Saint Stephen's launches area high school football with win in Kickoff Classic

BRADENTON

When Windermere Prep’s Alex Nabavi put toe to pigskin and Saint Stephen’s Camden Vining made a fair catch at 6:04 p.m. Thursday, the 2019 prep football season officially kicked off, albeit in the form of a kickoff classic.

It was not long after the Falcons found the end zone.

Saint Stephen’s scored 3 minutes, 4 seconds into the game and went on to a 7-6 victory in a battle of Sunshine State Athletic Conference heavyweights Thursday night at the Moore Athletic Complex at Turner Fields.

“It was nice to just get out and play a game, and it was dry,” Saint Stephen’s coach Tod Creneti said. “To get out and get this work in was valuable for both teams. We’re glad to have the work. We’re glad to have a good opponent that makes us work. It was a great opportunity for our kids to come out and see where we are and what we need to work on.”

Junior DJ Clark dominated the first series for the Falcons. Clark gained 60 yards on five carries in the drive and scored on a 1-yard run, running behind Vining after Saint Stephen’s went with an extra blocker on third down.

The Lakers got on the board midway through the third quarter, when Matthew Kane scooped up a fumble and ran 18 yards to the end zone. Attempting to go for the 2-point conversion and an 8-7 lead, Saint Stephen’s senior Ty Barker applied quarterback pressure on the incomplete pass and the Falcons maintained a 7-6 lead.

Jim Phelan’s Saint Stephen’s defense pitched a shutout.

For Phelan, the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, it was amazing he was on the sidelines. Involved in an automobile accident two hours before the game, Phelan, a long-time coach, arrived an hour later than he was scheduled, but called the defensive plays.

Individually, Clark made a tackle on fourth down to preserve the victory.

“We have really challenged him to be a two-way player,” Creneti said of Clark. “The growth process for any player is not only being great doing the things you love, but doing the things the team needs you to do. To see him do some of those things was big for us.”

It was one of many plays turned in by the Falcons’ defense. Calvin Sauerbeck had a sack and recovered a fumble, thwarting a Lakers’ drive. Barker and Andrew Rumph combined for a sack.

“Our defense did a lot of great things tonight,” Creneti said. “They were very stout. I’m really pleased with that.”

Saint Stephen’s forced 15 incompletions and eight plays for zero or negative yards. Dylan Davis opened the game with tackles for a loss of five and four yards on Windermere Prep’s first two plays.

“To see the effort we got on defense was tremendous,” Creneti said. “We are well-coached on offense. We just need to get some things squared away without shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Clark picked up 104 of his 122 rushing yards in the first half. New quarterback Dylan Zervos completed 9-of-13 for 110 yards. Barker was on the receiving end of six for 60 yards.

The Falcons were flagged for four personal foul penalties and six major infractions in the second half.

“We saw some good things, but we have a list that we want to attack on Monday to try and get better and move forward,” Creneti said. “We have a lot of new faces we are trying to get fitted in to our culture and help them understand how we do what we do. The more we play and the more we practice, the better we will get.”

Kickoffs were not returnable and placed at the 30-yard line. There were no rush on punts or punt returns.

The Falcons, who finished 10-2 last season, lost to the Lakers, 35-21, in Windermere during the regular season a year ago.

Saint Stephen’s went on to its fourth Florida Bowl, losing to Orlando Christian Prep, 35-14, in the championship game.

Windermere Prep was undefeated when it lost to OCP in the SSAC semifinals.