BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
Pat Stepnoski of Bishop McGann-Mercy looked for running room around the end during last Thursday’s game against Center Moriches.
The Center Moriches Red Devils and Bishop McGann-Mercy Monarchs were two football teams looking for their first win last Thursday, but the similarities just about ended there. Perhaps the biggest difference between the teams — even bigger than the numbers showing on the scoreboard — were the intensity levels they brought to Harold T. Murray Memorial Field in Riverhead.
While the Red Devils showed fire in their eyes and passion in their play, the Monarchs, for the second half at least, appeared to be lacking both. McGann-Mercy Coach Joe Read sensed that and was visibly — and audibly — displeased with what he saw as a lackluster second half from his team in its home opener, a 52-12 rout by Center Moriches.
Read, a fiery coach in his own right, said the Monarchs were emotionless and flat in the second half of the Suffolk County Division IV game.
“The response we got in the second half was completely unacceptable,” he said following a closed-door meeting with some of his players. “Football is a game of passion. It’s a game that you have to be passionate about, especially when you’re 13 or 14 strong. You have to show emotion … There needs to be that intensity.”
Center Moriches (1-1) brought it. Chris Di Cristo ran for a career-high three touchdowns and teammate Myles Bell scored another three (two on runs). They both put up huge rushing numbers as well. Di Cristo gained 145 yards on 17 carries, and Bell ran the ball 10 times for 135 yards.
Di Cristo, a senior quarterback, scored on runs of four, 65 and two yards for sixth-seeded Center Moriches, giving him four touchdowns for the young season. He had played for McGann-Mercy’s junior varsity team as a freshman.
It was also a homecoming of sorts for Center Moriches Coach Steve Failla, a former Monarchs player who had also coached his alma mater in 2002 and 2003 before going to Center Moriches. Two of Failla’s assistant coaches, Phil Lombardi and Craig Rupprecht, are also former Monarchs players, and Rupprecht coached the Monarchs after Failla left. All of that undoubtedly contributed to the Red Devils’ determination.
Failla said a fired-up state of mind is “absolutely necessary” for his team to succeed.
“Football’s more mental than physical,” McGann-Mercy running back/linebacker Robbie Terry said. “You have to get nuts, crazed, and just hit.”
If the game wasn’t a rivalry, it surely had the feel of one. The teams combined for 13 penalties (nine by McGann-Mercy) and a handful of unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that went both ways.
One Center Moriches player, Tyler Simpson, was ejected from the game after a scramble for a fumble with 3 minutes 50 seconds left in the third quarter.
Following the game, Failla apologized to game officials for his team’s share of the penalties. “I am embarrassed,” he said. “The number of unsportsmanlike [penalties] was unacceptable. I told the team I was excited [about the win], but [the penalties] killed my buzz.”
Center Moriches built a 20-0 lead when Di Cristo passed to Jeff Foster for the two-point conversion after Di Cristo’s 65-yarder with 51.2 seconds left in the first quarter.
“The blocking was outstanding,” Di Cristo said. “I have to give it up to our offensive line. It’s all about the O-line. I followed them.”
Before the quarter ended, though, No. 12 seed McGann-Mercy (0-2) got on the scoreboard with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Pat Stepnoski to Keith Schroeher.
Later in the half, Schroeher (6 of 17, 117 yards) returned the favor, throwing a 29-yard pass to Stepnoski for six points. Stepnoski had 107 rushing yards and 82 receiving.
A game of big plays also saw Bell burst through a hole up the middle for a 62-yard run to the end zone, Di Cristo find Bell for a 72-yard touchdown pass, and Foster return an interception 85 yards for a score.
Connor Murphy, a 6-foot-3, 285-pound lineman, had a four-yard touchdown run for Center Moriches.
The Red Devils registered 443 yards in total offense and held the ball for 31:24 of a 48-minute game. They also did not concede a turnover while McGann-Mercy had five in its 11th straight loss.
“We did good, but we could have done a lot better,” Bell said. “It’s a win, but we keep moving forward.”