OVIEDO — Under-manned all season, St. Edward's miraculous run through the Sunshine State Athletic Conference postseason fell just one quarter short.
St. Stephen's Episcopal (11-1) rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to capture a 21-14 win in Florida Bowl III from Pennington Field at the Master’s Academy near Orlando.
Chase Brown’s 6-yard touchdown run with 2:25 remaining in the game was the game-winner as St. Edward's failed to become the first football team to win two Sunshine State Athletic Conference championships.
“I got my hat off to St. Stephen’s,” Pirates head coach Bill Motta said. “We go into the fourth quarter with a 14-0 lead, but they came back and didn't give up or lay down. That's the mark of a championship team; I give them credit for that.
“I give my boys credit for coming out, playing hard, and leaving everything they had out on the field. The opportunity to be in a game like this, it was just fabulous to be in a tight game. Those games are fun and of course they are a lot more fun when you win them, but it's great to be challenged. You always want to be challenged.”
St. Edward's (7-4) built and sustained their lead off of multiple stops on Falcon drives in the first half.
On the game's opening drive, St. Stephen quickly marched down to the St. Edward’s one-yard line, but Falcons quarterback Fred Billy mishandled the snap as the Pirates recovered the fumble for a touchback. On the ensuing possession, Daniel Walsh capped a nine-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard rushing touchdown for the game's opening score.
After two St. Stephen’s drives ended on downs, St. Edward's entered halftime up two scores after Walsh rumbled his way through the Falcons defense for the 13-yard touchdown, his second rushing touchdown of the night.
As St. Stephen’s marched down into St. Edward’s territory the first time they touched the ball in the second half, more Pirates magic continued when Brian Minella stripped the ball from Peyton Vining and recovered the fumble.
St. Edward's was in position to go up three scores at the start of the final period, but a 40-yard Owen Kenney field goal attempt was blocked by LeThario Jones. To Falcons head coach Tod Creneti, that when the momentum changed.
“We got a stop at the start of the second half and started moving the ball, but we turned it over again and you start wondering ‘wow, this isn't your night,” Creneti said. “But the blocked kick was a turning point and seem to give us all the energy we needed to finish.”
Fred Billy scored two rushing touchdowns (7 and 3 yards), in a span of 2:06 early in the fourth quarter. St. Edward's was able to block the extra point on the first Billy touchdown, but Demetrius Davis scored on a two-point conversion on the second touchdown to tie the game at 14-14.
At the worse possible time, a thin Pirates roster had to deal with injuries.
Walsh, a difference maker in the first half, wasn't the same after hurting his left ankle. Desmond Haigler left the game after hurting his shoulder. Laboring, the Pirates couldn't no longer sustain longer drives to chew up clock.
Motta, however, made no excuses.
“They're 16-year old boys, they got to be able to play for 48 minutes,” Motta said. “I think (St. Stephen’s) are well coached. They controlled the clock well.”
St. Edward's last chance to tie the game ended when Walsh could not haul in a short CJ Hadnot pass on 4th-and-3 with under two minutes remaining.
St. Edward's Austin Schepers (#21) breaks up a pass intended for St. Stephen's Episcopal's Peyton Vining (#12) in the first quarter of the SSAC championship game, Florida Bowl III, on Saturday, November 19, 2016 at the Master's Academy in Oviedo. St. Stephen's Episcopal won 21-14.To see more photos, go to TCPalm.com (Photo: MOLLY BARTELS/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS)
Brian Minella of St. Edward's moves the ball past the St. Stephen's Episcopal defense during the second quarter of the SSAC championship game, Florida Bowl III, on Saturday, November 19, 2016 at The Master's Academy in Oviedo. To see more photos, go to TCPalm.com (Photo: MOLLY BARTELS/TREASURE COAST NEWSPAPERS)