09/09/11 10:59pm
09/09/2011 10:59 PM

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | Wayne Harris of Center Moriches found the end zone on a six-yard run for the game's first score despite the efforts of Bishop McGann-Mercy's Pat Stepnoski.

What happens when friends coach against each other?

What else? A fight breaks out.

They had been in the same huddle before as teammates and on the same football sideline before as coaches, but Friday night marked a first for both Jeff Doroski and Steve Failla. For the first time, they faced each other on opposing sidelines as head coaches, Doroski of the Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs and Failla of the Center Moriches Red Devils.

The game must have prompted mixed emotions for coaches on both staffs. Failla was the best man at Doroski’s wedding and is the godfather to Doroski’s son. Not only that, but they were both teammates at Mercy, as was one of the Center Moriches assistant coaches, Craig Rupprecht. All three are Mercy Class of 1992 graduates. On top of all of that, Failla and Rupprecht are both former Monarchs coaches themselves.

And, as if that story line isn’t tangled enough, a McGann-Mercy assistant coach, Phil Lombardi, is a another former Mercy player who had served as a Center Moriches assistant coach for five years before coming to the Monarchs this year.

Finally, to add even more spice to the season-opening Suffolk County Division IV game at Center Moriches High School, it just happened to be Doroski’s debut as a varsity head coach.

“Me, Steve and Craig, we go back a long ways,” Doroski said. “Yeah, we’re close. We go to barbecues at each other’s house, and they’ll be at my daughter’s baptism in two weeks and stuff like that.”

No doubt, there will be some talk during that occasion about what happened on Friday night. Myles Bell ran for touchdowns on his first two carries as Center Moriches rolled, 32-14, spoiling Doroski’s debut. The game was interrupted for about 20 minutes when a fight broke out 4:22 into the third quarter. Coaches rushed on to the field to separate players. A game official took a fall during the flurry and was quickly helped to his feet by McGann-Mercy’s Pat Stepnoski. After order was restored, Jack Strnad of McGann-Mercy and Wayne Harris of Center Moriches were ejected. The ejections carry automatic one-game suspensions.

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | Bishop McGann-Mercy's Rudfil Paul Jr. swatted away a pass intended for Center Moriches' Mario Mayen in the end zone.

Stepnoski said he wasn’t sure what prompted the fists to fly.

“I just turned around, and there was a big group of everybody fighting,” he said. “It kept going and going and going. I didn’t know what was happening.”

Failla said: “I couldn’t tell you who hit who and how it started, but everyone’s got to walk away, and our guy certainly didn’t walk away. They got learn, it’s a selfish act in an unselfish game that’s very unforgiving.”

Similarly, Doroski voiced his disapproval of the fisticuffs.

“It’s just frustrations got out of hand,” he said. “You never want to see anything like that. We just reacted to something that we don’t need to react to. We’re better than that. We represent something else out here, and that’s not what we represent.”

Both teams will feel the absence of those players. Strnad is a starting guard and defensive end. Harris plays running back and linebacker.

In addition to Bell’s two touchdown runs, Harris and Patrick Teich both ran for Center Moriches touchdowns as well. Another Red Devils score came through the air, an 18-yard connection from Jeff Foster to Nuquan Mathis.

Bell wove and sped his way to 111 yards on 10 carries, including runs of five and 28 yards that brought him into the end zone.

“I try my hardest every game, and whatever God gives me, it is what it is,” he said.

A four-year varsity starter, Bell is an undoubted talent.

“Myles is a special athlete,” Failla said. “He can accelerate on a dime, and he’s got nice vision. It seems like he cuts so fluidly, his hips never move.”

McGann-Mercy has a back who can run well, too. Stepnoski scored both of McGann-Mercy’s touchdowns in addition to making a team-leading nine tackles and recovering a fumble.

The Monarchs fell behind by 19-0 in the opening 14:32, but didn’t quit. On the final play of the first half, Keith Schroeher (8 of 18, 120 yards) lofted a pass down the right sideline that Stepnoski ran under, collected and kept running until he reached the end zone, 78 yards away.

Stepnoski also brought the Monarchs their second touchdown in the third quarter when he burst through for a 32-yard scoring run on a fourth-and-three play. Drew Rajotte’s extra point cut Center Moriches’ lead to 26-14.

The bulk of McGann-Mercy’s offense came from Stepnoski’s three receptions, 98 of the team’s 159 yards of total offense. The Monarchs had difficulty moving the ball, generating only two first downs, 39 rushing yards and converting two of 11 third-down plays.

But the Monarchs showed fight (in more ways than one).

“We don’t give up,” Stepnoski said. “We fought all the way until the end, even though it was not the closest score in the world. We didn’t give up, and that was heartening to see.”

Failla said: “They were outgunned, and they kept fighting. Nobody told them that they were outgunned.”

For three hours, Doroski and Failla had to put their friendship aside and focus on the task at hand.

“You’re trying to win a football game, you know,” Doroski said. “We work with these kids all year long. You want what’s best for them, obviously. He’s doing what’s best for his kids, I’m trying to do what’s best for my kids, and we go from there.”

