The last two times St. Mary’s football team played Archbishop Spalding, the Saints couldn’t come close to their Anne Arundel County rival, but Saints coach Steve Erxleben predicted that Thursday night’s game would not be a blowout.
He was right, but the Cavaliers still came away with the victory, 34-20, in the 9/11 Patriot Classic at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Cavaliers (1-1) took a 13-0 lead on rushing touchdowns from running back Evan Byrd and quarterback Zach Abey, but the Saints (1-1) twice cut the lead to a touchdown.
Bryce Carrasco’s 24-yard scoring run with 6:23 left in the game brought the Saints within 28-20, but Spalding’s Christopher Zawitoski broke a 41-yard run on Spalding’s next drive to set up a 31-yard field goal by Kevin Weiman four plays later.
After Cavaliers cornerback Ronnie Beswick’s interception all but sealed the win, Weiman added a 29-yard field goal with 1:14 left for a 14-point lead.
The Cavaliers, who play in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference while the Saints play in the B Conference, got two rushing touchdowns from Abey, who who ran for 93 yards on 17 carries.
In the second quarter, the Saints cut the lead to seven on Carrasco’s 4-yard touchdown run and senior quarterback Spencer Coyle took them to the Cavaliers 11-yard line with 44 seconds left. Coyle’s 60-yard pass to Liam Kelly gained most of the yardage on the drive, but it ended when Cavaliers’ safety Daniel Barber picked off a pass in the end zone with 18 seconds left.
“They had a really nice drive going on us,” Abey said, “but our defense was all fired up. We knew we couldn’t let them score because that would have been a big momentum booster for them, so when Dan got that interception it just turned around everything. I think that was the key point in the game.”
Abey, a junior, orchestrated a pair of Cavaliers scoring drives as they used their ground game to eat up most of the next 11 minutes. Melvin Gowl and Abey scored on 1-yard runs in the quarter for a 28-7 lead.
The Saints started coming back in the fourth quarter when Coyle, who completed 16 of 35 passes for 275 yards and ran nine times for 42 yards, hit Omarion White with a 32-yard touchdown pass with 11:11 to go to pull within 28-13.
A Spalding turnover on the Cavaliers’ next play from scrimmage gave the Saints another chance, but Jack Havens deflected a Coyle pass on fourth-and-8.
Erxleben didn’t have any complaints about his team’s performance.
“Offensively, they had trouble with our tempo,” he said. “We’re a quality football team. When they’ve got 49 (players on the roster) and you’ve got 28, our thing is we’re going to be the better conditioned team and we’re going to play hard. I think we achieved both of those goals. I’m proud of them.”
The two teams didn’t play last year, but the Cavaliers won 37-0 in 2010 and 45-7 in 2011. The Saints won 14-7 in 2008.