Calvert Hall College’s football team didn’t have the best of starts in its game Friday evening against Franklin. The Cardinals’ defense was slashed for scores on Franklin’s first two possessions while their offense was flagged three times in their inaugural possession.

But a high school football game is a 48-minute marathon, and the Cardinals endured. No. 16 Calvert Hall posted a 35-24 victory over the third-ranked Indians in front of a standing-room crowd of more than 3,000 at Russo Stadium in Towson.

The Cardinals (2-0 overall) shut down the defending Class 3A state champions in the second half, winning the highly anticipated battle between the elite of the public and private ranks. Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis lauded his team’s tenacity over the final 24.

“I thought their effort was everything. To be able to withstand a tremendous football team that started off the way they did said a lot about our toughness,” said Davis. “Sometimes people equate toughness as a physical thing. I thought our kids were mentally tough and that was huge for us to stay around a team with huge firepower.”

The Indians, arguably the best public team in the state, grabbed a 24-20 lead after junior Steven Smothers’ scintillating 93-yard punt return with 6.4 seconds left in the third quarter. It was the only score the Baltimore County school produced in the second half.

“Everybody had their heads down, but as a leader and as a senior, I had to pick them up,” said Calvert Hall quarterback Kenji Bahar.

Bahar and the Cardinals took advantage of a Franklin safety, going 41 yards on the ensuing drive after the free kick as Timmy Smith got the corner from seven yards, giving the MIAA A Conference stronghold a 28-24 advantage with 6:55 left in regulation. Two plays earlier, Bahar connected with BJ Watson for 10 yards on a third-and-7.

Calvert Hall stopped Indians’ quarterback Jacquez Adams a yard short on fourth down with 2:36 to play in regulation. On the next play, Kevin Thomas got the corner off a sweep and went 29 yards down the sidelines, extending the Cardinals’ advantage to 34-24.

Led by Thomas’ 63 yards, Calvert Hall rushed for 128 in the second half with Massey, Ben Oliver, and Timothy Smith getting touches behind an offensive front anchored by senior Drew Devanney. But it was Watson, a junior, who produced arguably the Cardinals’ biggest play Friday.

With his team trailing 17-10 at halftime, Watson got the opening second half kickoff. He found a gap, slipped a couple of tackles and sprinted down Franklin sidelines into the end zone for a 85 yard-scocre, helping the Cardinals pull even.

“I knew my teammates had my back, the lane opened up and I did my part,” said Watson, who added three catches for 27 yards in the second half. “We knew we had to come out strong and that’s what we did.”

“It sparked us,” said Davis of Watson’s return. “There are two extremely elite return guys in Baltimore, Jelani [Roberts] at Gilman and Steven Smothers. The good thing is I think I got a young one starting to grow up in BJ.”

Watson came up with a 12-yard pass from Bahar on third-and-five, part of a 36-yard drive that Peter Ferrera completed with a 33-yard field goal with 2:18 left in the third. Franklin regained the lead as Smothers showed why he’s one of the area’s most electricfying player in Maryland.

He gathered in Zack Wiedeck’s punt at the seven, started to his left and avoided a Calvert Hall defender. With three defenders within range, Smothers reversed fields and, with a couple of blocks, weaved his way down the Calvert Hall sideline.
He eluded two more tacklers, cut back toward midfield and went untouched into the end zone.

However, Smothers’ breathtaking play was the lone highlight in a disastrous second half for Franklin. The Indians, who racked up three 48 point-performances in the postseason en route to their first state title last year, managed just 25 yards and no first downs in the second half Friday.

“We talked about the first possession of the second half being key and obviously that kickoff return was a momentum killer,” said Franklin coach Anthony Burgos, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the state media poll. “We were doing well.”

On their second play from scrimmage, Franklin fumbled the ball back to Calvert Hall. It was a complete reversal for Franklin, which got a 44-yard pass from Jacquez Adams to twin brother Jordan on the game’s first play from scrimmage. The Indians got a 20-yard field goal from Luis Belmonte.

After a mistake-prone opening possession for Calvert Hall, the Indians needed just four plays to cover 66 yards as Smothers got a step behind the Cardinals’ defense and hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jacquez Adams. Calvert Hall answered with its big-play performers as Bahar found Lawrence Cager for a 49-yard score.

“Coach Davis told they were going to be mistakes the first six minutes,” said Bahar, who was 13-for-24 for 151 yards. “They made a lot of mistakes, so did we, but we took advantage.”

After winning three games last season, Calvert Hall, ranked 25th in the state media poll, is off to an impressive 2-0 start. The Cardinals say there’s a completely different vibe.

“We’re still a work in progress, but I think they’re coming up nicely,”  said Davis, whose team travel to perennial WCAC powerhouse Good Counsel Friday evening. “There’s a tough road ahead.”

“People say we weren’t a strong team last year, but this team is more of a family,”  said Bahar. “It shows on the field. We play together.”

No. 16 Calvert Hall College 35, No. 3 Franklin 24

Franklin 10 7 7 0 – 24

Calvert Hall 7 3 10 15 – 35

First quarter

Franklin – Belmontes 20 field goal

Franklin – Smothers 39 pass from Jacquez Adams (Belmontes kick)

Calvert Hall – Cager 49 pass from Bahar (Ferrera kick)

Second quarter

Calvert Hall – Ferrera 27 field goal

Franklin – Hussain 11 pass from Jacquez Adams (Belmontes kick)

Third quarter

Calvert Hall – Watson 85 kick off return (Ferrera kick)

Calvert Hall – Ferrera 33 field goal

Franklin – Smothers 93 punt return (Belmontes kick)

Fourth quarter

Calvert Hall – Safety (punt snap out end zone)

Calvert Hall – Smith 7 run (pass failed)

Calvert Hall – Thomas 29 run (Ferrera kick)