Just like coach Mike Whittles, who missed his first game because of a long battle with cancer, Archbishop Spalding proved it knows how to fight.
After spotting defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion Calvert Hall a 21-0 lead on Friday night in Towson, the Cavaliers came roaring back to almost pull off the upset.
Although the Cardinals prevailed, 29-23, it wasn't an easy win by any stretch of the imagination.
"They're a great team," Calvert Hall quarterback Thomas Stuart said. "Their coach missed the game tonight, and he's fighting hard. So are they."
Spalding used to give Calvert Hall fits when the Cavaliers were a B Conference powerhouse, beating the Cardinals in 2009 and falling to the A Conference champs in overtime last season.
That trend continued when the Cavaliers met the Cardinals for first time as a member of the A Conference.
Calvert Hall (6-1, 2-1 conference) jumped out early to the big lead in the second quarter before Spalding (5-3, 2-3) responded with 10 unanswered points.
The Cardinals covered 60 yards in just four plays in the opening drive, scoring on a 28-yard pass from Stuart to fellow senior Trevor Williams.
On its next series, Calvert Hall gobbled up 80 yards in 13 plays as junior fullback Cole Atkinson powered the final 3 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead with 11:19 to go in the half.
After recovering an on-side kick at the Spalding 48, Stuart scrambled to his left with several Cavaliers in hot pursuit. He then turned at the last moment and fired a pass that Williams hauled in to up the margin to 21-0.
Spalding, aided by a the first of two roughing-the-passer penalties, scored on its next drive when Aver Simmons took a pitch from quarterback Brian Lock and motored 45 yards into the end zone.
Bruce Overbuy, who kicked the extra point on Simmons' TD, added a 32-yard field goal with only 32 seconds remaining until halftime.
Spalding then kept up the pressure, traveling 63 yards in 10 plays for another score to open the second half on Simmons' 2-yard plunge to make it, 21-16.
"Our offensive line started to click," Lock said about the Cavaliers' offensive theatrics after compiling just 6 yards in the first quarter. "Then the defense started to respect the pass, and that opened up the middle."
The Cardinals answered on their next possession, a seven-play, 59-yard sequence capped by senior Brandon Neverdon's 2-yard run and a two-point conversion pass from Matt Dubuque to Emmanuel Holder to lead, 29-16.
Spalding came back again, blocking a punt at the Calvert Hall 11-yard line and scoring on a 9-yard Jeremiah Johnson run two play later to make it 29-23 with 9:30 left.
Richard Gableman intercepted a Stuart pass to end the next Cardinal drive at the Spalding 20, but could not take advantage of the turnover.
Calvert Hall put the game away in the final minutes on a sustained 9-play drive that killed the clock and Spalding's upset bid.
"I like playing close games," Stuart said. "But it gives our coach (Donald Davis) gray hairs."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun