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Prep returns ‘home’ to SJU after quarterfinal win

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Back to Belson.

It’s been the mantra for St. Francis Prep, which last year lost in the CHSAA Class A intersectional final to rival Archbishop Molloy at the soccer stadium on the campus of St. John’s University.

And on Oct. 31, it became a reality for the Terriers following a 2-0 win against Archbishop Stepinac in the quarterfinals at Maritime College in the Bronx.

St. Francis Prep (15-1-0), ranked No. 2 in the city by the New York Post, returns to St. John’s to take on Iona Prep, which defeated Christ the King 1-0 in overtime Sunday.

“Hopefully, we can stay there for the next two weeks,” St. Francis Prep Coach Franco Purificato said of playing at Belson Stadium, site of the Class A intersectional final and CHSAA state semifinals and finals. “We like playing at St. John’s. It’s kind of like home. We’ve been there a lot the last couple of years.”

This year the Terriers go to Belson Stadium as the favorite, which is something they’ve been dealing with since the preseason.

“It feels good to be the favorite, but you have to live up to expectations, too,” St. Francis Prep goalkeeper Joe Cala said. “It’s not always easy.”

It wasn’t easy for St. Francis Prep to break down Archbishop Stepinac (6-10-1), which held the Terriers to a one-goal win during the regular season.

Nick Clifford put St. Francis Prep in front eight minutes in when he tapped in a cross from Chris Joseph, but the Terriers struggled to get that critical second goal.

There were close calls, including a few from Danny Begonja and Frank Biordi, but Joseph calmed the nerves when he rifled the ball into the net in the 53rd minute.

“That was a huge relief because it took the steam out of them,” Joseph said.

“He’s very consistent, very solid,” Purificato said of Joseph. “He does his job. He’s like the little engine that could. He’s not the biggest kid in the world, but he never stops.”

Anchored by Christian Molano, the stout St. Francis Prep defense put up a protective wall in front of Cala, who had little to do but try and stay warm on a chilly and windy Halloween night. It’s been like much of the season for the Terriers, who have conceded just seven goals.

“Molano pretty much anchors us back there and Steven Ehresman on the sideline keeps a lot of runs from coming in; he’s really good at shielding the ball out,” Cala said. “We’re pretty solid back there.”

That’s a big reason St. Francis Prep is confident returning to its home away from home.

“When we play our game, which is on this turf, I don’t think anyone can stop us,” Cala said. “I feel with us five back there, I don’t think anyone is going to do much damage.”

That confidence took a hit when Archbishop Molloy handed the Terriers their lone defeat of the season. It knocked them out of the NSCAA national rankings after peaking at No. 7 and served as a reality check heading into the playoffs.

“When we lost to Molloy it was probably a really good thing for us,” Purificato said. “It just brought them a little bit closer to earth.”

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