JOHN NEELY PHOTO
Pat Stepnoski bulled his way forward for some of his 66 rushing yards for Bishop McGann-Mercy.
SOUTHAMPTON — Two years ago, Southampton High School installed field turf. On Saturday night the Mariners kicked off their high school football season under new lights and before a new press box and new scoreboard at Richard M. Smith Field. The plan for next year is for a building to be erected on the site that will house concessions, a school store and restrooms.
“Once it’s all done, it should be a really nice venue,” said Southampton Coach Darren Phillips.
Indeed, things seem to be falling into place nicely for the Mariners, including their team. Last season Southampton went 3-5 and failed to reach the playoffs for the fourth straight year. Judging by the way the Mariners played in their season opener, that streak may come to an end this year. Their future could be as bright as the lights they played under on Saturday night.
Southampton’s junior quarterback, Teague Florio, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in a 47-20 defeat of Bishop McGann-Mercy. The ninth-seeded Mariners also received touchdown runs of 26 and 43 yards from Onajja Browning in the Suffolk County Division IV game.
“We’ve been waiting for this since two-a-days,” Browning said. “I love playing under the lights. They do something for your spirit.”
It would have been understandable if McGann-Mercy’s spirits weren’t high afterward, and that wouldn’t have been just because of the final score. The Monarchs, who are seeded 12th in the 12-team division, suffered their 10th straight defeat, a streak dating back to 2008.
But they lost more than just a game. One of their top players, senior wide receiver/defensive back Tom Kretz, broke an ankle just 4 minutes 27 seconds into the game.
“He’s done for the season,” said McGann-Mercy Coach Joe Read.
That’s not all. McGann-Mercy wide receiver/linebacker Henry Read dislocated his ankle. His teammate, running back/linebacker Robbie Terry, hurt his left shoulder.
Injuries can be especially painful for a small team like McGann-Mercy, which has only 21 players on its roster. The loss of a versatile player such as Kretz will be felt. “Those kids are key players, and it hurt us,” Terry said.
Because of the injuries, Tom Kent, who had been pulled up from the junior varsity team three days earlier, played in about three-quarters of the plays. “We had no intention of playing him today,” said Joe Read.
McGann-Mercy did well in terms of ball possession, especially in the first half. Southampton had only two offensive snaps in the first quarter and 10 in the first half, which saw the Mariners with the ball for only 5:42. Although they had only one first down in the first half and six for the game, it was what the Mariners did with the ball when they had it that counted.
Florio connected with Trey Reddick for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Another Southampton player, Patrick Tuths, sped around the right side for a 30-yard scoring run.
Southampton’s defense did its part, too. Isaiah Thomas returned an interception 68 yards for a touchdown that, followed by Sean Barylski’s extra point, helped spot Southampton a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
Malcolm Williams made a game-high eight tackles, including half a sack for Southampton. “We had to do what we had to do,” the junior lineman said.
McGann-Mercy’s touchdowns came on a seven-yard pass from Keith Schroeher (8 of 17, 114 yards) to Liam McArdle, a 13-yard run by Pat Stepnoski, and a one-yard run by Schroeher. Stepnoski caught six passes for 107 yards to go with his 66 rushing yards.
“We just need work, a lot of work,” said Terry.
Phillips said Southampton needs work, too. At the same time, he acknowledged that he felt a lot better about his team than he did before the opening kickoff. He said, “I think I can sleep good tonight.”