— With each defender St. Frances running back Mark Velasquez ran by en route to a 31-yard touchdown, St.Frances learned something about itself.
The Panthers opened their 2013 campaign at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex facing an unfamiliar opponent in Nease (Fla.) and with several questions to answer about itself.
Before Velasquez's run, that is.
The touchdown scamper sent St. Frances on its way to a dominant 48-7 win and proved that the team could compete with its Floridian opponent from the start.
"It was a great confidence builder for our team," St. Frances head coach Messay Hailemariam said. "We didn't start off so bad, but we didn't show the discipline we need to to compete at a high level. … But I thought our kids did tremendous for having to be on the road and travel for 17 hours."
Velasquez, along with senior quarterback David Bryant and running back Mike Bell, led the offense against a hard-hitting Nease defense. Velasquez ended the game with 98 yards and three touchdowns on six carries.
St. Frances moved the ball with ease, but was plagued by penalties early — incurring 13 for 120 yards in the first half alone.
"[The penalties] will definitely improve," Bryant said. "Coach is going to run us for that."
Said Velasquez: "We were adjusting to [the heat], but we got through it pretty good. The win lets us know we have the chemistry we worked on over the summer."
The game marked the team's first contest as a member of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference, a major jump after St. Frances dominated the C Conference for the past two years.
Nease gained national recognition when it was led by a young Tim Tebow to a Class 4A state championship in 2005.
But Nease plays in Class 6A, the third-largest classification for high school football in Florida, and lists 23 more players on its game day roster than St. Frances. The 86schools that play at the 6A level held a student population between 1,574 and 1,871 in the fall of 2012.
Hailemariam bolstered his team's early-season schedule in order to prompt it for play in the A Conference, and his team's play Friday night could be an indication of its fortunes this season.
St. Frances will return home to play Friendship Collegiate (D.C.) at 1 p.m. Sept. 1 at Byrd Stadium.