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Mount St. Joseph Gaels quarterback Billy Atkins IV (10) passes against the McDonogh Eagles during the second quarter of the 2019 MIAA A Conference football championship at Archbishop Spalding High School Sat., Nov. 16, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Mount St. Joseph Gaels quarterback Billy Atkins IV (10) passes against the McDonogh Eagles during the second quarter of the 2019 MIAA A Conference football championship at Archbishop Spalding High School Sat., Nov. 16, 2019. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

A number of records, an MIAA A Conference championship, a 10-2 finish and a national ranking of 20 defined the 2019 season of Mount Saint Joseph’s football program.

On Saturday, the Gaels put the finishing touches on the impressive run by knocking off previously unbeaten McDonogh, 17-10.

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According to coach Rich Holzer, it was emblematic of the“never-quit” attitude of his entire roster and staff.

“It was very rewarding to see all of the hard work that the kids put in and that our coaching staff put in; just to see it all pay off on Saturday night and to see what their hard work earned them.”

This season marked the first year that the Gaels won an MIAA championship in 12 years and the first and only championship of the decade. It was also the first outright championship for Mount Saint Joseph since 1949 — 70 years ago.

The Gaels showed their resiliency throughout the playoffs, overcoming a number of injuries. The Gaels lost senior defensive tackle-receiver Tyler Leavy — the MIAA’s leader in receiving yards and touchdowns — as well as junior Dont’e Thornton, who piled up 1,021 yards receiving and 16 touchdowns.

The ability to have players step up and provide similar production for the ones that they are replacing has been the modus operandi of Mount Saint Joseph’s roster and the next man up mentality hasn’t been lost on the coaching staff either.

“I think that sometimes when coaches lose one of their better players, panic sets in over the staff and I think the big thing is that we don’t panic,” Holzer said. “That filters down to the kids and you can say next man up all you want, but unless you actually make it part of your culture.

“[It comes down] to the point of the coaches walk on the field the next day and there’s no panic at all in the coaching staff, there’s no changing things. We walked on the field and Dont’e was out and one of the first things I said was ‘this is who we are, this is what we do’. We’re not changing because of one guy. We’ll be fine.”

The Gaels also showed a willingness to play through injuries. Leavy, who served as a captain this year, had a partial tear in his right bicep during the McDonogh game. While he missed the subsequent contest against Franklin, junior Luke Thomas and Dashaun Merrick filled in. Leavy came back to play against Spalding on senior day in a 49-7 victory.

Not only did Leavy return to play in the playoffs and lead his team to victory, but he now holds the school record for the most tackles in one season season with 125. He added five sacks, seven quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and one pass deflection, finishing the season with a brace on his arm and a double layer of tape.

“It’s was very important to finish the season,” Leavy said. “I felt that I had an obligation as a captain on defense to return and be the anchor in the defense.”

Thornton, quarterback Billy Atkins, running back/linebacker Marlowe Wax, and wide receivers Ausar Crawley, Semaj Henson and Tyler Wilkins were among the leaders in their stat categories.

Atkins led the MIAA in passing yardage and touchdowns and the state in both categories with 3,089 yards through the air and 36 touchdown passes. His 36 touchdown passes also lead the state in total touchdowns for the season. If he gets 2,122 yards next year, he will break the all-time Maryland passing record.

“Just like last year, I look to improve upon this season by putting in the hard work in the off season,” Atkins said. “For example, last year to this year I’ve improved my speed and arm strength tremendously due to that work. I look to do the same this season so I can make the plays that most kids cannot.”

Thornton, Crawley, Henson and Wilkins combined for 175 catches for 2,892 receiving yards and a whopping 38 touchdowns. The quartet of receivers, along with Atkins, will return next season for their senior years.

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“Well for one, I feel like we have the best wide receiver group not only in the MIAA, but in the entire state of Maryland,” Thornton said. “I am very confident in us doing the same thing if not better [next season]. I also believe we’ll use winning the championship this year to motivate us even more to come out and win it again to finish out our senior season.”

Atkins thought the team continued to improve and jell. With the base for his team being in place, Atkins looks to also build with his four returning receivers.

“It’s huge,” Atkins said. “Toward the end of this year, I think everyone started to see the chemistry we started to create between each other with the big wins over Archbishop Spalding and Calvert Hall. Going into senior year, all we are going to do is get better.”

Wax’s 3,346 career rushing yards and 1,330 rushing yards in one season were school records. He also added 101 tackles (23 tackles for a loss), three sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries on the defensive side of the football.

Though Wax will be heading to Syracuse to play linebacker, his impact on the offensive side of the football for his alma mater will be felt for years to come.

“It was always my goal to bring Mount Saint Joe a championship,” Wax said.

Mount Saint Joseph is second in The Baltimore Sun polls for the season, trailing just St. Frances (11-1).

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