St. Frances runs past Utah squad to cap championship football campaign; Jones runs for 178 yards

St. Frances quarterback Jalen Jones sprints downfield for a 78-yard touchdown during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s match with Utah’s Bingham at the Geico State Champions Bowl in Arizona. The junior finished with 178 yards and accounted for three touchdowns as the Panthers capped a 13-0 campaign with a 41-3 decision at Grand Canyon University. (photo – USA TODAY)

For only the third time this season, St. Frances Academy football team trailed when Utah power Bingham converted a field goal on its opening drive in Saturday’s GEICO State Champions Bowl.

It was the calm before the storm.

The Panthers shrugged off the early score and methodically overwhelmed USA Today’s national No. 8 team, claiming a 41-3 decision at Grand Valley College in Phoenix.

Junior quarterback Jalen Jones rushed for 178 yards and two touchdowns for St. Frances (13-0 overall), and threw a 78-yard touchdown pass to Kwincy Hall. Hall, a senior, added a 51-yard punt return score, earning MVP honors.

The two-time reigning MIAA A Conference champions and the area’s consensus No. 1 team scored the final 41 points, capping arguably the most dominant season by a Baltimore region squad. The east Baltimore school, ranked 11th nationally, outscored its opponents, 534-61.

“We’re representing not only for Maryland, but for the East Coast, that we’ve got good football on the East Coast,” Jones said to USA Today. “I don’t think we get enough credit for it. Schools in like Texas and California always get all the credit, but we’ve got some good football on the East Coast.”

The Panthers’ speed and athleticism was on full display Saturday before a national cable audience. After allowing 65 yards on the opening drive, the Panthers’ swarming defense limited the Utah squad, which lost starting quarterback Ryan Wood to a concussion early in the third quarter, to 133 the remainder of the contest.

“From Day 1 of camp in August, we practice pursuit drills over and over and over,” said St. Frances defensive end Eyabi Anoma, VSN’s Defensive of the Year who signed with Alabama earlier in the week. “After a while, that became second nature to us. That’s how we play.”

Bingham led 3-0 early after Brandon Lopez converted a 37-yard field goal. St. Frances, which trailed against Archbishop Spalding (won 42-7) and Gilman School (won 44-7; MIAA A final) needed just two plays to answer as Hall got behind his defender for a 78-yard catch and run score.

Hall, the smallest player (5-foot-7) on St. Frances’ roster, hauled in a punt near the sidelines, eluded three would-be tacklers, got into the open field and sprinted to the end zone. St. Frances led 17-3 at halftime.

Early in the fourth, Jones broke free for a 19-yard score. After senior cornerback Terrell Smith’s denied Bingham with an interception in the end zone, Jones went 78 yards for another score. Sophomore Breon Noel picked up a fumble and returned the ball 64 yards for St. Frances’ final score.

In two seasons, St. Frances has gone from middle tier MIAA A Conference program to a budding national powerhouse with a roster of the top talent in the Middle Atlantic. The Panthers, 23-2 over the last two seasons, have three players ranked among ESPN Top 300 for the Class of 2019.

“This whole experience at St. Frances has been amazing,” said Jones. “We’re coming together as a family.”

GEICO State Champions Bowl

at Grand Canyon University (AZ)

St. Frances Academy 41, Bingham (Utah) 3

St. Frances 10 7 3 21 – 41

Bingham 3 0 0 0 – 3

First quarter

Bingham – Lopez 37 field goal

St. Frances – Hall 78 pass from Jones (Larson kick)

St. Frances – Larson 31 field goal

Second quarter

St. Frances – Hall 51 punt return (Larson kick)

Third quarter

St. Frances – Larson 20 field goal

Fourth quarter

St. Frances – Jones 19 run (Larson kick)

St. Frances – Jones 78 run (Larson kick)

St. Frances – Noel 64 fumble return (Larson kick)