Lutheran played its most important game in four years Saturday afternoon in the program's first-ever playoff game.
And the Saints looked like they belonged, leading St. Frances by a field goal heading into the final quarter of a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference semifinal at Mount St. Joseph.
But St. Frances (8-2) had too much speed and big-play capability as the Panthers rolled to a 26-9 victory.
Sophomore tailback Mike Bell rushed for two of his three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead the winners.
"They did a real good job of making some long conversions on third and fourth downs," Lutheran coach Brent Johnson said. "Their guys just made some tremendous plays. We had guys in position. They just kind of outplayed us."
After Lutheran gained 103 yards of total offense in the first half, the Panthers' defense limited Lutheran to just 14 in the second half.
St. Frances halted the big plays from quarterback Aaron Armes and running back John Nunes.
"We didn't have an answer after they shut us down in the second half," said Johnson, whose team lost to the Panthers in the regular season, 26-21. "They took away what we needed to do as far as running the football. We probably threw the ball too much to try and get back in the game."
St. Frances scored on its initial drive late in the first quarter. The Panthers moved 80 yards in nine plays and Bell capped it off with a 2-yard run.
Lutheran (6-5) responded on the next possession early in the second quarter. The Saints drove 80 yards in 13 plays, with Ames hitting wide receiver Dave Dooley on the first passing play of the series in the left corner of the end zone.
Dooley made an outstanding grab, and toe-tapped to stay inbounds.
He also booted the extra point to give the Saints a 7-6 lead.
Lutheran went ahead 9-6 late in the second quarter on a safety when St. Frances quarterback Darrin Washington was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. Nunes and Nick Barmoy put heavy pressure on Washington.
Lutheran made the lead stand up through the third quarter, but the final period belonged to St. Frances.
Jahme Ballard opened the half with a 63-yard run on the Panthers' first play from scrimmage, but was stripped of the ball and Dooley, who also plays defensive back, recovered the fumble.
The Saints, however, couldn't capitalize and Stephen Licata punted after five plays.
Johnson and the Saints saw some game-changing plays from the Panthers the rest of the way.
Mike Warren out leaped a Saints' defender for a catch at the 3-yard line to convert a 4th-and-10. Bell followed that play up by scoring from 2- yards out to put St. Frances ahead, 12-9.
Washington found Warren in the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
The Panthers pushed their lead to 20-9 with 5:04 remaining when Washington connected with Maurice Williams on a 45-yard touchdown pass.
Williams caught the ball at the 3, broke a tackle and dragged a defender into the end zone.
Lutheran's last two drives ended in disaster with the flustered Saints committing turnovers.
"We have been doing it all year," St. Frances coach Messay Hailemariam said. "We were focused and eventually things went our way."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun