On every offensive play, all 180 pounds of junior center Zach Hill was the first Archbishop Spalding player to reach the line against a decidedly bigger group of Loyola Blakefield defenders on Saturday afternoon in Towson.
Hill's aggressive play was a good example of how relative newcomers to Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference were able to build a comfortable lead and then hang on to hold off the rallying Dons, 24-20.
"We wanted to come out and show them what Archbishop Spalding football is all about," Hill said. "I don't think I had my best game, but I thought I held my own."
So did the junior-laden team from Anne Arundel County that is continuing to make a favorable impression in only its second year in the conference and is still in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye.
Junior quarterback Zach Abey ran behind Hill to sprint 34 yards for a 7-0 lead on the game's first drive after he teamed up with junior tight end David Garland for 47 yards to set up the scoring play.
"We got off the bus and were fired up and rowdy," Abey said. "We were a lot more fired up than they were, and we capitalized."
Loyola didn't take long to catch fire, either, taking advantage of a poor punt to take over at the Spalding 40-yard line and score six plays later on a 5-yard draw by senior full back Dennis Dimaio to tie the score late in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers (5-3, 3-1 conference) then went into a halftime with a 10-7 advantage after a strong 36-yard field goal by senior Kevin Weiman.
Abey's 1-yard sneak gave Spalding a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter before he scored on a 4-yard run on the Cavaliers' next possession to pump the margin to 24-7.
That's when the Dons (4-4, 1-2) dug in their heels and refused to go down without a fight after a 58-yard return of a missed field-goal attempt to the visitors' 40-yard line by junior Danny Cameron.
Nine plays later, senior quarterback Jake Clise slid into the end zone from the 9-yard line to make it 24-14 with 4:35 remaining.
After sophomore Ryan Gallagher recovered the ensuing on-side kick at midfield, the Dons were back in business.
Clise connected with junior Mike Meurer on a 43-yard touchdown pass to reduce the lead to 24-20 just over a minute later.
However, an interception by sophomore Willis Trantin ended Loyola's last hope in the final minutes.
"We started to melt down in the middle of the game a little bit," first-year Loyola coach Brant Hall said. "It's good to see us show a competitive nature — and it lit a fire under us. We want to make sure we keep it between the lines."
A 7 3 7 7 24
L 7 0 0 13 20
A-Abey 34 run (Weiman kick)
L-Dimaio 5 run (Bradley kick)
A-Weiman 36 FG
A-Abey 1 run (Weiman kick)
A-Abey 4 run (Weiman kick)
L-Clise 9 run (Bradley kick)
L-Meurer 43 pass from Clise (kick failed)