Mount St. Joseph sent a strong message to its fellow Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference football squads by coming within a whisker of pulling off an upset of Friendship Collegiate Academy (D.C) in the opening game of the I-95 Kickoff Classic on Thursday night at Bowie State University.
The Gaels rallied from an 18-0 fourth-quarter deficit, and were only a 4th-down conversion away from beating the highly regarded Knights (2-0) in the final four seconds of what turned out to be an 18-13 loss.
"The boys played their hearts out," said second-year St. Joe coach Blake Henry. "Some people were probably saying it was the same old St. Joe, but they dug in and played like men."
The Gaels, who went winless in the conference last season, started their comeback after sophomore Jacob Forest-Jones' interception with 27 second remaining in the third quarter.
Quarterback Luke Casey then directed a drive that culminated with a 4-yard run by junior Drexel Mosby at the 9:05 mark of the final quarter.
A fumble recovery at the Friendship 34 by senior lineman Thomas Demetriou jump-started St. Joe's' second scoring drive, a seven-play sequence finished by a 3-yard Mosby sweep with 5:42 to go.
After the Gaels held Friendship to a three-and-out on its next series, the offense went to work from the Knights' 41-yard line.
A terrific 24-yard catch by sure-handed junior Marcus Alston of Casey's pass keyed a drive that reached the enemy 4-yard line. With 10 seconds and no timeout remaining, Casey tried an out pattern to senior Samuel Benjamin that was knocked to the turf by a Friendship defender.
Henry lamented not sticking with his original play, a quarterback draw, on the crucial play.
"I told the kids I lost the game for us," the former Wake Forest offensive lineman said. "We would have scored if I hadn't changed it."
As for Casey's stellar performance over center, Henry was effusive in his praise of the 6-foot, 4-inch junior.
"His technique may not always be the best," Henry said. "But he's a gamer."
Calvert Hall prevails
By the time Calvert Hall completed a season-opening 35-18 triumph over St. John's (D.C.) in the second game of the I-95 Kickoff Classic on Thursday night at Bowie State University, the Cardinals were a relaxed and happy bunch.
Yet there were more than enough tense moments in the victory over the Cadets to make Cardinal fans nervous.
After all, Calvert Hall was clinging to a tenuous 14-12 lead late in the third quarter when St. John's (D.C.) punter pinned the Cardinals inside their own 10-yard line.
That's when the defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association a Conference champs went to work, taking just five plays to cover 91 yards for the game-changing score that finally gave them some breathing room against the Cadets.
Senior CJ Williams, who scored the Cardinals' first touchdown on a 69-yard gallop in the opening period, bolted up the middle for 13 yards before senior quarterback Thomas Stuart scrambled for 11 more yards and another first down.
The big play came on the next handoff to junior running back Stephen Kelly, who started inside and then cut to his left and streaked down the sideline for 41 yards.
After senior running back Garrett Keene was stuffed for a 1-yard loss and St. John's was penalized for being offside, Stuart connected on a 23-yard scoring pass to Williams with 2:33 left in the third quarter. Stuart's ensuing conversion pass to Trevor Williams upped the Cardinals' advantage to a more comfortable 22-12.
St. John's never recovered, as Calvert Hall's defense clamped down from that point forward and Stuart streaked for a 21-yard score and senior Brandon Neverdon broke several tackles on a 36-yard touchdown jaunt, both in the fourth quarter.
"That gave us a lot of confidence," said Stuart, alluding to the third-quarter sequence. "But we still couldn't relax. We tried to score as many points as we could."
Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis watched his defense yield big chunks of yardage to the Cadets, who rotated quarterbacks and used the no-huddle offense to confuse the Cardinals in the first half.
"We have talented defensive coaches," he said. "They allowed us not to continue to get gouged. We have a lot of new starters out there, but they're smart kids and they made adjustments."