Too many early mistakes created a hole too deep for St. Mary’s football to dig out of on Friday night.
Calvert Hall controlled the momentum at the onset, giving itself enough of a towering lead that even when the Saints got hot in the second half it wasn’t nearly enough in a 49-28 Cardinals’ victory.
Calvert Hall (5-1) rebounded from a loss to Archbishop Spalding a week earlier, re-establishing the confidence it will need when returning to Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference play next weekend.
Calvert Hall admitted that, as much as losing hurt, the setback better prepared them for Friday night.
“We came off of four straight wins and it was getting to our heads,” running back Daniel Harper, Jr. said. “That loss to Spalding was extremely humbling for us and I think we needed it to get better.”
Cardinals’ coach Josh Ward said that having a young team plays a role in the rollercoaster ride to this point. Many of this year’s Cardinals are first-year varsity players. Yet, they soaked in what their coaches told them after last week’s defeat.
“We were beat up a little bit, so we were just getting mentally better — that was our big thing. We talked about mental mistakes all week,” Ward said.
Turnovers spoiled what could have been a more competitive score for St. Mary’s (4-2). The Saints surrendered three, two resulting in Cardinals touchdowns.
Take that away, and it’s a one-score game.
“We can’t turn the ball over. We can’t spot them 21 points,” Saints coach Jason Budroni said. “That’s the key to our success — not turning the ball over. We did that tonight against a very good team and you see what happens.”
In the first quarter, Calvert Hall certainly didn’t look like a team licking its wounds from the beating Archbishop Spalding gave it the previous week. The Cardinals ran freely around the St. Mary’s defense, starting with the first Calvert Hall drive that was set up by a fumble recovery.
After Cardinals’ wideout Donnie Lewis ran the ball about 30 yards up-field — the first Calvert Hall pass attempt — quarterback Noah Brannock (12-for-18, 167 yards, three touchdowns) easily connected with Rahkeem Smith for a 7-0 lead.
The lead soon doubled as Brannock ran around the red-zone before hitting Gabe Levrone for another touchdown later in the opening quarter.
Down 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, things nearly got worse for St. Mary’s when the next home drive resulted in an interception by Calvert Hall’s KP Price. But rather than scoring again, Calvert Hall’s campaign ended in a pass breakup.
That seemed to energize St. Mary’s. Quarterback Rocco Abdinoor (9-for-22, 155 yards) sailed a 33-yard pass to Israel Crockett, who caught the ball in the corner of the endzone for the Saints’ first score.
The Saints celebrated, renewed, even going for an onside kick on the next kickoff — narrowly missing the recovery.
That all seemed like a distant memory by the end of the first half.
“When they scored, we were trying to score back to back,” Harper, Jr. said. “They couldn’t get too much momentum on us. We always had that mindset that we were going to win this game.”
Brannock muted St. Mary’s impact with a touchdown of his own, hooking up 38 yards through the air to Lewis. Then, when the Saints looked to respond, Calvert Hall picked them off on the first play — senior Matt Conroy plucked the ball down and ran it to the nine-yard line.
It didn’t take much for Harper Jr. to skate in with his own touchdown to make it 28-7 at the half.
“The game was never over,” Harper, Jr. said. “Second half, we were up … but we can’t get complacent when we’re up like that. We have to stay consistent and keep pressure on them.”
Four minutes into the third quarter, Harper Jr. scored another rushing touchdown to make it 35-7.
With the running clock looming, St. Mary’s got going. Abdinoor wasted no time, rocketing a 40-yard pass to Casey Smith that was shortly after converted into a touchdown by running back Wyatt Cotton.
“We made some good plays. Our numbers were good,” Budroni said. “But we’d just made too many mistakes.”
Cardinals running back Dawon Dorsey rushed a hole in the St. Mary’s defense to collect his first touchdown, upping the Cardinals’ lead to 42-14.
But the Saints wouldn’t give up — even on fourth-and-long.
Abdinoor connected with Smith for a 35-yard reception and then Cotton ultimately ran it in. Abdinoor completed the two-point conversion with more than eight minutes remaining in game.
There was just not enough time for a comeback. Despite their youth, the Cardinals would not let this seesaw action get in their heads enough to surrender the game.
“We preach adversity all the time and that’s adversity at its fullest right there,” Ward said. “Instead of crumpling under that, they step up and finish strong.”