South Carroll football’s ride has reached the 2A/1A state title game.
With the Cavaliers trailing by six in the final two minutes, senior quarterback Ryan Barnard found Carter Mazalewski for the winning score on fourth down to lift South Carroll to a 14-13 victory against Harford Tech on Friday night.
“This team has character, have heart and they have personality,” coach Mike Kraus said. “They stay together, and they don’t get down on each other. We had that play in our playbook and we thought that was the right time to call it. It was a great job [of executing].”
After giving up a touchdown with 5:23 to go in the fourth quarter, the Cavaliers started their decisive drive from their own 42-yard line with just over five minutes to go. Junior AJ Rodrigues got South Carroll started with a 12-yard scamper into Cobras territory.
Mazalewski then kept the drive alive with a diving catch along the sideline on third down to get the ball near the Harford Tech 30. The Cavaliers were stuffed on first down, then followed with incompletions on second and third down to set up the dramatic final play with just over two minutes to go.
Barnard took the snap and moved up in the pocket to avoid pressure before jumping into the air and lofting a ball toward Mazalewski. The pass just got over the outstretched hands of a Cobras linebacker and found Mazalewski, who turned around and plowed into the end zone to tie the game at 13. Barnard converted the extra-point attempt to put the Cavaliers up 14-13.
“Coach [Mike Crumley] drew up a great play,” Mazalewski said. “[Crumley] told me I was going to score. I got a great ball from [Barnard]. It was perfect.”
Mazalewski came up big on the ensuing Harford Tech drive, picking off a third-down pass that put South Carroll in position to seal the game. Barnard picked up the first down on an 11-yard carry on third down to clinch the victory.
“It’s a special feeling,” Barnard said of getting to the state title game. “We were talking about this in summer workouts — that was our goal. To achieve that goal and go to the state [final], it’s an amazing feeling.”
The game was close all night, with the Cobras finally getting ahead with less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Senior running back Kelvin Mendez helped Harford Tech move the ball downfield methodically with a pair of first-down runs to set the Cobras up in the red zone.
Mendez ended the game with 151 yards on 30 carries. It was his brother, Kevin Mendez, that capped off the drive with a 5-yard carry to put the Cobras up 13-7.
“Very talented guys,” Harford Tech coach Timothy Palmer said of his running back tandem. “I hope to be watching them play on Saturdays next year. It’s hard to replace them. We have some horses in the stable to try to replace those two, but you are not going to replace that [production]. We will try our best.”
After the touchdown, the snap on the extra-point try went awry and the Cobras were unable to convert. That proved to be the difference as Barnard was able to knock his kick through for the Cavaliers after his touchdown pass minutes later.
Despite allowing over 200 yards on the ground to Harford Tech, Kraus felt the Cavaliers defense played well, especially in the second half. Kelvin Mendez racked up nearly 60 yards on the opening drive of the game as the Cobras marched right down the field to a 7-0 lead.
South Carroll’s defense was able to limit the big plays in the running game after the first drive and held Harford Tech scoreless until late in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense is very disciplined and very accountable and they run to the football,” Kraus said. “We knew we were going up against a good running back so we felt we had to play a solid game on that side of the ball and they did.”
The Cavaliers tied the game just before halftime as Barnard delivered again in the clutch. On a third down, the senior rolled out of the pocket and away from pressure before zipping a pass to Logan Miller in the front corner of the end zone to tie the game at 7.
After getting the ball at the 35, Harford Tech responded with a nice drive late in the half. The Cobras moved the ball all the way down to the Cavaliers’ 2 behind the running of Kelvin Mendez. However, the South Carroll defense buckled down and stuffed Kelvin Mendez on a fourth-and-goal attempt just short of the goal line.
It was just another big play by the undefeated Cavaliers in a season that has been full of them. South Carroll’s next challenge awaits in the state title game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium next Saturday.
The Cavaliers will be looking to bring home Carroll’s first football state title against the winner of the other 2A/1A state semifinal between Dunbar and Lackey, which was played Saturday afternoon. The Cavaliers last played in the title game in 2005.
“I have been here a long time. I was here in 2005 and I have been telling the guys ever since ‘It’s a memory that you will never forget,’” Kraus said. “Now we have a chance to go down there and do what we can [to win it].”
South Carroll 14, Harford Tech 13
H – Kelvin Mendez 5-yard run (Parker Milton kick good)
SC – Ryan Barnard 15-yard pass to Logan Miller (Barnard kick good)
H – Kevin Mendez 5-yard run (Conversion no good)
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SC – Barnard 29-yard pass to Carter Mazalewski (Barnard kick good)