fact that we go for two definitely gives us an advantage in situations like this.”
Stepinac started three drives in the second half in Sea territory, but the offense couldn’t move the ball like it did in the first half. The Vikings defense was making bigger plays as well.
“We’re a good defensive football team and I think how we play on one side fuels the other,” Clark said. “So when our defense started making plays, the offense picked it up a bit.
Stepinac’s best chance to win it in the second half occurred with 37 seconds left in regulation. The Crusaders moved the ball to the 16-yard line and prepared to get kicker Mike Pizzuti in the middle of the field on third down, but they were called for a false start.
After an incomplete pass, Stepinac missed a 38-yard field goal. The ball fell two yards short of the cross bar.
“Without that penalty, we probably win the game,” O’Donnell said. “Pizzuti was right on, it was the first field goal he missed the whole season.”
It was almost déjà vu for Sea. The Vikings lone loss this season was 17-14 to Stepinac.
“You can’t let stuff like that get in your head,” Minlionica said. “They missed the field goal and we took advantage of it.”
Now, Sea will try to make more history with another playoff win against St. Anthony’s.
“We still have two games to go,” Clark said. “We get to go out to South Huntington and try and get it done.”
Email John Malone at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MSGV_Malone