By Nelson Coffin, email@example.com
1:50 PM EST, November 15, 2012
While it's true St. Paul's offense has rolled up impressive numbers this season, the defense has been just as important to a team gunning for an unbeaten season and its first outright Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference championship since 1996 when it meets John Carroll on Saturday, Nov. 17 at Johnny Unitas Stadium at noon.
The defense has held opponents to just 83 points — including a 34-0 whitewash of John Carroll — all season, and hasn't given up more than 14 points in any game.
Meanwhile, the unit often has big leads to work with, considering the offense averages over 40 points per game behind sophomore quarterback Anthony Pino, junior running backs Hunter Pearl and Kaylon Johnson and senior running backs Teddy Martinez and Dale Harris, who leads the team with 1,366 yards rushing — a 9-yards per-carry average — and 25 touchdowns in 10 games.
Johnson boasts 367 yards on 70 carries and five touchdowns.
Pino has improved every game and is completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,346 yards and 16 TDs against just five interceptions.
In addition to his accuracy, Pino spreads the ball around to Johnson (398 yards, 5 TDs), Martinez (239, 3) and Pearl (291, 2) for an opportunistic team that has outscored opponents 131-7 in the first quarter and 298-25 after two periods.
Special teams, spearheaded by junior punter/kicker Jonas Price, are also productive units.
What it boils down to is that, as coach Paul Bernstorf mentioned in a speech to the team after its 32-8 shellacking of Archbishop Curley on Nov. 9 in a conference semifinal, every member of the team may be called on to contribute — and many do just that.
And finding alternative ways to score has been another strong suit for the Crusaders, who produced a safety, a field goal and a fumble recovery in the victory over the Friars.
All of those elements helped St. Paul's roar back from an early 7-0 deficit.
"It took us awhile to adjust to what they were doing," Bernstorf said. "Curley was ganging up in the box to stop the run and then backing off on our receivers to take away our vertical game. Once we started taking underneath (passing) routs, that opened everything else up."
The Crusaders (10-0, 7-0 conference) also capitalized on every turnover after their own botched punt gave Curley (8-3, 4-3) the ball at the St. Paul's 6-yard line late in the first quarter of a scoreless duel.
A fumble recovery by junior linebacker Keifer Rawlings gave the Crusaders a much-needed early break, and they responded with a 32-yard field goal by Price to cut the lead to 7-3.
Rawlings was at it again a couple of plays later when he blocked a punt for a safety as St. Paul's crept closer.
"(Senior linebacker) Travis (Wood) took his guy down, and I came in off the edge," Rawlings said. "It was a set play. I think it changed the momentum."
Following a free kick, the Crusaders spurted ahead, 12-7, on Harris' tough 7-yard run with 8:50 remaining in the half.
Senior lineman Ben Linkous' fumble recovery stopped another promising Curley drive and set the stage for the game's most pivotal play — a 47-yard sprint by Harris, who finished with only 60 yards on 13 carries.
In the final period, Pino's 17-yard pass to Johnson built the margin to 25-7 before Linkous raced 34 yards with a fumble for another score.
While all that was going on, the defense was limiting the Friars' attack to a total of 133 rushing yards and just 5 yards through the air.
"I never had that happen to me before," said Linkous, a UMBC lacrosse recruit. "I saw the ball on the ground. I couldn't believe it."