Saint Stephen's beats Mount Dora to advance to its fourth straight Sunshine State Athletic Conference title game

BRADENTON

Facing the Mount Dora Christian Academy single-wing offense, the Saint Stephen’s football team knew it would be learning on the fly.

“You see something like that that is so unique and so out of the ordinary, it is very hard to replicate,” Falcons coach Tod Creneti said. “We had a sense that we would miss some things early and hope our kids would learn as they went through.”

Saint Stephen’s certainly got better as the game went on.

Now, the Falcons are going to a familiar spot. For the fourth straight season, Saint Stephen’s advanced to the Florida Bowl after a 27-3 destruction of the Bulldogs on Saturday night at the Moore Athletic Complex.

The Falcons (10-1) will be looking for their third straight Sunshine State Athletic Conference title at 7 p.m. Saturday, when they take on Orlando Christian Prep, a 44-10 winner over Windermere Prep, at The Master’s Academy in Oviedo.

“We’re excited to be going back,” Creneti said.

After allowing 106 yards in the first half, the Falcons ended up permitting a total of 96 yards in the game.

More importantly, they held Mount Dora Academy, a team that had three games of 50 or more points and three more of 40 or more points, out of the end zone the entire night.

“You just have to hit them really hard,” Saint Stephen’s linebacker Camden Vining said. “They are very physical and like to run it inside. You just have to pound it up there and hope your teammates get there with you.”

Winners of seven straight coming into the game, Mount Dora (7-4) had 17 plays that went for zero or negative yards, nine in the second half. Ty Barker recovered two fumbles in the fourth quarter. Darron Robinson pounced on a loose ball in the first quarter. All led to points.

Tyler Burnham recorded a sack, and Dylan Davis and Vining were among the many defenders who had tackles for a loss.

“Luckily, we had a lot of film on them, and we have a lot of talented coaches who know what they are doing, so that helped a lot,” Vining said. “We knew what we were doing.”

After trading 33-yard field goals in the first quarter, Saint Stephen’s went up 10-3 after Robinson’s fumble recovery. Vining went the final nine yards of a 45-yard match with 10 minutes, 55 seconds remaining before halftime to give the Falcons a lead they never relinquished.

It remained 10-3 until Noah LaBelle made his second field goal, a 34-yarder in the third quarter to up the Falcons’ advantage to 13-3.

Barker’s fumble recoveries led to touchdown runs of four yards by quarterback Xavier Williams and eight yards by DJ Clark.

“I felt we had a good plan,” Creneti said. “We were prepared on both sides of the ball. Our kids executed. It’s absolutely a program win. The way our coaches prepared our kids, the way our kids played to the end, I couldn’t be prouder.”

Clark rushed for 97 yards on 26 carries. Williams gained 28 yards on the ground and threw for 69, 43 to Calvin Sauerbeck, who made two catches.

Florida recruit Jesiah Pierre gained 133 yards on 23 carries, but was kept out of the end zone, along with the rest of the Bulldogs.

“We wanted to make sure our kids knew what their angles looked like and where they were coming from,” Creneti said. “Our kids came every day. They worked hard and made good use of the extra day of the week. We just wanted our kids to be coachable.”

Saint Stephen’s has won 31 of 32 and eight straight. Saturday’s win was its fourth straight Coral Conference championship. After graduating a number of high-impact seniors a year ago, there were many doubters coming into the season.

“It’s crazy, man,” Vining said. “It means so much. Everybody was talking about us losing all those seniors last year, and we’re already back. We’ve made it.”