Jacobs closes deal as No. 2 McDonogh overcomes Spalding rally, advances to MIAA A football final (VIDEO HERE!)


McDonogh’s Jamir Roberts (with ball) tries to elude Jason Robertson during a punt return during Friday’s MIAA A Conference football semifinal. The No. 2 Eagles advanced to the final with a come-from-behind 29-23 victory over the ninth-ranked Cavaliers in Owings Mills. (photo – Laurie Butts)

by Derek Toney

All season, Curtis Jacobs has talked how McDonogh School’s football return to prominence was destined. With the season’s on the line Friday evening, the Eagles put their fate in his hands.

He delivered. No. 2 McDonogh rallied for a 29-23 victory over ninth-ranked Archbishop Spalding in a MIAA A Conference semifinal at John W. McDonogh Stadium in Owings Mills.

The unbeaten Eagles (11-0 overall) will play either No. 3 Mount St. Joseph or fourth-ranked Calvert Hall College for the league title, next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Spalding’s Whittles Field. The Cardinals visit Mount St. Joseph at Pleyvak Field in Irvington, Saturday at noon, in the other MIAA A semifinal.

After his team blew a 19-point second half lead, Jacobs, a Penn State University commit, put McDonogh on the cusp of its first MIAA A championship since 2013, hauling in Preston Howard’s touchdown pass with 35.2 seconds left in regulation. He intercepted Spalding quarterback Austin Tutas with 5.1 seconds remaining to punch the Eagles’ ticket to Whittles Field.

Jacobs said McDonogh’s special bond wasn’t going to be broken.

“We’re a family. When we have bad times, we stick together and that’s what makes us better,” said Jacobs, 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. “I just told my guys I got them and I had to go make a play.”

Or two. Or three. Two plays after bringing in Howard’s pass – between two defenders – near Spalding’s sidelines for 13 yards on a 3rd-and-10 with a minute left, Jacobs easily came down with Howard’s toss in the corner of the end zone, putting McDonogh up, 27-23. He caught the 2-point conversion pass, extending the Eagles’ lead to six.

“It was just fade left to Curt,” said Howard, who threw for 129 yards (9-of-25 passing) and rushed for 115. “We saw they had a weaker cornerback on that side.”

“He [Jacobs] wasn’t getting the ball early in the game but he made plays defensively,” said McDonogh coach Hakeem Sule. “We said ‘hey,’ we got to get the ball to our playmaker.”

Jacobs, also a linebacker, reached up to nab Tutas’ pass and returned it 28 yards, ending a valiant Cavalier comeback. Trailing 19-0 at halftime, courtesy of two turnover scores by McDonogh, Spalding (5-6) stormed back with three straight touchdown drives, the latter Tutas’ eight-yard pass to Molayo Irefin, giving the visitors a 20-19 lead with 9:10 left in regulation.

The sudden momentum burdened for the Cavaliers as sophomore Kellan Wyatt recovered a Howard fumble at McDonogh’s 35. Ethan McCormick converted a 23-yard field goal, upping Spalding’s advantage to 23-19 with 4:39 remaining.

The Cavaliers got the ball back inside their two with 2:26 left. Spalding managed a couple of yards before taking a safety with 1:36 remaining in regulation. McDonogh got the ball at midfield after the free kick.

Howard, who had three turnovers Friday, and McDonogh had a chance.

“We still got this, we’re still the better team,” said Howard. “We’re still going to win. Our season is not over.”

After two incomplete passes, Howard, breaking out the pocket, lofted the ball to Jacobs who came down inbounds with possession, on 3rd-and-10. Howard’s screen pass to Giovanni Procaccini netted another 18 before Jacobs gave the Eagles the lead back for good.

A late comeback didn’t appear likely on a cold early evening Friday. The Eagles got defensive scores in less than 15 seconds with At Ntantang taking the ball from a Spalding receiver and returned it for a touchdown, and Stefan Egbe, who scooped up a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and went into the end zone, for a 12-0 advantage in the second quarter.

