There’s an old axiom in football that games are won and lost on turnovers and big plays. If that’s true, it’s why you can call Calvert Hall the 2021 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion.
The second-ranked Cardinals scored two opportunistic touchdowns and took advantage of three turnovers to defeat third-ranked McDonogh, 14-8, and win their first title since 2010 at Archbishop Spalding on Saturday.
To get to the finish line, the Cardinals (9-2) had to mount a defensive stand deep in their own territory. On a fourth-and-1 at the Calvert Hall 12-yard line, defenders Matt Conroy and Zyir Daniel sacked McDonogh quarterback Preston Howard with five seconds remaining to preserve the win.
“The is crazy,” Cardinals coach Josh Ward said. “To win a championship at my alma mater they way we did, I’m just so proud of our team. We worked our butts off to get here.”
McDonogh (6-6) got the opening kickoff and started the game with a 17-play drive that took 9:51 off the clock. It appeared as if the Eagles would score, but Stefan Egbe fumbled at the Calvert Hall 11. The Cardinals did little with the ball, however, and punted.
After giving the ball back, the Eagles got bitten by the turnover bug again. On the third play of the drive, Howard fumbled, and Calvert Hall’s Niles Riding fell on it at the Calvert Hall 17.
The Cardinals made the most of their chance, as quarterback Noah Brannock found wide receiver Donnie Lewis at about the Calvert Hall 30. Lewis did the rest, making several great moves to juke defenders down the left sideline to give the Cardinals at 7-0 lead with 11:27 left in the half.
“That was a designed play,” Brannock said. “I saw the safety move, and Donnie just popped open. He had a great run on that.”
Calvert Hall added to its lead two series later. With 57 seconds left in the half, on a fourth-and-3 at the McDonogh 33, Brannock hung in the pocket until the last possible second before finding Lewis in the corner of the end zone. He outjumped an Eagles defender and won the wrestling match for the ball.
“He put his trust in me,” Lewis said of the touchdown catch. “We preached ‘finish’ all week, and I wanted to make sure I did.”
“That was all him,” Brannock said of the Lewis’ effort. “I just put some air under it, and he went up and got it.”
McDonogh drove down the field on its first possession of the second half, but the Eagles were stopped by the Calvert Hall defense at the 1-yard line.
After the Cardinals got the ball back, Brannock was sacked in the end zone for a safety on the third play of the drive to cut the lead to 14-2 with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
McDonogh made the score even closer midway through the fourth quarter. After taking over at the Calvert Hall 24, the Eagles used four plays to score on a 13-yard run by Howard, a Maryland commit, to cut the margin to 14-8 after a failed 2-point conversion run.
On its final two drives of the game, the Eagles coughed the ball up on a Howard fumble at the Calvert Hall 29 with 3:24 to go and failed to convert on the fourth-and-1 with five seconds left.
“On this same field two years ago, McDonogh played Mount St. [Joseph] in this game,” said Ward. “A lot of those players were on their team this year. We had zero [players with championship experience]. I preached to them all week that champions are remembered, but we have to finish. Luckily for us, they did.”
MIAA A Conference Championship
(at Archbishop Spalding)
Calvert Hall 14, McDonogh 8
MD 0 0 2 6 -- 8
CH 0 14 0 0 -- 14
CH – Lewis 83 pass from Brannock (Petrino kick)
CH – Lewis 36 pass from Brannock (Petrino kick)
McD – Safety
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McD – Howard 13 run (run failed)