With his injured teammate recovering from a spinal injury, St. Frances wide receiver Randy Fields knew it was up to him to step up Friday night against top-ranked McDonogh.
In a highly anticipated battle between two top contenders for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title, Fields didn't just step up — he stepped into the spotlight.
Fields, taking the place of standout receiver Tyree Henry, caught four touchdown passes from quarterback Isaiah Robinson, helping the No. 6 Panthers score 26 straight points in the first half — including two touchdowns in a span of 11 seconds — in a 34-20 upset win over the host Eagles.
It was an emotional performance for the junior, who watched last week as his friend and fellow wide receiver suffered an unspecified spinal injury against Gilman.
“I was devastated. I didn't know how to act. I went into practice very humble, and it was like ‘It's time to work,'” Fields said. “We got the job done tonight.”
St. Frances coach Henry Russell said of Henry: “He's getting better every day. He's at Kennedy Krieger [Institute]. He's got a lot of work ahead of him, but he's going to be OK.”
The storybook ending followed a slow start for the Panthers who threw an interception on their opening play and fumbled the ball twice in the first five minutes.
Once the nerves settled, however, St. Frances dominated.
“These kids, a lot of them have been through so much in their lives. So when bad stuff happens to them, there's no quit,” Russell said. “They just keep on coming.”
Robinson was a big part of the equation, at one point completing 12 straight passes against a McDonogh defense that seemed intent on trying to stop standout running back Gary Brightwell.
“They didn't know if we were going to pass or run, so they had to protect the running game,” Robinson said. “They brought linebackers into the box, and that helped us expand the passing game.”
Brightwell still finished with 137 rushing yards and a touchdown, running downhill for huge chunks of yardage.
And by the time Robinson found Fields for their third touchdown of the first half, the Panthers — winners of six straight — had built a 26-7 lead.
McDonogh (5-2, 1-1) could do little offensively. Quarterback DeJuan Ellis completed just two of 11 passes in the first half, as the Eagles went three-and-out twice and had another pass picked off by linebacker Jonathan Kingsley on the first play of another drive.
That play was huge for the Panthers, coming one play after Brightwell's 1-yard touchdown run that gave St. Frances a 14-7 lead. On the first play following the interception, Robinson found Fields wide open on a crossing route for a 23-yard score.
Two touchdowns in 11 seconds. Just like that, the entire complexion of the game had changed.
“It was a big turn of events,” Russell said. “Momentum is so big in football. Two to four plays dictate a game every game. You just don't know when those plays will happen. I think for us tonight, it was those plays.”
Down by 19 early in the second half, McDonogh mounted a comeback, getting to within two scores when Ellis found Marquis Thornes for their second scoring pass. But that was as close as the Eagles would get.
Led by Brightwell, the Panthers continued to shred McDonogh's defense, using large chunks of the clock. Three straight penalties, however, kept them out of the end zone.
Panthers defensive back Jordan Swann ended any drama by picking off Ellis' Hail Mary pass attempt at the 12 with just under three minutes to play.
It was a huge change of fortunes from just a year ago, when McDonogh beat St. Frances, 40-0. Since then, however, the Panthers have completely rebuilt their roster under the guidance of a coaching staff that moved to the school from powerhouse Gilman.