It was made official this week. The Archbishop Spalding football team will be moving to the MIAA A Conference next fall and, on their final day as members of the B Conference, the No. 13 Cavaliers gave themselves a parting gift with a hard fought 21-13 victory over No. 17 Archbishop Curley in the 2010 B Conference Championship Game, Saturday afternoon at Mount St. Joseph.
Fans of both teams packed the house and were treated to great battle between the Cavaliers and Friars, as suspense prevailed until the final seconds.
Junior Steve Manders had just three carries in the contest, but scored two first half touchdowns for the Cavaliers, and senior star K.K. Smith scored on a spectacular six-yard run midway through the final quarter to lead the way for Spalding.
Smith’s score capped an 11-pay, 40-yard drive, which chewed 4 minutes, 58 seconds off the clock in the middle of the fourth quarter to give the Cavaliers a 21-13 lead. On the play, Smith was hit deep in his own backfield, but spun free, got outside and out-raced the Friar defense to the pylon.
“They didn’t wrap me. They just hit me and I just went back,” said Smith, who ran the ball 27 times for 82 yards in the contest. “I saw Rich Gabelman right there and I saw the kid coming. I said alright, I know Rich has got the block so I just went outside more and Rich blocked him.”
Following that score and a short kick, Curley got the ball back at its own 34 with 5:58 still on the clock, but was unable to move the ball. On fourth and 10, and only 4:14 left, the Friars elected to punt the ball back to the Cavaliers, but Curley never got another crack at the football. Spalding actually did punt the ball back to the Friars with 56.3-seconds to play, but Curley was called for roughing the kicker and the ball went back to Spalding, which simply killed the clock with a knee.
Prior to Spalding’s final scoring drive, Curley pulled within one on a three-yard touchdown run by Dominick Hezekiah. James Bost setup the score with an interception and a 23-yard return which gave Curley the ball at the Cavalier 22. The Friars covered that distance in nine plays, aided by a pair of pass interference calls against the Cavaliers. However, what would have been the game-tying extra-point never got off as holder Luke Stidham was unable to gather a low, skipping snap.
In the first quarter, both teams scored on their opening possessions.
Spalding took the opening kick and marched 57 yards in 13 plays. On his first touch of the day, Manders was fed an inside counter and burst through the center of the Curley defense for a 15-yard TD run.
The Friars came back with a 77-yard drive and scored on a 20-yard pass from Stidham to Hezekiah. On the play, Stidham rolled left and looked like he was going to run. Instead he pulled up, drawing the Cavalier defense to him, before simply dumping the ball over the top to a wide open Hezkiah, who turned and sprinted into the end zone.
On the ensuing kickoff, Curley’s Kenny Thomas made a big hit, causing a fumble which he recovered, but Curley was unable to capitalize, eventually turning the ball over on downs at the Spalding 40. That led to a 14-play, 60-yard drive by Spalding, with Manders scoring his second touchdown on an eight-yard run. That sent the Cavaliers to the half with a 14-7 lead.
“It was just a counter. Donny (Abey) gave me the ball. I saw a seem up the middle and took it in, twice,” said Manders, who usually spends his time blocking for Smith and JD Izon, who rushed for 53 yards.
Spalding head coach Mike Whittles, who saw his team drop a 17-7 regular season decision to Curley, said the difference on Saturday was his team’s ability to limit mistakes.
“That was a heck of a football game. We asked our kids just to have single-minded focus. After the first game we played (with Curley), we made a lot of mistakes and we just wanted to clean up,” said Spalding head coach Mike Whittles. “I thought our defense was outstanding; our offense was outstanding, special teams. I just couldn’t be more proud of the kids the way they played today. They were just outstanding.”
Curley head coach Sean Murphy was left with nothing but pride for his team.
“I am really, really proud of our kids. It’s been a great ride. I’m just thankful that I have had the opportunity to coach these kids. They played so hard and they made a commitment in the offseason that we were going to be a factor in the league,” said Murphy. “It’s unfortunate somebody had to lose, but Spalding played a great game. They’re well coached and they were the better team today.”
Saturday’s result brought both team’s final record to 9-3.
As far as the move to the A Conference, Spalding played the three teams which all have just one loss this year. In the first game, the Cavaliers were soundly beaten by Gilman, but bounced back to take Calvert Hall into overtime before dropping a heart-breaker. A few weeks later, the Cavs routed Loyola.
In discussing the move, Spalding athletic director Lee Dove said it was time.
“We’re gonna take a leap of faith,” said Dove. “We did it with our lacrosse team and took some lumps, but now its paying off. We’re confident we can make this move and compete on the next level.”
For one final time, however, the Cavaliers will savor their place as champions of the MIAA B Conference.
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|No. 13 Archbishop Spalding 21, No. 13 Archbishop Curley 13|
|AS-Manders 15 run (Weiman kick)|
|AC-Hezekiah 20 pass from Stidham (Budnichuk kick)|
|AS-Manders 8 run (Weiman kick)|
|AC-Hezekiah 3 run (kick failed)|
|AS-Smith 6 run (Weiman kick)|