With the year 1962 painted on his face, in memory of the year Cardinal Gibbons School opened its doors, Archbishop Curley quarterback Luke Stidham made it clear he plays for two schools, two sets of alumni and two sets of teammates, this fall.

The senior field general who matriculated to Curley after the closing of Gibbons, made all of them proud on Saturday afternoon as he made two big throws in guiding the visiting Friars to a 15-7 win over Boys’ Latin in a MIAA B Conference football playoff.  The victory propels Curley into next Saturday’s MIAA B Conference title game, at Mount St. Joseph (1:00 p.m.), opposite defending champion Archbishop Spalding.  Spalding had a bye this week after winning a coin flip to break a three-way tie with the Friars and the Lakers.

“Archbishop Curley, they’re my brothers now, but I love everybody at Gibbons and I’m out here doing this for all the alumni at Gibbons,” said Stidham.  “I just want to win the ‘ship for everybody – Curley alumni, Gibbons alumni, everybody.”

That sentiment was echoed by junior center Matt Kane, who snapped the ball for Stidham at Gibbons and also made the move to Curley.

“These are my new brothers.  Gibbons for life, but I’m proud of my new family,” said Kane, who sprinted up and down the sideline waiving a large Curley Friars flag following the victory.

Three key plays swung Saturday’s contest, two initiated by Stidham’s throws.

On the first play of the second quarter, moments after Boys’ Latin took a 7-0 lead, Stidham slung the ball out to the left sideline where Anthony Williams began a brilliant 60-yard touchdown catch and run, pulling Curley within one at 7-6.  In the fourth quarter, with the Friars stranded at their own two-yard line, Stidham fired a laser up the right sideline to junior Avery Williams for a 43-yard play that may have gone for a 98-yard score had it not been for a diving tackle by BL’s Taylor Stothoff.  It did lead, however, to a 23-yard Nick Budnichuk field goal which gave Curley its first lead at 9-7.

The third big play was made by the Curley defense.

Following Curley’s go-ahead field goal, Boys’ Latin marched from its own 35 to the Curley 21-yard line, as the game moved into the fourth quarter.  The drive was fueled by several nice runs by seniors Brandon Barnes and Jeff Chase, but with 7:35 to play disaster struck for the Lakers.

Curley lineOn a first and 10 from the Curley 21, Chase was hit and spun deep in the Boys’ Latin backfield.  Struggling to make a play as the Curley defense swarmed him under, Chase let the ball get away from his body where it was alertly stripped by the Friars’ Antond McDonald, setting Curley up at the Laker 32.

From there Curley embarked on its best sustained drive of the game, going 68 yards in 12 plays and eating five minutes and 13 seconds off the clock, capped by a two-yard touchdown run by sophomore Nick D’Avanzo, to take a 15-7 lead.

“In the first half our offensive line wasn’t getting much push, but we went in at half time and made some adjustments and they turned it up in the third quarter,” said Stidham.  “We were running the ball really well.”

The key adjustment was the decision to wait until Stidham identified the side of the field where BL lineman Marco Simmons was lined up.  The Friars then simply ran away from the University of Virginia recruit and began to have success on the ground.

Joe Evans led Curley with 69 yards rushing, including 32 on the final touchdown drive, and the Friars finished with 121 yards rushing in the game.

Curley coach Sean Murphy still loves the running game, but he believes Stidham has transformed his program in 2010.

“Everybody who has followed Curley knows we’re not a big throwing team, but the addition of Luke Stidham has really helped our football team,” said Murphy.  “Now we’re able to throw and you can’t put 11 guys in the box and stop our run.  Actually two big plays were the result of Luke getting the ball to the right guy and that made a huge difference.”

Curley’s final score could have iced the victory, but the door remained open for Boys’ Latin when Budnichuk missed his second extra-point attempt of the game, keeping it a one possession game.

Getting the ball back with 2:22 to play at their own 31, the Lakers opened their final drive with a nine-yard run from Barnes and they got an extra 15 yards added on for a late hit.  After an incomplete pass, Chase ripped off a 17-yard run and then added three more to move the ball to the Curley 25 with less than two minutes to play.  BL would get no closer, however, as Curley forced a turnover on downs and ran out the clock as Stidham took a pair of knees.

The game was played in ideal conditions as temperatures soared into the mid sixties and sunshine bathed the field.  The defenses dominated the first half, with the exception of two plays.  With just 38-seconds to go in the first quarter, Barnes split the middle of the Curley defense on a quarterback draw and darted 36 yards to give the Lakers a 7-0 lead.  Then, on the first play of the second quarter, Stidham connected with Williams who weaved his way past several would-be tacklers in the process.

Curley got excellent defensive play all day from middle linebacker Domayna Womack, defensive end D.J. Sartori and defensive backs Dominick Hezekiah and Avery Williams, just to name a few.  BL countered with excellent line play from Simmons and Greg Pyke, while Chase and Stothoff made a bunch of plays in the secondary.

“It was a great football game.  When we got here we were talking about just the atmosphere and just having a chance to play the first football playoff of the MIAA,” said Murphy.  “I knew it would be a physical game and I knew a touchdown would probably be the determining factor.”  

Murphy also discussed his close friendship with BL coach Ritchie  Schell and several members of the BL staff.

Barnes“Ritch has been a real close friend.  We’re playing a real big game this week, but we probably talked on the phone three or four times,” said Murphy.  “Coach (Phil) Albert, one of their coaches, was my coach at Towson (University) and I played at Towson with Jimmy Sandusky, so that staff is real close to me.  I usually tell Ritch if we can’t win it, I want BL to win it and they usually tell us the same.”

Schell called Murphy one of his dearest friends and tipped his cap to the Friars, even entering Curley’s post-game huddle to congratulate his opponent.  He also felt for his seniors.

“After we lost to Spalding, we realized we may not be as good as we thought we were, but then we really bared down and the seniors did a great job,” said Schell.  “You put a lot out there and they were not afraid to fail.  We didn’t get on the winning end of the stick, but they gave everything they got.  It’s been a great group.”

One of those departing seniors is Barnes, who was visibly shaken as the
reality of the loss set in.  He did an excellent job running BL’s wildcat attack, finishing with 83 yards rushing and the one touchdown.

In Spalding, Curley faces a team it defeated 17-7 earlier this year, but as the Friars proved yesterday, a regular season win does not insure success in the post-season.

“I want to make sure our kids know that just because they beat them during the regular season, it doesn’t mean anything.  I think the last five B Conference title games, the team that lost the first time wound up winning the championship,” said Murphy.  “Believe me, I am going to make sure our kids are aware of that.  Our kids have felt like they are the underdog all year, so I think they are really excited to play Spalding.”

To see 30 video clips with voice over commentary from Joe DiBlasi, as well as post-game interviews, click on the Related Videos link above.

Archbishop Curley 15, Boys’ Latin 7
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Boys’ Latin70007
1st Q
BL-Barnes 36 run (Stothoff kick)
2nd Q
AC-An. Williams 60 pass from Stidham (kick failed)
3rd Q
AC-Budnichuk 23 FG
4th Q
AC-D’Avanzo 2 run (kick failed)