Archbishop Spalding High football coach Brian Probst hates Saturday games. A two touchdown deficit against McDonogh School at halftime and a bickering Cavalier squad hastened Probst’s angst about the final day of the week.
The second half, however, was a new day for Spalding. The No. 20 Cavaliers regrouped for a 14-13 decision over the 14th ranked Eagles in the MIAA A Conference opener for both Saturday afternoon at John McDonogh Stadium.
Senior running back Evan Byrd and junior quarterback Zach Abey each scored second half touchdowns for the Cavaliers (3-2 overall, 1-0 MIAA). Justin Hawkins had rushing score for McDonogh (1-4, 0-1 MIAA), and Taysean Scott caught an 84-yard bomb from freshman quarterback Jansen Durham.
The Severn school combined tough running with an inspired effort on both lines to climb out a 13-0 hole. During intermission, Cavalier players vented their frustrations.
“We got out our inner anger on each other, and I think that brought us together” said Abey. “We came out firing in the second half. I don’t think anybody could’ve stopped us in the second half.”
“The first half was very unpassionate,” said Probst. “Sometimes it takes some negatively within the family, people getting in each other faces to get you going. They were fired up in the second half, their blood pressure was running and you can see it on the field.”
As well as the stat sheet. Spalding outgained McDonogh, 147-53, in the second half, running 14 more plays (32-18). The Cavaliers ran out the final 4 minutes, 40 seconds of regulation, thanks to the offensive front featuring Mike Williams, Melvin Gowl, Matt Linden, John Shugars, Zachary Hill and Colin Bobersky.
After his squad netted just 32 yards in the opening half, Abey surpassed that late in the third quarter, going behind Hill at center and ran untouched 37 yards into the end zone.
“My center [Hill] came up to me and whispered ‘look at it,’ and saw there was no nose tackle or nose guard,” said Abey. “There was two blitzing linebackers so there was a wide open hole.”
The Cavaliers improvised again as the point after snap was low. Senior kicker Kevin Weiman picked up the ball, ran to his right and found Gowl in the right corner of the end zone for the two-point conversion, bringing Spalding to within 13-8 with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
McDonogh went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and the Cavaliers put together an impressive 13-play, 60-yard drive. Byrd sealed the drive with a seven-yard score on a sweep play.
Abey, who accounted for just 17 yards passing in the opening half, converted two third down runs for first downs and completed two passes for 17 yards in the decisive drive. The 6-foot-2 junior accounted for 89 yards of offense over the final two quarters.
“He’s just an all-around athlete. He makes great decisions,” said Probst of his first-year starter. “We’ve worked with him in practice on taking what the defense gives you and recognizing defenses.”
“They got the momentum and kept pounding No. 11 [Abey],” said Eagles coach Dom Damico.
After being tattered for 240 yards in the first half, Spalding’s defense tamed McDonogh. Outside of Taysean Scott’s 40-yard reception, the Cavaliers allowed just 13 yards (six rushing) in the second half.
The degree of difficulty increases when the Cavaliers welcome defending MIAA A champ and top-ranked Gilman School next. The Greyhounds defeated Spalding twice last season.
At least the match is taking place Friday evening.Â
“We’re so used to Friday night games. The kids are always sluggish [on Saturday], we’ve tried breakfast, anything to get the kids going,” said Probst. “They finally got it going and showed me something.”