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When Stepinac captain Caleb Gilligan-Evans was called over to talk to reporters after the Crusaders' 38-14 win against White Plains in the 41st Turkey Bowl, the senior took his time. He laughed with teammates before taking a breath and breathing two simple words:
“It’s over,” Gilligan-Evans said, referring to both the game but also his incredible four-year Stepinac legacy. “The last one. What a way to go out. I’m so proud of this team and everything we’ve accomplished. We won our last game.”
The words were a fitting end to Gilligan-Evans, and the rest of the senior Crusaders careers; simple and to the point.
Gilligan-Evans, Austin Taps, Vincent Narog and Garfield Heslop have been a part of perhaps the best era of Stepinac football in school history, and after their final victory against White Plains, they reflected on the win.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Taps, who was given the game’s sportsmanship award. “On one hand we handled business and got the last win of the season. On the other, this is the end to our high school careers. Stepinac is such a great family and an incredible community. It’s tough to deal with it coming to an end.”
It was the second straight year that Stepinac defeated White Plains in the Turkey Bowl, both lopsided victories, and the fifth time in six seasons. Combined with a CHSFL AA championship last year and the school’s first AAA championship appearance this year, and this group may go down as one of the best Stepinac cores ever.
“It’s incredible what these guys have accomplished,” Stepinac coach Mike O’Donnell said. “And they really deserve it all. They work hard, they do things the right way and most importantly, they’re good people. You can’t ask more from your players and these guys have been a pleasure.”
Gilligan-Evans ran for 96 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and Narog had three receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
White Plains took a 14-10 early in the second half on Ryan Brooks’ 56-yard interception return for a touchdown. But three players later Narog took a screen pass 70 yards for a touchdown to give Stepinac the lead for good.
“My time here has been amazing,” Narog said. “I wasn’t really sure what it would be like at Stepinac when I first came here. But looking back now, these have been the best years of my life. The school’s amazing, the football team is amazing; it’s just an honor to have been a part of it.”
Taps caught a 25-yard touchdown and also blocked a punt in the first quarter to set up Gilligan-Evans’ touchdown. Fellow seniors Lance Ladson and Ryan Wasylenko also had big days with Ladson rushing for a 30-yard touchdown and Wasylenko returning an interception 20 yards for a touchdown. Junior Daniel Hoffer threw for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 5 for 9 passing.
“You have to give them credit,” said White Plains coach Skip Stevens. “They made plays when it counted and, I don’t know why, but we just had some awful turnovers. We had worked all week on protecting the ball and then we go out and turn it over like that; it just wasn’t what we were trying to do.”
White Plains had seven turnovers, many of which came at the worst possible time for the Tigers, but moved the ball on some long drives. Michael Scotman ran for 68 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, had a fumble recovery and took home the sportsmanship award.
“You can’t turn the ball over that many times against a good team and expect to win,” Scotman said. “Obviously the way it ended is upsetting, but White Plains is a great place. We’re really a family here and all of us seniors are going to miss it.”
Brooks had the long interception return for White Plains’ other touchdown and Luke Puff had six tackles. Senior Travis Coleman played tough in the trenches for the Tigers.
After the game, O’Donnell turned his attention back to Gilligan-Evans and his incredible career. Gilligan-Evans will go down as one of the great Crusaders of all time and O’Donnell says what he has brought to the program is irreplaceable.
Gilligan-Evans is one of the few players in Turkey Bowl history to play in the game all four years of high school and is currently leaning towards going to Yale to continue his career, but is still weighing his options.
“Caleb Gilligan-Evans is a true role-model,” O’Donnell said. “Forget the football field; he is just an incredible person. There’s no way we will be able to replace what he has brought to this program and I’m very proud to say that he played for me. I’m going to miss him.”
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