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Curley-St. Paul's is battle of ground vs. air

When: Friday, 4 p.m.

Where: St. Paul's

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Coaches: Sean Murphy, Archbishop Curley; Paul Bernstorf, St. Paul's

Last meeting: St. Paul's won, 19-14, last year

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KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

Archbishop Curley: RB Deonte Harris, Sr.; RB Marty Costes, Sr.; DT Elijah Grover, Sr.; LB Kiyon Brandford, Sr.; QB Cyrus Boardman, Sr; TB Shawn Fenner, Sr.

St. Paul's: QB Anthony Pino, Sr.; DB-WR Allan Koikoi, Sr.; C-DL Garrett Mullin, Sr.; WR-DB Darius Johnson, Sr.; WR-DB Tyler Rockhill, Jr.; LB-RB Jack Pollard, Sr.

KEYS TO VICTORY

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The battle between these Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference contenders can be summed up by their marquee players: Pino puts up big numbers in the air and Harris gains them on the ground.

Last week, Harris ran the ball just three times, all for touchdowns in a 53-0 romp over Chesapeake-BC. Pino threw for all three of the Crusaders' touchdowns in a 22-21 win over John Carroll.

"The key to the game is going to be whether we can stop their running attack, because they run the ball as well as anybody and they just run over you," Bernstorf said. "So, we have to be able to stop their running game and they've got to be able to stop our passing game. It really breaks down to that."

The Crusaders, two-time B Conference champions, have beaten the No. 12 Friars four straight times over two years, including last season's title game. Before that, Curley won six straight.

The Friars appear headed back to the top — they have defeated opponents this season by an average of 28.4 points. Their closest game was a 34-20 win at Kiski School in Pennsylvania in the season opener. Since then, Curley has allowed only three touchdowns.

The rivals have played one common opponent, Loyola Blakefield. The Friars beat the Dons, 28-0, and St. Paul's lost, 27-7. Based on that, the Friars are certainly favored, but Murphy and his players have seen Pino and company pull out too many last-minute wins.

Last year, the Friars led going into the final two minutes of both games. During the regular season, they led 21-0 going into the fourth quarter before St. Paul's scored 28 unanswered points. In the B Conference final, Pino's touchdown pass with 32 seconds left gave the Crusaders a 19-15 victory.

Pino is still doing that. Two weeks ago, he threw for 332 yards and had two touchdowns in the last five minutes to tie Landon, 35-35, before it got too dark to play. Last week with 1:38 left in the game, his touchdown and ensuing conversion pass, both to Rockhill, nipped John Carroll, 22-21.

"Anthony is a tough kid, and they know how to win," Murphy said. "They've done it for three years now and they don't quit. Anthony is kind of a warrior who battles to the end. He takes shots, he gets knocked down, he looks like he's out and the next thing you know he's back up and throwing a touchdown pass."

Bernstorf praised his four-year starter's decision-making in directing the Crusader's complex offense. Pino has competed 62 percent of his passes, throwing for 1,120 yards and 13 touchdowns this fall.

For the Friars to counter that, Harris likely will need a big afternoon although Curley also has several other key ball carriers, including Costes. But Harris, a speedy 5-foot-7, 165-pound back who has run 585 yards on 34 carries and scored 11 touchdowns this fall, concerns the Crusaders as much as Pino troubles Curley. He has 909 all-purpose yards and last week, returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown.

"He's really good, and he's fun to watch," Bernstorf said. "He is really explosive and dynamic and he might be the fastest kid in the league. He makes a lot of things happen."

The Friars might have a slight edge in depth. Fewer players have to go both ways and that could help late in the game, but they still will have to keep the ball out of Pino's hands as much as possible.

OTHER GAMES TO WATCH

No. 1 McDonogh at No. 5 Calvert Hall, Friday, 7 p.m.

Bel Air at Havre de Grace, Friday, 7 p.m.

Liberty at Westminster, Friday, 7 p.m.

Oakland Mills at No. 14 Glenelg, Friday, 7 p.m.

St. Frances at No. 13 Archbishop Spalding at Utz Twardowicz Field, Saturday, 4 p.m.

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