Next stop: state semifinals against Stillwater
Riding high after their sectional win over rivals Tuckahoe, the Haldane Blue Devils beat Section IX winners Burke Catholic, 37-19, to take the Class D regional championship on Friday (Nov. 17) in an emotional game overshadowed by off-the-field tragedy.
A head-on crash on Route 9 in Philipstown on Nov. 11 killed Joe Stubblefield, the father of Haldane linebacker and kicker/punter Erik Stubblefield. The team dedicated Friday’s win to his memory.
“Our team bonded together, they rallied around one another and they’re there to support each other,” said Haldane Coach Ryan McConville. “All those guys have been friends for a very long time, and they look out for one another and support one another.”
Haldane moves on to the state semifinals on Nov. 24 at Middletown High School, where they will play Stillwater at 3 p.m.
Photos by Skip Pearlman
The Blue Devils scored early and often in Friday’s game, capping their first offensive drive with a 10-yard run from quarterback Ryan Van Tassel with 8:03 left in the first quarter. On the next possession, however, with 5:33 left in the quarter, Erik Stubblefield suffered an ankle injury in the middle of a Burke Catholic drive when another player stepped on his ankle.
Stubblefield was able to hop off the field with the help of McConville and team trainer Meghan Crowe but would not return for the remainder of the game. “It’s hurting a lot, but I’m going to ice it as much as possible and make myself ready for the next game,” he said afterward.
The Blue Devils would soon find themselves in the end zone once more as running back Evan Giachinta muscled his way past Eagles’ defenders for a touchdown from two yards out. With Stubblefield unable to kick the point-after, Haldane went for the two-point conversion and got it, upping the lead to 15-0 with 9:57 left in the second quarter.
Burke Catholic looked to respond. Needing only a yard on a fourth-and-1 from the Haldane 19, a bad snap allowed Haldane’s Michael Murray to recover a fumble. A couple of minutes later, Van Tassel returned the favor, with the quarterback’s fumble giving Burke Catholic the ball around the Haldane 33.
With 1:49 left on a third-and-1 from the Blue Devils’ 24, Liam Benzinger broke a tackle and scampered in for the touchdown. The Eagles failed on the two-point conversion, leaving the score 15-6 at the half.
On the second play of Haldane’s first drive after the half, Brody Corless burst through a defensive hole for a 61-yard gain. A few plays later, Giachinta worked his magic and scored his second touchdown of the game.
After another two-point conversion, the Blue Devils led 23-6 a minute and a half into the third quarter. Four minutes later, Haldane’s rushing attack would pounce again, with Van Tassel racing by all of the Burke Catholic defenders on a second-and-17 for a 62-yard touchdown.
But the Eagles would answer immediately, as quarterback Rory Farrell lofted the ball downfield to a wide-open Benzinger, who ran it 58 yards to the Haldane 1. On the next play they punched it in for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 29-12.
Video by Jeffrey McDaniel
In the fourth quarter, Giachinta completed the hat trick by scoring his third touchdown of the game from four yards out, increasing the lead to 37-12. Giachinta would finish with 31 carries for 172 yards to go with his three TDs.
Burke Catholic would score once more with 2:37 left, but the Eagles ran out of time to mount a further comeback as the Blue Devils took the regional championship.
After the win, Erik Stubblefield walked to his mother, Dana Heffernan, and shared an emotional embrace. Joe Stubblefield was known to be loud and proud when watching his son play. “He would be ecstatic right now,” Heffernan said. Erik added: “I would always try to show out for him. And now I’m still doing that because I know he’s watching me.”
If his father had been there, Erik said he would “give him a big hug and tell him I love him.”