All the juniors and sophomores on the Mount Saint Joseph football roster make it appear as if the Gaels are rebuilding.
That, however, happened last year.
The young players showed just how ready they are with a 49-7 win over St. Mary’s Ryken in the season opener Saturday afternoon.
Sophomore quarterback Billy Atkins set a school record for passing yards with 425, going 19-for-24 with three touchdowns. He broke the record of 408 set by Nick Tannis in 2001.
“We’re young, but we played a lot our freshman and sophomore years, so that helped us a lot,” Atkins said.
The Gaels took back the Lambert Cup on Saturday, the rivalry trophy between the two Xaverian schools. Each year, the home team has won the cup and the Gaels hold a 3-2 lead in the series since it was introduced.
The Saints won the cup last year, but it didn’t take the Gaels long Saturday to make sure it would come back to Irvington.
Marlowe Wax Jr. ran for the first two touchdowns and Atkins then threw for three as the Gaels rolled to a 35-0 halftime lead and played with a running clock the entire second half.
Gaels coach Rich Holzer doesn’t look at this team as young after last season when it finished 6-4 and tied for second place in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference at 3-3. The Gaels missed the playoffs because of a tiebreaker, but Holzer said he believes their experience has set them up for a strong 2018.
“It think it’s showing now,” Holzer said. “They’ve had a full offseason to work together, to learn the ins and outs of the offense. You saw on the field there’s stuff open and all of a sudden, a receiver’s calling out the quarterback, hand-signaling something and he’s acknowledging it. They’re doing a good job of communicating.”
Atkins has a lot of targets. Dont’e Thornton Jr. caught four passes for 129 yards. A.C. Crawley caught five for 120 yards and two touchdowns. Maurice Nelson caught five for 98 yards and a touchdown. Kahri Barfield caught three for 50 yards.
“I have great, great receivers — Dont’e Thornton on the outside, Kahri Barfield on the outside — so they have great speed and I also have great slots who can move into the middle of the field and just get open every play,” said Atkins, who also kicked seven extra points.
After Wax, a junior who ran nine times for 32 yards, scored the early touchdowns, the Gaels did most of the rest of the damage in the air.
Nelson made a one-handed grab on a 20-yard touchdown pass from Atkins and then Crawley caught scoring passes of 28 and 13 yards within less than six minutes to close the first-half scoring.
“A lot of people think it’s just me making great play calls, but it’s not,” Holzer said. “The kids are adjusting to stuff on the run. The one touchdown to Crawley was not me. I had something else called and Billy saw something, A.C. acknowledged it and they took it. It’s kind of fun to watch.”
Both of Wax’s scoring runs and two late scoring runs were set up by long pass plays. Barfield caught 9- and 37-yard passes on those drives and Nelson caught a 12-yard strike on the first one. Atkins hit Crawley with a 33-yard pass to set up L.J. Johnson’s 6-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter.
Backup quarterback Ryan Mills hit Aamir Hall with a 48-yard pass that helped lead to Jordan Oliver’s scoring run with 2:56 left in the game after the Saints scored their only touchdown on a 5-yard run by quarterback Trevor Nored.
The Gaels also got a big game from freshman defensive end Stephen Schulze, who recovered two fumbles and forced one of them.
Saturday’s game was the Gaels’ annual Hall of Fame Game as they inducted 10 new members — Brother Brian Vetter, Dave Norton, Walt Lambert, Markeith Price, Jacob Rohn, Sam Lewnes, Stephen Berger, Jim Schwartz, Keith Dixon and Henry Kazmierski.
SMR; 0; 0; 0; 7; —; 7
MSJ; 7; 28; 7; 7; —; 49
MSJ—Wax 3 run (Atkins kick)
MSJ—Wax 2 run (Atkins kick)
MSJ—Nelson 20 pass from Atkins (Atikins kick)
MSJ—Crawley 28 pass from Atkins (Atkins kick)
MSJ—Crawley 13 pass from Atins (Atkins kick)
MSJ— Johnson 6 run (Atkins kick)
SMR—Nored 10 run (Newton kick)
MSJ—Oliver 1 run (Atkins kick)