Pan­thers’ rise con­tin­ues

St. Frances gets off to fast start, beats a top-ranked team for the sec­ond time

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Kather­ine Dunn kather­ine.dunn@balt­ twit­

Back in Au­gust, the St. Frances foot­ball coaches and play­ers fig­ured this sea­son could go ei­ther way. With a mostly new coach­ing staff and many new play­ers, they had the tal­ent to be good but knew they might strug­gle to come to­gether.

Twom­onths later, it has gone so well that with Fri­day night’s 32-29 win over No. 1 Arch­bishop Spald­ing, the No. 2 Pan­thers are on the verge of the pro­gram’s first No. 1 rank­ing and have clinched at least a share of the Mary­land In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion A Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship. Both teams went into the game at Utz Field in Patterson Park un­de­feated in the con­fer­ence.

“It’s a great feel­ing, but it’s not over yet,” said run­ning back Gary Brightwell, one of17 play­ers hon­ored on Se­nior Night.

The Pan­thers (9-1) are 5-0 in the con­fer­ence with only No. 4 Mount Saint Joseph left to play. If they can beat the Gaels on the road next Satur­day, they would go from win­less to un­de­feated cham­pi­ons in a sin­gle year in the Bal­ti­more area’s tough­est foot­ball con­fer­ence.

After rolling over the Cava­liers (7-2, 3-1) early, tak­ing an 18-0 lead at the half on Isa­iah Robin­son’s touch­down passes to Myles Wright and Jor­dan Swann, and a 43-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn by Sam Thomas, the Pan­thers had to hold off a fu­ri­ous Cava­liers come­back.

Spald­ing quar­ter­back Evan Focht­man, who fin­ished with four touch­downs — three pass­ing — threw scor­ing passes to Nick Ver­mil­lion and DaeSean Win­ston to cut the lead to18-13 with 3:33 left in the third quar­ter. Still, the Cava­liers never man­aged to wres­tle the lead from the Pan­thers.

Cava­liers coach Kyle Sch­mitt made ad­just­ments at the half to get run­ning back Julius Chest­nut more in­volved and to have Focht­man throw quick passes with some runs thrown in.

“It was a great set. They re­ally didn’t have an an­swer for it,” Sch­mitt said, “and to be hon­est, all of the ad­just­ments are great, but the kids came out and played in the sec­ond half. I think the kids got after it a lit­tle bit bet­ter. I’m re­ally proud of how they played.”

For St. Frances, Brightwell and fresh­man run­ning back Os­man Sav­age played key roles through­out the game, with Brightwell rush­ing 13 times for 82 yards and Sav­age run­ning 23 times for 177 yards. Each scored a touch­down.

“We had two [wide re­ceivers] out,” Brightwell said, “so in or­der for us to win this game, it would take me and him to play our hard­est and run as fast as we can, get through the holes, do what we needed to do and it only took our line­men to help us out. We have the best O-line in Mary­land right now in my eyes.”

With the line open­ing holes and the speedy duo break­ing tack­les and chang­ing di­rec­tion, that opened the game up for Robin­son to hit the early scor­ing passes.

“No doubt the line was the key,” St. Frances coach Henry Russell said. “The top five up front with the tight end Myles Wright, Os­man Sav­age and Gary Brightwell — th­ese guys re­ally stepped up. I’m re­ally proud of their ef­forts and the work they put in all week.”

Early on, the Pan­thers de­fense stalled the hottest of­fense in the A Con­fer­ence as the Cava­liers came into the game av­er­ag­ing 45 points. They were win­ning by an av­er­age of 32 points. Among their three com­mon A Con­fer­ence op­po­nents, Spald­ing won by an av­er­age of 27.3 points and St. Frances by 10 points.

Four Spald­ing turnovers — in­ter­cep­tions by Thomas, Swann and Dar­ion McKen­zie and a fum­ble recovery by Eyabi Anoma — helped the Pan­thers as three of them led to touch­downs.

The game fin­ished at a blis­ter­ing pace with three touch­downs in the fi­nal three min­utes.

The Cava­liers cut the lead to three with three min­utes left on Focht­man’s 13-yard touch­down pass to Wintson, but Brightwell scored on a 5-yard run with 2:29 to go to give the Pan­thers a 32-21 lead with 2:29 left. Focht­man scored on a 1-yard run with 1:54 left — set up by a 55-yard pass to Ja­mari Jones — but the Pan­thers re­cov­ered the en­su­ing kick.

This was the Pan­thers’ sec­ond up­set of a top-ranked team in two weeks. They also dealt early con­fer­ence fa­vorite McDonogh a 34-20 set­back two weeks ago. With Mount Saint Joseph’s 35-14 loss to No. 3 McDonogh on Fri­day night, the Pan­thers are the only team re­main­ing un­de­feated in the A Con­fer­ence.

In a con­fer­ence that does not have playoffs, the Cava­liers can still win a share of the ti­tle if they win their re­main­ing games against Gil­man and Mount Saint Joseph, and the Gaels (7-2, 3-1) beat the Pan­thers next week — or it could end in a three-way tie. This would be the first A Con­fer­ence ti­tle for St. Frances or Spald­ing. Mount Saint Joseph tied Loy­ola Blake­field for the ti­tle in 2007.


Arch­bishop Spald­ing’s Larry Brown and Evan Focht­man (11) fail to stop St. Frances’ Sam Thomas (5), who scores on a 43-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn. With the win, the Pan­thers have clinched at least a share of the MIAA A Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship.

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