SEVERN – Before the St. Vincent Pallotti High School football team began to warm-up for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) B Conference Championship game, Head Coach Anthony Ashley called for a quick chat in a huddle.
The second-year coach reminded his players of the journey to get to the final and the last two times they played St. Mary’s High School. In last year’s MIAA B Conference title game, the Saints defeated Pallotti and in their regular-season meeting, Pallotti fought back to win 28-24 on Oct. 10.
Ashley demanded that his players not let St. Mary’s back in the game this time and to not “let them breathe back into the game.”
“We had to come back to beat them (in the regular season) and that gave our team confidence that they could overcome any obstacle against a very good team,” Ashely said. “St. Mary’s is a very, very good team and we knew we were up against a very good foe.”
The players listened as the Pallotti defense smothered the Saints while running back Emani Alford rushed for three touchdowns. The Panthers dominated all four quarters to defeat St. Mary’s to win their second B Conference Championship in four years with a 42-0 victory on Nov. 16.
After losing to Calvert Hall in their home opener on Aug. 30, Pallotti (11-1) went on a roll, winning their next nine games heading into the championship game. Aside from the St. Mary’s game, the Panthers dominated their opponents, shutting out six teams while finishing the regular season scoring 28.5 points a game.
According to Ashley, much of the credit goes two of their senior captains, running backs Mekhi McDaniels and Alford. Both shined as they combined for 166 of the team’s 200 rushing yards.
“We wanted this more,” Alford said. “We had a lot of emotion behind this and they beat us last year so this is all emotion so hats off to us.”
In the Panthers’ opening drive, quarterback Ejau Collazo threw his only completed pass of the game to wide receiver Isaiah Perkins. The junior caught the ball between two defenders and ran down from the middle of the field to the end zone for a 52-yard touchdown.
Two drives later, as St. Mary’s (8-4) looked to get into a rhythm, running back Ki’Sean Grey-Dantzler fumbled the handoff, giving Pallotti the ball back. It would take three plays for Alford to score his first touchdown after a 3-yard score to give the Panthers a 14-point lead.
After the Saints were forced to punt after a three-and-out drive, Alford collected 47 rushing yards to set up Kolby Barnes for another Pallotti touchdown, this time from 1-yard out.
After the extra point, Pallotti continued its dominance, by retaking possession off an offside kick. McDaniels capitalized right away, running down the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown to go up 28-0 midway through the second quarter.
In St. Mary’s next offensive possession, defensive back Osei Dixon joined the proceedings with a fourth-down interception to give Pallotti good field position for the knockout blow. Alford, who finished rushing for 124 yards, crashed into his offensive linemen to cross the goal line for the 2-yard touchdown. The Panthers entered halftime with a dominating 35-0 lead.
With the running clock rule in place and time working against them, the Saints stumbled out of the halftime break with their fourth three-and-out drive. A bad snap to the Saints’ punter placed Pallotti on the 16-yard line, giving Alford the ball for one more drive.
The 5-foot-11 running back rushed the ball two times, capping off an excellent day for Pallotti with a 9-yard touchdown for his third score of the game. Alford stood menacingly as his teammates joined him to celebrate. He admitted that he felt a chip on his shoulders to win a title for the Panthers before graduating.
“They took it from us last year and we knew we would be back,” Alford said. “I put in a hell (amount) of work with morning workouts, afternoon workouts, night workouts so I can make it here so I just feel blessed.”
For the rest of the game, Pallotti gave their role players like running back Dillon Robinson a chance to make their championship appearances. St. Mary’s attempted to score in the final minute of the game to prevent being shut out but middle linebacker DeVahn Newton made a huge tackle in the backfield on Gray-Dantzler as time expired.
“Our coach said ‘hit them in the mouth from the first play of the game’ and that is what we did,” Dixon said. “And even when the game was going our way, we just kept hitting them in the mouth.”
While it only took two years for Pallotti to win a title under Ashley, the head coach is already thinking about the future. While losing Alford and McDaniels will be a blow, the Panthers have built enough depth to carry the team forward for another MIAA title win next year, Ashley said.
“I hope to make the playoffs, that’s the first goal. The second goal is to win the championship and the third goal is to win the championship,” Ashley said. “We’re a young team; we only lose two starters on offense and three starters on defense. So we are young, plan to reload and we cannot wait to get started with the offseason.”