With yesterday's 21-7 victory over visiting Severn, St. Paul's all but clinched its fourth straight Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference title.
The 15th-ranked Crusaders (8-0, 6-0) also proved a point that 40th-year coach Mitch Tullai has made all season: "Defense is the backbone of our team."
St. Paul's demonstrated how its defense had registered five shutouts and out-scored its previous opponents, 240-14, stopping Severn (8-1, 5-1) in scoring position three times, including a goal-line stand at the 1 on the Admirals' final possession with 2:46 left.
The Admirals' Jamand Mack entered the game as the area's seventh-leading rusher with 1,041 yards and 13 touchdowns, but the Crusaders, who led, 14-0, at the half, held him to 30 yards on 15 carries.
Two-way tackles Shawn Bean, a co-captain, and John Greene each recovered one of Severn's five fumbles. And nose guard Ian Seletzky and lineman Pat Doyle teamed up for a 15-yard sack just before the half -- one of two sacks of quarterback Brad Fowler.
"We hit hard, we swarm, we're quick to the ball and we just play real tough," said Greene, who had the Crusaders' first sack in the second period. "Mack can really move if you let him, but we were ready for this one because it was for all the beans."
A St. Paul's victory over Boys' Latin next week would raise Tullai's career record to 202-124 and clinch its first outright crown since 1989. The Admirals, who play St. Mary's next week, tied St. Paul's for last year's title and were tri-champions with the Crusaders and St. Mary's in 1990.
St. Paul's stopped the Admirals on their opening possession and took over at its 44. Five plays later, Ben Strutt (21 carries, 147 yards) sprinted 45 yards for a touchdown. Matt Mueller kicked the first of his three extra points to give the Crusaders a 7-0 lead with 7:50 left in the first period.
It was 14-0 with 5:20 left in the first half after Mike Watson (12 carries, 132 yards) capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive with his first of two touchdown runs from 12 yards.
The Admirals, meanwhile, had already blown two scoring opportunities. The first began at the Severn 20, but ended 11 plays later with Fowler's incomplete pass with 2:16 left in the first quarter. The other drive started at the Severn 34 and included Mack's 48-yard option pass to Chris Pitkin at the Crusaders' 19, but ended with Greene's fumble recovery at the 20.
Watson scored on the ensuing drive and later on an 11-yard run with 5:40 left, ending a 10-play march that covered 64 yards.
"We know that if we do our job, our running backs will do theirs," said St. Paul's defensive end Joey Unitas. "This is the first touchdown that's been scored against us at home. We live and die by our defense."
Severn coach Jim Doyle said: "They stopped our run, they stopped our option and they stopped our sweeps. They're a good team, but so are we."
With the Crusaders putting the cuffs on Mack's running, Doyle used him as a passer. He also used John Vereen (nine carries, 84 yards) on misdirection and gimmick plays, with Vereen catching three passes for 31 yards.
Severn cut the deficit to 14-7 with 11:43 left. Facing fourth-and-goal, Fowler (five of 10, 77 yards) found David LaChapelle on the end of a 4-yard touchdown pass.
But even that scoring drive -- set up by Pitkin's interception and his subsequent 39-yard reception -- nearly stalled after a first-and-goal at the St. Paul's 7.