Steve Medinger, the director of the Northern Maryland Fellowship of Christian Athletes, took a sign to the National HomeSchool Football Tournament that read, “Don’t Mess with Texas,” but he crossed out Texas and wrote in “Maryland.”
Maryland Christian coach Tony DiPaola pleaded with Medinger to keep that sign hidden when the Saints took on the Blue Angels from Dallas for the national home school championship Saturday in Panama City, Fla.
The sign, however, turned out to be prophetic. The Saints defeated the Blue Angels, 14-7, to win their second straight national home school football crown.
“I told him, ‘Don’t pull that sign out until we have the game in hand,’ because I don’t want that to fire them up over there,” DiPaola said with a laugh. “He kept it under wraps until the second half then he pulled it out.”
The Saints, based in Kingsville, had to come from behind to win the title this time.
The Blue Angels scored on their first possession, but Mike James, the tournament Most Valuable Player, tied the game for the Saints on a short run. Senior quarterback Christian DiPaola scored the game-winning touchdown on a seven-yard run in the second quarter and the Saints' defense did the rest.
DiPaola threw for over 200 yards in the 42-6 semifinal win over the Lighthouse Christian Chargers from Missouri, but he couldn’t put the ball in the air much in the final, because it poured down rain most of the game.
“They started keying on our running back (James), because they knew it would be hard for us to pass in the pouring rain,” the coach's son said. “We were throwing pitches and trying to run it up the middle. I agreed to pitch, but I rolled outside and cut it up the middle (on the game winner).”
Coach DiPaola praised his defense for holding off the Blue Angels the rest of the way, especially because the title game was the third game in eight days for the Saints (10-3). They defeated Frederick County HomeSchool, 26-19, for the Mid-Atlantic Christian Conference title on Nov. 12 and then played the national semifinal on Thursday.
“Our boys were just hit this weekend,” the coach said. “When we play Frederick, it’s a very physical game. There were injuries on both sides. We went to Florida and the boys just kept that mentality and physicality.
“That Texas team had a high-octane offense. They averaged like 38 points a game. When you think about Texas high school football, it’s the best in the country and they play all the schools down there. Their head coach had 10 years of NFL experience. That was the second best team we played all season. Gilman, of course, was the best.”
James, DiPaola and seven other Saints were named to the 25-man all tournament team: Josiah Avery, Will Carlton, Alex Dowling, Austin Lee, Johnny Lewis, Andrew Meyer and Evan Wilt.
“It was kind of a relief to win it and it was a lot of hard work,” Christian DiPaola said. “Our goal was to win our division and get our name out there playing big schools (Gilman, Loyola, Boys’ Latin) and to win the MACC and go to nationals and win that. We did all that.”
The Saints suffered their only losses to No. 1 Gilman, Loyola and Mifflin County, Pa. and they beat Boys’ Latin. They swept the MACC regular-season and won their third conference championship in four years.