One of the critical offseason jobs for the St. Frances football coaching staff was filling the hole left by All-Metro running back Gary Brightwell. It appears they found just the right candidate.
Junior Joachim Bangda scored all four touchdowns Friday night as the No. 1 Panthers began the defense of their Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship with a 28-7 win at No. 8 Calvert Hall.
A 5-foot-11, 220-pound power back, Bangda hit the holes blown open by his offensive line and used his strength, speed and agility to make the Cardinals miss as he picked up extra yardage.
Panthers senior and All-Metro first-team receiver Randy Fields said Bangda is starting to live up to his potential and fill the shoes of Brightwell, who's now at Arizona.
"Joachim brought life to the offense," Fields said. "He's an energy source and he's a game-changer. Joachim doesn't go down after first contact. He always keeps his feet churning, and he'll stick his neck out there to get the first down. … He's playing amazing."
It was the A Conference opener for both teams. The Panthers went from 0-6 in the A Conference in 2015 to 6-0 last season, and have won their first four games this year. The Cardinals (3-2) set the tone for an improved season with a strong start that included a heartbreaking 15-13 loss to two-time defending Class 4A state champion Wise, but they turned the ball over three times in the second half against St. Frances.
Bangda, a transfer from St. John's (D.C.) who scored twice in last week's 27-0 win at Don Bosco Prep (N.J.), got his first touchdown on an 11-yard run with 5:52 left in the first quarter. He also scored on carries of 6, 1 and 1 yard.
""It was not that difficult to fit into the offense, because the offense at my previous school was kind of similar to this offense," Bangda said.
While Bangda said film study gave the Panthers an idea about how to attack the Cardinals up front, he gave a lot of credit to linemen Darrian Dalcourt, Jaelyn Duncan, Peace Addo and Joshua Miller.
"It was all up to them. I wouldn't be able to run like I did without them," Bangda said.
Said Panthers coach Biff Poggi: "He's a really strong inside runner. He's a very strong kid. He's very solid and he finishes a lot of plays. He's a real changeup back for us. Between our quarterback [Jalon Jones] and our other backs, he's a changeup kind of guy, so Jo plays an important role."
Defensive back Davon Williams set up Bangda's final touchdown with an interception. The Panthers marched 15 yards on six carries — five by Bangda — to take a 28-0 lead with 1:23 left in the third quarter.
Despite a mostly strong showing that included a couple of interceptions, a fumble recovery and two sacks, the Panthers struggled at times on defense. That showed on the Cardinals' next drive, when, helped by 45 yards of St. Frances penalties, they scored their only touchdown.
Despite being sacked by Jonathan Wallace on the opening play of the drive, quarterback Mike Campbell completed four passes and hit Brayden Morris for a 7-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 28-7 with 10:54 to go.
The Cardinals defense forced a three-and-out and got the ball back at their 19-yard line with 8:52 left. They drove across midfield, but St. Frances defensive back Terrell Smith picked off a pass with 3:23 to go. The Panthers, with Bangda and Nyjil Carr carrying the ball, were able to get a first down and run out the clock.
"I'm not crazy about how we played, and we had a touchdown called back," Poggi said, referring to Kwincy Hall's 80-yard kick return negated by a holding call. "A lot to build on, and a great group of kids, but we have to get tighter, less mistakes, less sloppy."
Next, the Panthers, who are tied with DeMatha for No. 1 in the state high school football poll, travel to Loyola Blakefield on Friday. The Cardinals will host No. 3 Mount Saint Joseph on Friday.
No. 1 St. Frances 28, No. 8 Calvert Hall
SF 7 14 7 0 — 28
CH 0 0 0 7 — 7
SF—Bangda 11 run (Larson kick)
SF—Bangda 6 run (Larson kick)
SF—Bangda 1 run (Larson kick)
SF—Bangda 1 run (Larson kick)
CH—Morris 7 pass from M.Campbell (Cottone kick)