Josh McPhearson and his Annapolis Area Christian football teammates didn't worry when they got off to a slow start Friday night at St. Paul's.
The Eagles have a strong finishing kick.
McPhearson ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns and the Eagles scored all of their points in the second half to defeat the Crusaders 29-16 in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference game in Brooklandville.
"We're used to coming out slow," McPhearson said. "We don't get too worried when we don't come out on fire. Our guys really persevere. We kept our heads high coming into the second half and believed in each other and big plays came."
The Crusaders took a 7-0 lead into halftime on Dale Harris' 31-yard screen pass from backup quarterback Anthony Pino, who took over for injured starter Spencer Parks early in the second quarter.
Then the big play game for the Eagles. Gary Crull ran the opening kickoff of the second half 75 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
Jonas Price gave the Crusaders the lead again a little over five minutes later with a 32-yard field goal. The Eagles missed a 27-yard field goal attempt on their next drive but held the Crusaders to three and out.
McPhearson then scored on a 34-yard run 49 seconds into the fourth quarter to give the Eagles the lead for good. Demetrius Johnson added another score on a 33-yard interception return with 6:43 to go. After Crull recovered a St. Paul's fumble, McPhearson added a 26-yard touchdown run with 4:09 to go.
The Eagles had several big plays on defense, including Galen Evans' fumble recovery in the first quarter, while the offense struggled. In the first 19 minutes, McPhearson fumbled and a 45-yard touchdown run called back for a penalty.
"I think the turning point was the one that was called back," McPhearson said. "That showed us we really can get these guys open. My line got some confidence off of that, and our defense made some big plays, which really got our offense into it. They got our offense motivated to go in and do the same thing the defense was doing."
With the victory, the Eagles (5-2) improve to 3-1 in the conference, while the Crusaders (4-2) suffered their first conference loss in three games. Both trail Archbishop Curley, which is 3-0 and playing a non-conference opponent this weekend. Curley beat the Eagles 26-24 last weekend.
"The season's a long way from being over," said Eagles coach Ken Lucas, whose team is in its first season in the B Conference after winning back-to-back C Conference titles. "I didn't pull any punches yesterday. I told the guys we needed to get a win tonight. We really wanted to keep ourselves in good standing and they responded. We're not at the top right now but it keeps us at least in the upper half because that's a good team, and we're very fortunate to get out of here with a win tonight."
Pino added a second touchdown pass to Teddy Martinez in the fourth quarter for St. Paul's.
Annapolis Area Christian School 29, St. Paul's 16
A 0 0 7 22 -- 29
S 0 7 3 6 -- 10
S—Harris 31 pass from Pino (Price kick)
A—Crull 75 kick ret. (Wilkins kick)
S—Price 32 FG
A—McPhearson 34 run (Wilkins kick)
A—D.Johnson 33 int. ret. (Wilkins run)
A—McPhearson 26 run (Leabhart kick)
S—Martinez 10 pass from Pino (pass failed)