McDonogh senior running back Alex Hurdle told coach Dom Damico earlier this week that despite a sometimes painful nagging foot injury, he wanted the ball in Friday night's key Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference game at Archbishop Spalding.
Damico didn't argue and Hurdle ran the ball 23 times for 138 yards and two touchdowns as the No. 2 Eagles defeated No. 8 Spalding, 23-12 on Senior Night at Whittles Field.
"He's such a tough kid that he told me the beginning of the week, 'Hey coach, I'm going to play through this pain. Trust me. Give me the ball and I'll run hard for you,'" Damico said. "We designed our running game around Hurdle to see if he could get it done. We've got some other nagging injuries at running back, so Hurdle stepped up."
Hurdle scored both of his touchdowns in the second half. The first, a 1-yard push, gave the Eagles a 16-0 lead. After Zach Abey and Avery Simmons scored rushing touchdowns for Spalding, Hurdle all but sealed the win on a 21-yard rush for a 23-12 lead with 1:05 left in the game.
"We were struggling a little bit with our running game in the first half," Hurdle said, "but O line really picked it up in the second half, made some big cut-back holes and made it easy for me."
With the win, the Eagles (10-0) take over the top spot in the A Conference — at least temporarily — at 5-0. No. 1 Gilman is 4-0 heading into Saturday's game against St. Frances (5-5, 3-2) at Utz Field at 5:30 p.m. If the Greyhounds win, next weekend's regular-season finale — the 98th meeting between McDonogh and Gilman — will decide the A Conference championship.
The Eagles took an early lead on Ross Supovitz's 41-yard field goal. Then after Cameron Harrell picked off a short pass that Abey threw as he went down under pressure, McDonogh quarterback Jansen Durham hit Kareem Montgomery with a 9-yard pass that made it 10-0 with 23 seconds left in the first half.
The offensive pace picked up in the fourth quarter when Hurdle's short run boosted the lead to 16-0. The Cavaliers (7-3, 3-2) finally got rolling with a 12-play, 80-yard drive orchestrated by Abey, who finished it off with a 15-yard scoring run.
Patrick Cooper then recovered the onside kick for the Cavaliers and they went 43 yards in less than three minutes. Simmons finished off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run to pull within 16-12.
The Cavaliers could not recover another onside kick and the Eagles took over on Spalding's 42-yard line. Hurdle gained all the yardage on the drive, finishing it off with the 21-yard touchdown run.
"As a defense, I'm really proud of the effort," Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt said. "I'm not sure what they're averaging but I think it's in the range of about 40-45 points a game, so for our defense to hold up as it did, I think you saw the wear at the very end. Hurdle made some runs and I think our two middle backers were on their last legs. They play a little less guys both ways and that's the difference in a game like this.
Schmitt said one of the keys was the Eagles ability to make plays on third and long, especially from Durham, who was 9 for 13 passing for 115 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Abey finished with 23 runs for 107 yards and a touchdown, but the Eagles did a good job containing him and his longest run was 15 yards. He had a tough day passing, hitting 4 of 15 for 42 yards. He threw four interceptions but two were desperation throws at the end of each half.
"You've got to stop him," Damico said. "I watched every single game they played on Hudl and he's an explosive phenomenal kid. He just had 20 or 30 long runs in the course of the season that changed games. You can't let him run the ball and make giant plays like that. We were going to take our chances in the passing game and we had to tackle him."
M 0 10 0 13 -- 23
AS 0 0 0 12 -- 12
M—Supovitz 41 FG
M—Montgomery 9 pass from Durham (Supovitz kick)
M—Hurdle 1 run (pass failed)
AS—Abey 15 run (run failed)
AS--Simmons 19 run (kick failed)
M—Hurdle 21 run (Supovitz kick)