Turkey Bowl preview: Stepinac vs. White Plains
Matchup: White Plains (5-3) vs. Archbishop Stepinac (8-3)
When: Thanksgiving Day, 10 a.m.
Where: White Plains High School
Previous Meetings: None this season. White Plains leads the Turkey Bowl series 27-13, but Stepinac won last year’s match-up and has won four of the past five games.
Did you know?
This is the 41st meeting between White Plains and Stepinac, but White Plains has actually been playing on Thanksgiving since 1932. The Tigers’ first “Turkey Bowl” was played at White Plains against Indiana state champion Central High School. For years, White Plains played state champions from around the country until the Stepinac rivalry was created.
- The longest winning streak for either team was 8 games by White Plains (1989-1996).
- This year, Stepinac reached the CHSFL AAA championship game for the first time in school history.
- White Plains has been undefeated 15 times in school history but only twice since they started playing Stepinac.
- The Turkey Bowl was held at Highlands Middle school, the old high school, until 2008 when the current high school stadium was built.
Time off: Stepinac just played in the AAA championship game on Friday night, losing to St. Anthony’s 14-0. That gives the Crusaders just four days of practice heading into the Turkey Bowl. On the other hand, White Plains was knocked out of the playoffs by New Rochelle and played a bowl game against Scarsdale on November 3rd. That gave the Tigers almost three full weeks to scout and prepare for Stepinac.
Injuries: Both teams are dealing will injuries to major role players. None of the players are expected to miss the game, but it will be interesting to see how that affects the strategies of the two head coaches.
Breakdown: White Plains
Jaeshon Brooks, Darrell Everett – Both players missed some time this season but are back for the Turkey Bowl and will share carries. Brooks is what White Plains football was built on, a tough, power back who hits the whole and looks to deliver the hit. Everett may be the fastest player in the area and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Odaine Franklin, Michael Scotman, Adrian Clinton – Again, three old school type of players for White Plains. Franklin is a physical specimen and will most likely play Division 1 football. Scotman had a bounce back year for White Plains after a bad knee injury last season and will lead block for Brooks and Everett. Clinton makes the calls for the defensive at linebacker.
Khasi Coachman – It’s scary how good Coachman can be sometimes. He’s often wide open down the field because of his speed and precise routes. Not many players can make plays against Stepinac’s defensive backs, but Coachman is one of the players that can.
Ryan Brooks, Terrell Meads, Luke Puff – Stepinac has a way of making plays down the field passing the ball and running the ball outside. Brooks and Meads are tough corners who will fly up and make a tackle and will need to play tough for White Plains to win. Puff is a safety and the only junior on this list, but he makes big tackles when the Tiger front line is broken.
Travis Coleman – White Plains’ line struggled at times this year, but with no fault to Coleman. Coleman is a three year varsity starter and will need to be a leader for the younger White Plains line in this game.
Jeff Avery – You may not know it, but Jeff Avery is one of the top quarterbacks in the area. Every game, he makes one or two throws that few quarterbacks in the state can make. White Plains doesn’t throw the ball that much, but if Avery can make good decisions and connect with Coachman down field, the Tigers have a shot.
Key to victory: White Plains
Offense – Block! It sounds simple but against Stepinac, if you don’t block, you will lose. Stepinac defends the perimeter better than any team White Plains has faced this year and rushes the passer just as well. White Plains is one of the few teams in the area that has the athletes to compete with Stepinac at the skills position, but if they don’t block, those athletes won’t have the opportunity to make plays. White Plains can keep Stepinac honest with power football and then must make plays with their passing game.
Defense – White Plains must create havoc on the front line if they want to have a shot against Stepinac’s quick paced offense. Stepinac does a lot of things with their two quarterback scheme, but if White Plains can get pressure up the field and allow their defensive backs to fly to the ball, they will have a chance. Expect a lot of blitzing and movement from White Plains before the snap to try and confuse the Stepinac O-line.
Dan Hoffer, Mark White – In the preseason when Stepinac said they would be running a two quarterback system, a lot of people were doubtful that it would stick. It’s very hard to keep two quarterbacks happy, but the Crusaders have it down to a T. Hoffer is the main passer and can put some zip on the ball, but also surprises people with his ability to run. White has the explosive speed that adds a different layer to the offense and will often line up at receiver.
Austin Taps, Garfield Heslop – White Plains should be afraid of these two names. Taps is an absolute beast and has been playing his best football in the later part of the season. In Stepinac’s semifinal game, Taps had 13 ½ tackles and two sacks and was in on the game-winning play in overtime. You may think you can run away from him, but on the other side of the field is Heslop. Heslop is an extremely gifted athlete and has a knack for running down pitches and stretches on the opposite side of the field. These two will create havoc in this game.
Caleb Gilligan-Evans – The legend himself, this is the fourth Turkey Bowl game that Gilligan-Evans will play in. The Yale-bound fullback is the last thing a defender wants to see on the football field. Gilligan-Evans has speed and is surprisingly mobile for a guy his size, but finesse is not a part of his game. He seeks out defenders and looks for contact. You don’t want to tackle Caleb Gilligan-Evans.
Joanquin Spencer, Shane Hogan – Two ball-hawks, Spencer and Hogan make plays when opposing teams throw the ball. With White Plains having a strong passing game, these two will have to come to play. Look for Hogan to have another strong showing.
Tom Dedivani – This guy doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he’s a big part of the Stepinac defense. He supports the havoc that Heslop and Taps create and will lead Stepinac’s success. Dedivani made some big plays in the playoffs for the Crusaders.
Vincent Narog – Game after game, Vincent Narog makes plays on both sides of the ball. Narog has speed but also the physicality that is needed for football. On offense he goes up and gets the ball when it’s thrown to him and he makes the most of the few running plays that are called for him. Now at linebacker, the senior has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He pursues the ball very well and not only makes the tackle, but goes for the ball. If Narog has a big game, Stepinac will be in business.
Key to victory: Stepinac
Offense – Play Stepinac football. This has been one of the most successful seasons in Crusaders history and if they do what they do best, they should win. The Stepinac staff has seemed to find the right balance between White, Hoffer and Gilligan-Evans and it makes the Crusaders hard to prepare for. If they use their size up front and take calculated shots down field, they will be in great shape.
Defense – Tackle! Something that has hurt the Crusaders all season long is missed tackles. White Plains has his some shifty runners and if Stepinac doesn’t wrap up, they will give up the big play. Taps and Heslop are a dynamic duo and will neutralize some of White Plains speed, but they must also get to the quarterback. Avery will kill you with his arm if you let him, but he can’t do that if he’s on the ground. The Stepinac defenders must also not fall into the quarterback scramble trap. Avery often gets outside the pocket but keeps his eyes down field and has precision on the run. The Crusaders must stay at home until they are sure he cannot throw.
Stepinac is just too good up front for White Plains. The Tigers will have a shot if Avery, Coachman, Brooks and Everett can come up with some big plays, but this is a great matchup for Taps and Heslop to dominate. Look for White to break off some big runs and Gilligan-Evans to finish off short down situations. If Stepinac stays within their game and doesn’t try to do too much, they should come away with the win. Stepinac 24, White Plains 14
Follow Jordan Griffith on Twitter @MSGV_JGriffith