When push came to shove against Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference rival Calvert Hall on Saturday afternoon in Irvington, Mount St. Joseph running back Sam James was prepared to ground and pound the Cardinals' rugged defense into submission.
The 5-foot-9, 210-pound junior ran for a touchdown and 210 yards on 33 carries to pace the Gaels' hard-fought 17-7 triumph, their seventh straight this season.
"You just have to wait until your number is called," James said. "And then you have to be ready."
James was rarely brought down by the first hit.
"When Sam gets going, we call it 'beast mode,'" said Mount St. Joseph coach Rich Holzer. "When he runs angry, he's tough to bring down. Sam wants to carry the ball all the time. That's what all great backs do."
The standout was used much more often than usual because Calvert Hall (5-4, 1-3 conference) did a good job in limiting the Mount St. Joseph passing game.
"Our passing game was a little out of synch today," Holzer added. "You have to give credit to (Calvert Hall) coach (Donald) Davis and his coaching staff. They pretty much shut down our passing."
After a scoreless opening period, the Gaels (7-1, 3-0) took the lead on a 23-yard field goal by senior Ben Austin early in the second quarter.
Less than a minute later, Calvert Hall pulled off a well-executed double pass from sophomore quarterback Emmett Avery to senior wideout Kam Brooks, who lofted a perfect spiral that junior wideout Chris Cooper caught in stride and raced into the end zone to take a 7-3 lead after senior Jeffrey Kordenbrooks' conversion kick.
Mount St. Joe then put together a bulldozing 12-play, 85-yard scoring drive to retake the lead, 10-7, with 6:13 remaining before halftime.
James inflicted most of the damage in the series, rushing eight times for 71 yards — including the final 4 yards.
His 28-yard carry from the Cardinals' 30 epitomized determination and toughness as he plowed over and around a couple of would-be tacklers on his way down the left sideline.
"It all starts in the weight room," James said. 'And then I just carry the ball with two hands and keep my legs moving."
The score remained the same until midway through the fourth quarter in the defensive struggle.
The Gaels iced the win by going 80 yards in 11 plays with senior quarterback Christian Carter plunging in from the 1-yard line to finish the sequence before Austin nailed the conversion kick for a 17-7 advantage.
While not quite as dynamic as he was in the first scoring drive, James still carried five times in the series.
However, it was a key 41-yard pass from Carter to junior wideout Gary Agurs on a 3rd-and-7 the kept the drive alive.
Meanwhile, other than a 33-yard run and a 31-yard reception by senior running back B.J. Watson, the Cardinals were limited to only small chunks of yardage against the Gaels.
"We have even higher potential than we showed today," said Mount St. Joseph senior linebacker Aarron Johnson. "We have solid pass rushers and solid cover guys. And the pass rushers can drop into coverage and the cover guys can blitz. We have a lot of versatile guys."
Davis said that the Gaels' defense might even be a little underrated, considering its skill level.
His own defense came in for some kudos as well.
"Defense has been the hallmark of our program for the last 10 years," the Cardinal coach said. "We made them work for everything they got today."
The win keeps the Gaels undefeated in conference play and in the hunt for a championship with defending champion McDonogh their next opponent