LAUREL – Led by a pair of 100-yard rushers, St. Vincent Pallotti High School knocked off St. Mary’s High School 14-0 on Oct. 26 through a steady downpour to clinch first place in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference (MIAA).
The Panthers didn’t attempt a single pass in the second half, riding on their rushing attack and stout defense to the shutout victory. Both Mekhi McDaniels and Emani Alford topped 100 yards on the ground as the weather forced each squad to all but abandon the pass.
McDaniels ripped off a 40-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter and that score would hold up for the rest of the contest. Nasir Edmond took an end-around for 10 yards into the end zone to begin the fourth quarter, sealing the win for Pallotti (6-3).
“We’re averaging close to 400 yards a game rushing,” said Palotti Head Coach Tony Ashley. “We’re a very young team, and we’re learning how to throw that ball. But we’ve learned how to run the ball.”
Pallotti ran on all 15 of their second half plays, with quarterback Khari James’ only involvement turning around and handing it to his running backs. The St. Mary’s defensive line was routinely driven back with McDaniels and Alford reaching the second level untouched, grabbing chunks of yardage at a time. The duo combined for three runs of over 40 yards, including one by Alford that set up Edmonds’ touchdown.
“Just a big, strong team,” said St. Mary’s Head Coach Jason Budroni. “A lot of kids that can run the ball. It works in their favor. I don’t blame them, I would’ve pounded the ball too, and they did a good job.”
St. Mary’s (5-4) tried to stay committed to the passing game, but the conditions made it difficult. Quarterback Chris Golini completed just 3-of-11 passes for 32 yards, connected with wide receiver Dhane Blair for all three completions.
Running back Alex Wicks rushed for nearly 100 yards on 28 carries, handling most of the workload for the St. Mary’s offense. The junior broke off a few first down runs but was generally met at the line of scrimmage by the Pallotti defensive front. When the Saints entered the red zone to open the second half after a long kick return by Blair, Wicks was held for short gains and Golini was forced to throw on third and fourth down, both incompletions.
“We’re a smaller team, playing in the rain, grass, mud,” Budroni said. “It wasn’t why we lost, but it didn’t help us. It definitely didn’t help with what we’re good at.”
Alford actually got off to a slow start on the ground, losing a fumble in Pallotti territory. After that carry, he went for 100 yards the rest of the way, securing the rock with both hands on each of those next 14 carries.
“You gotta hold onto that ball,” Alford said. “First thing that was on my mind was getting that ball in my hands and not fumbling.”
Pallotti ran for over 260 yards as a team, as James and Edmond each added double-digit runs and fullback Marquise Allsup also added a couple short plunges, one for a first down. McDaniels burst through a gaping hole on the final play of the third quarter to kick-start Pallotti’s second touchdown drive, and Alford sprinted around a well-set edge for 42 yards on the next play before the Edmonds score.
“Line played pretty good, they made some key blocks,” McDaniels said. “Kept us in the game, helped us hold the lead.”
The Panthers’ regular season title comes as a bit of surprise given how the offseason unfolded for the team. Ashley and his coaching staff were installed in June after a host of players had transferred to other schools.
The coach said he had 13 players when he arrived, only one of whom was an offensive lineman, making their rushing success all the more impressive throughout the season.
“We weren’t expected to win a game,” Ashley said. “I’m proud of them.”