No. 1 Panthers move to 4-0 behind four TD runs from Bangda

St. Frances running back Nyjil Carr runs through a hole during Friday’s MIAA A Conference football opener against Calvert Hall College. The top-ranked Panthers built a 21-0 halftime lead en route to a 28-7 win at Russo Stadium in Towson.

After its victory over Calvert Hall College Friday evening, St. Frances Academy football players and coaches agreed it has much room to improve. That could be bad news for the rest of the MIAA A Conference.

The top-ranked Panthers successfully began defense of their league crown with a 28-7 decision over the No. 8 Cardinals in front of an estimated audience of 2,000 at Russo Stadium in Towson. Joakim Bangda scored four rushing touchdowns for St. Frances (4-0 overall, 1-0 MIAA A).

The east Baltimore school, which share the No. 1 spot in the latest state media poll with DeMatha Catholic, built a 21-0 halftime advantage en route to its seventh straight league decision. Winless in league play in 2015, St. Frances had a major transformation last fall, claiming its first A crown.

After rolling through non-league play, Panthers co-coach Henry Russell knows MIAA A play is a much different entity.

“It’s one message to the kids, but inside, I’m happy with the win,” said Russell, who guided the Panthers to the MIAA A crown last fall after a long stint as the top assistant under Biff Poggi at Gilman School. “Calvert Hall is always tough at home. 1-0 is 1-0, no matter how you get there.”

Poggi, who’s sharing head coach duties with Russell after spending last fall as a special assistant at the University of Michigan, said in the post-game huddle the Panthers have to “clean things up.” The East Chase Street school showed why it’s ranked 23rd in the latest USA Today Super 25, but also drew several penalties Friday including a holding penalty that wiped out an 80-yard punt return score.

Calvert Hall’s only score Friday was buoyed by a couple Panthers penalties, leaving standout defensive end Eyabi Anoma annoyed.

“We missed a lot of tackles today, but overall, we got the job done,” said Anoma, who recorded three sacks. “We allowed seven points, but that was too much for us.”

Bangda was more than enough for St. Frances’ offense. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior transfer from budding District area powerhouse St. John’s College (DC), scored on runs of 11, 6, and a pair of one-yarders.

Bangda gave credit to his massive offensive line featuring 6-foot-6, 300-pound Maryland commit Jaelyn Duncan, Joshua Miller (6-2, 285), Antonio Derry (6-4, 300), Malik Morgan (6-4, 300), Darrian Dalcourt (6-4, 285), Pearce Addo (6-6, 270) and tight ends LJ Robinson (6-2, 210) and Joe Bearns (6-0, 220).

Though the Panthers piled up close to 200 yards between Bangda, Nyji Carr, Osman Savage and junior quarterback Jalon Jones and Friday, Bangda said it was far from perfect.

“We played like we practiced and the intensity wasn’t as high as we expected,” sad Bangda.

Bangda, who scored twice in the Panthers’ victory at New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep last Friday, opened the scoring Friday with an 11-yard run, capping a short 30-yard drive. Early in the second, Bangda barreled into the end zone for the first of his two one-yard scores, completing a seven-play series, highlighted by three completions (47 yards) by Jones.

The Panthers took advantage of good field position (started at their 47), and needed just five plays (all runs) as Bangda scored again from a yard out with 8 minutes, 44 seconds left before halftime. Sophomore defensive back Davon Williams’ interception set up Bangda’s final touchdown, an one-yarder with 1:23 left in the third quarter, capping a 15-yard series.

The Cardinals (3-2, 0-1 MIAA A) got their only score in the fourth as Mike Campbell found Brayden Morris from 11 yards. After a grounding penalty put The Hall at its 11 on its next possession, Campbell got his squad to midfield before Terrell Smith intercepted him with 3:23 left in regulation.

Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis thought his team showed tenacity in the second half.

“I thought they played with a lot of heart. Obviously, St. Frances is extremely talented, well coached, big, strong and have speed all over the place,” said Davis. “To go down early then stiffened up the way we did was a testament to our kids’ toughness.”

St. Frances defeated Calvert Hall in last season’s MIAA A opener, starting the Panthers’ somewhat surprising run to the title. With a talented roster and the coaching staff, mostly from Gilman School, acclimated, it’s no surprise St. Frances is in a favorable position for a repeat.

Joakim Bangda (left) scored four touchdowns Friday for St. Frances, and senior defensive end Eyabi Anoma finished with three sacks to lead the defense. The nationally-ranked and undefeated Panthers have won 13 of their 14 last decisions, dating back to last season.

“It’s surprising to me…we’re winning games and haven’t played our best game,” said Anoma. “We got complacent, but league games are much different than out of conference. No one sit down. We have to play for all four quarters.”

No. 1 St. Frances Academy 28, No. 8 Calvert Hall College 7

St. Frances 7 14 7 0 – 28

Calvert Hall 0 0 0 7 – 7

First quarter

St. Frances – Bangda 11 run (Larson kick)

Second quarter

St. Frances – Bangda 6 run (Larson kick)

St.. Frances – Bangda 1 run (Larson kick)

Third quarter

St. Frances – Bangda 1 run (Larson kick)

Fourth quarter

Calvert Hall – Morris 7 pass from Campbell (Cottone kick)