Now that this game is out of the way, Failla said, Doroski and him can “go back to being friends.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

08/22/11 2:01pm
08/22/2011 2:01 PM

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Mike Donnell, left, and Chris Motlanski went facemask to facemask in a tackling drill during Bishop McGann-Mercy's practice on Monday morning.

Chris Motlanski’s bone-crunching hit during a drill near the end of Monday morning’s practice elicited quite a response. Jeff Doroski, thrilled at what he saw, yelled, hopped up and down, and banged Motlanski on the helmet in a congratulatory manner.

Every now and then, the player in Doroski comes out.

But it is as a coach — Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School’s new head coach — that Doroski is currently making his mark with the Monarchs.

Perhaps no one has seen McGann-Mercy football from as many angles as Doroski. A former player for the Monarchs, he has served three stints as an assistant coach for the team, most recently last year when he was the defensive coordinator. But Doroski has gained an extensive football education, working on coaching staffs at Shoreham-Wading River, Longwood and Riverhead as well. He was also the athletic director at McGann-Mercy for a couple of years.

It was all good preparation for this, what Doroski calls his dream job, coaching at his alma matter.

A dream job? Yes.

An easy job? Definitely not.

The Monarchs are picking up the pieces from a 2-6 season last year. They are seeded 12th among the 14 teams in Suffolk County Division IV, so they have their work cut out for them.

Nonetheless, Doroski brings a good deal of enthusiasm to his first head coaching job at the varsity level.

BOB LIEPA PHOTO | Jeff Doroski has begun his dream job as Bishop McGann-Mercy's new head coach.

“I was telling the guys on the first day [of preseason practice], some people are called into their profession,” he said. “Some people are called into the priesthood. I was called to be the head football coach here. I’m kind of answering my calling right now.”

Hired in March to succeed Joe Read, who had stepped down in January after four years as McGann-Mercy’s head coach, Doroski got a real sense that the program was truly under his leadership when preseason training camp opened last Thursday and all eyes were on him.

Doroski played tailback and defensive back for the Monarchs from 1988 to 1992. He was an all-league player his junior and senior years. Following his senior year he was named the team’s offensive most valuable player and the recipient of the Boden Award, the highest athletic honor presented by the school. Doroski went on to play both baseball and football at Springfield College (Mass.).

It doesn’t appear as if Doroski’s enthusiasm for the game has waned since his playing days.

“He gets into it,” Pat Stepnoski, a senior running back and outside linebacker, said. “He even tackles kids sometimes.”

Doroski said: “I like to think of myself as a structured and organized coach. I bring some positive energy and enthusiasm with me out there every day, but I’m also not over the top.”

Although he is a new head coach, Doroski is hardly new to the school. That is seen as a plus.

“It helps,” Keith Schroeher, a senior who plays quarterback and safety, said. “He used to play here. He knows what we’re going through.”

Players say practices are organized and brimming with positivity. Anthony Heppner, a senior defensive end and right offensive tackle, had a connection to Doroski as a fifth-grade student of his at the Pulaski Street School. Heppner said he looks forward to going to practice. “It’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “The team’s attitude is positive. We believe that no matter what, nothing’s going to stop us.”

The Monarchs had a rough 2010 season, but they sound like they have closed the book on that chapter of their history.

“We’re not really thinking about the past,” Schroeher said. “We’re pushing toward the future, a new era.”

The Monarchs hope that future includes a tighter defense. Last year the Monarchs allowed opponents an average of 38.9 points per game, surrendering more than 51 points on three occasions and 46 or more points five times.

“We were in situations last year where we just didn’t come out and compete,” said Doroski, who will retain control of the defense. “When you don’t come out and compete, you put yourself in a bad position.”

The Monarchs will run a 4-4 defense and a multiple-set offense, with some looks Doroski borrowed from Riverhead and from Longwood. Adam Barrett, who had been Centereach’s offensive coordinator, takes over that post at McGann-Mercy. He joins a coaching staff that includes Ken Marelli, Phil Lombardi, Phil Reed, Keith Schroeher Sr. and Alex Doroski, the head coach’s father (“It’s one of those things where I think my mom doesn’t want him at the house all the time,” joked Jeff Doroski.)

Doroski said it is one of the best coaching staffs he has ever been a part of. That, along with work in the weight room by his players during the offseason and a well-regarded senior class, gives him optimism.

“There’s not a lot of people who think that we can be successful in the division,” Doroski said. “Then again, it’s not what everybody else thinks. It’s what we believe in what we can do.”

The Monarchs sound confident.

“We’re looking to win this year,” said Keith Schroeher, who is entering his third varsity season. “We’re not going to back down from anything.”

What is the biggest difference between being an assistant coach and the guy? For Doroski it might be the small, but important details, such as ordering equipment, lining the practice field, doing paperwork. The job involves a lot more than just walking the sideline on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons.

“That’s one of the things that I learned from [Riverhead Coach Leif] Shay,” Doroski said. “It’s more than what you see.”

bliepa@timesreview.com