The No. 15 Archbishop Spalding Cavaliers struggled with mistakes in the first half of Friday’s critical MIAA B Conference football showdown at St. Paul’s, but the Cavaliers (7-3, 6-1) persevered, and played nearly penalty free in second half, as they downed Crusaders, 22-15.

All the rushing yards in the world can’t get a team into the endzone when penalty yards continually push them away, and the Cavs learned that lesson in the early going of Friday’s game.

Trucking for 179 yards in the first half, junior seniors JD Izon and K.K. Smith dismembered the Crusader defense, putting the Cavs in the redzone multiple times.  But twice in the second quarter, while trying to break a 7-7 tie, the team was denied points by personal fouls.

Directly following a 45-yard run by Smith to enter the redzone in the second quarter, a personal foul took the Cavs 15 yards away from their desired target, and a holding call, two plays later, bumped them back further, leading to a missed field goal to leave the game at 7-7.

One possession later, with Spalding tackling the Crusaders (6-2, 5-2) deep in their own territory, a roughing the kicker call gave the ball back to St. Paul’s to eat crucial scoring time before the end of the half.

“We had an unsportsmanlike conduct in the redzone, and that hurt us big time, then we get the rough the kicker, which I thought it was more running into the kicker, and that hurt us because we were getting the ball back,” Spalding head coach Mike Whittles said.  “We had some bad penalties, on our part, but we were able to keep our mistakes under control.”

Adding to Spalding’s first half woes, Smith was rattled on the St. Paul’s sideline two plays before the end of the half, but the short lived injury fueled the Cavaliers.

The Cavs maintained their composure and played a nearly penalty free second half of football, leading to another 97 and 77 yards for Smith and Izon, respectively, and another two touchdowns to claim victory over the Crusaders.

An 18-yard touchdown run by Izon and a one-yard push by senior quarterback Donnie Abey would cap the second half scoring for the Cavs, which started with a safety in the first four minutes of the half.

“I definitely read my blocks, my line was doing a very good job,” said Izon, who rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns.  “When they block, I cut off of them and jump into the hole.”

Izon’s first touchdown came two offensive plays into the game for the Cavs, traveling 42 yards up the left sideline on a toss to score the first points of the game.

The Crusaders were not without their own offensive production, which saw 135 passing yards and 72 yards on the ground.

But the biggest plays for St. Paul’s, however, were the shortest plays the team saw in the game.

Following terrific drives, junior quarterback Spencer Parks brought his team knocking on the door of the Cavs’ endzone at the four-yard-line, and smashed through on a one-yard run to tie the game at 7-7 just 15 seconds before the end of the first quarter.

Two quarters later, it was Parks again who found himself and his team on the verge of scoring, and threw a strike to diving senior Gunnar Waldt for a four-yard touchdown pass, and connected with senior Jay Carlson on the two-point conversion to tie the game at 15-15.

“We knew they were going to come to play,” Whittles explained.  “This was the season for both teams if they wanted to go to the championship, and both teams knew that.  They moved the ball, but we bent and didn’t break.”

Holding the Crusaders to just 24 yards rushing in the first half, and 72 for the game said a lot for the Cavalier defense and defensive-line.

“We thought they were very capable of moving the ball, but we just didn’t want them to get started,” Whittles said.  “Today, I just felt like our defensive-line did a fantastic job holding them up.”

The win leaves Spalding (8-3 overall) 6-1 in the MIAA B Conference, tied wih Archbishop Curley and Boys’ Latin for first place, while it eliminated St. Paul’s from contention for a spot in the league championship game.  Boys’ Latin defeated John Carroll, 34-14, on Friday, also eliminating the Patriots from title contention.

Curley plays a non-conference game on Saturday and closes its regular season league schedule next Friday at John Carroll.  Boys’ Latin will face St. Paul’s also on Friday, while Spalding will close at St. John’s Catholic Prep.  If all three win, they will finish the regular season in a dead heat with no tie-break advantage, as they are all 1-1 in head-to-head meetings.

Under league rulles, a coin flip will be determined to elevate one team into the championship game, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 13 at Mount St. Joseph.  The other participant will be determined by the head-to-head result between the two remaining teams.  Thus, all three teams will have a 66% chance of reach the title game if they remain tied and that requires all three to win next week.

With two losses, St. Paul’s could still possiblly end up in a four-way tie for first or a three-way tie for second, but it would come up short in every tie-break scenario.

“It is a big one,” Izon said of the win over St. Paul’s.  “We have to win next week to get into the championship.  I know our coach has a good game plan and we will get started on Monday in practice.”

With this win tucked away, Whittles may become a fan of St. Paul’s next week, just to eliminate any uncertainty for his team.

“If I didn’t have a game next week, I would love to watch their game,” Whittles said of St. Paul’s and Boys’ Latin.  “You have a huge rivalry there, and I think it is a great football game.”

No. 15 Archbishop Spalding 22, St. Paul’s 15
AS   7  0  8  7  –  22
SP   7  0  8  0  –  15
1st Q
AS-Izon 42 run (Weiman kick)
SP-Parks 1 run (Skudrna kick)
3rd Q
AS-Izon 1 run (run failed)
SP-Waldt 4 pass from Parks (Carlson pass from Parks)
4th Q
As-Abey 1 run (Wieman kick)