A year ago today, Cardinal Gibbons was preparing for a Class 4A regional final match versus Booker T. Washington.
They had beaten University School days before, inching closer and closer to a second straight state championship. Troy Stellato, a wide receiver, had three receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown, enough to edge the Sharks.
Having been there before, Stellato knew what it takes. However, he and the Chiefs fell short of the ultimate goal, being shutout in the second half as the Tornadoes pulled through for a 31-21 victory.
“I don’t want to feel like that again,” Stellato said in a phone interview with 305 Sports. “We were super close to repeating and we came up short.”
Stellato’s squad has an opportunity to return to the spot they fell in last year. First, they’ll have to knock off an undefeated Gulliver Prep (5-0) squad Friday (7:30 p.m.) at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
Similar to Cardinal Gibbons, the Raiders, too, lost to Booker T. last season, spoiling the undefeated run that had them destined to play the Chiefs last year. They meet this time around with another set of young studs.
Stellato sees nothing getting in his team’s way from finishing where they left off.
“We take it one game at a time,” he said. “We’re focused on Gulliver, but I got my eyes set on another state championship. I think we definitely have the team to do that.”
Through a COVID-19 busted season, Stellato hasn’t had the ideal senior campaign one would hope for. According to Max Preps, he’s garnered over 250 yards and three touchdowns for the 4-1 Chiefs.
The Clemson commit hasn’t focused on his statistics this time around. Instead, he’s appreciating practices and his team’s success, including a thriller victory over St. Thomas Aquinas, the 2019 GEICO champions.
“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “My last year of high school football, I’m just enjoying practices, times with the boys. These are times I’ll never get back. Beating St. Thomas was definitely a big thing for me just because of all the kids I know in that team and it’s a program that is huge. That really made the season a whole lot better.”
It was the first time the Chiefs defeated Aquinas in over two decades. They made sure to take full advantage of it, ultimately using a pick-six by defensive end Mason Thomas to capture a 17-10 win.
“Everyone was counting us out, I love going into a game like that where you got to prove the doubters wrong,” he said. “I’ve been proving doubters wrong my whole life. It really put a chip on our shoulders and made us play a whole lot better. That was a surreal feeling, being on their home field. Being the team that can say ‘we’re the team that knocked them off’ was definitely a surreal feeling.”
This time around, the Chiefs are seemingly the favorites to defeat the Raiders, thanks to their short resume. Regardless, they’re not a team to take lightly, headlined by an offensive core of Carson Haggard, Sedrick Irvin and Jalen Brown, along with safety Gabe Nealy and outside linebacker Travious Lathan.
Expect a showdown to remember Friday night.