After a three-and-out from its defense, McDonogh got its first offensive score as Jamir Roberts came down with a pass deflected off Jacobs’ hands with 25.2 seconds before halftime. It was the 60th consecutive point Spalding allowed after Mount St. Joseph scored the final 42 in an embarrassing 49-7 loss last weekend.

With its season spiraling towards a colossal thud, Spalding found the mojo that had it once 5-1 and ranked in the Top 5. Tutas (13-of-26 for 120 yards) threw a 23-yard pass to Irefin for the Cavaliers’ first score with 3:04 left in the third quarter, and junior linebacker Sean Bernandino intercepted Howard with 8.9 seconds remaining.

On the next play, Tutas (10-of-15 for 89 yards in second half) threw a screen pass to junior running back Shamar Smith (155 total yards), who rumbled into the end zone, bringing Spalding to 19-14 to start the final period. The Cavaliers’ defense kept McDonogh inside its six on the ensuing possession, leading to Irefin’s punt return to the Eagles’ 15.

Irefin hauled in Tutas’ toss in the back of end zone, giving Spalding its first lead. The Cavaliers appeared to be in position for a stunning comeback after McCormick’s field goal made it 23-19 and Bernadino’s second sack put McDonogh in long-yardage.

Harrison Beattie’s punt pinned Spalding inside its 2 and managed a couple of yards as the Eagles used their remaining timeouts. Tutas ran around the end zone before taking a knee for a safety with 1:36 left in regulation.

The Eagles got the ball back and Jacobs (five catches for 53 yards), regarded among the nation’s most versatile performers, did his thing.

Despite the gut-wrenching end, Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt was proud of his troops.

“As a coach you look at the record, but ultimately, you want the team to play up to their potential and in the second half we did,” said Schmitt. “If it was two minutes less or more, we might had won. I couldn’t be more prouder of them. It’s hard way to lose.

The one thing we talked about it is getting back to Spalding football – physical, tough…we let the guys who established that mentality down a week ago. I just wanted the kids to play their hearts out and they did…I got a lot of juniors and sophomores out there.”

After outlasting Spalding in overtime a couple of weeks ago, McDonogh will return to Whittles Field in Severn next Saturday, looking to complete a perfect season. The Eagles won just three decisions a year ago.

Sitting outside of McDonogh’s weight room late Friday night, Jacobs remembered back in the spring when longtime Eagles defensive coordinator Matt MacMullan pulled him aside during his workout.

Curtis Jacobs (2) with teammate Dante Trader was the difference in the final moments for McDonogh Friday evening. The Penn State commit caught the winning touchdown with 35 seconds left in regulation and intercepted a pass with five seconds to play.

“He said the way plays depends on how willing you’re to lead and bring the team together,” said Jacobs. “I took it to heart from that day and I knew this would be the result because we worked all spring, all summer for it. We did every workout and just kept working. I knew this would be the result of it.”

MIAA A CONFERENCE FOOTBALL SEMIFINAL

No. 2 McDonogh School 29, No. 9 Archbishop Spalding 23

Spalding 0 0 14 9 – 23

McDonogh 0 19 0 10 – 29

Second quarter

McDonogh – At Ntantang 48 fumble return (kick failed)

McDonogh – Stefan Egbe 8 fumble return (pass failed)

McDonogh – Jamir Roberts 18 pass from Preston Howard (Harrison Beattie kick)

Third quarter

Spalding – Molayo Irefin 23 pass from Austin Tutas (Cory Butts kick)

Spalding – Shamar Smith 22 pass from Tutas (Butts kick)

Fourth quarter

Spalding – Irefin 8 pass from Tutas (pass failed)

Spalding – Ethan McCormick 23 field goal

McDonogh – Safety (Tutas knee in end)

McDonogh – Curtis Jacobs 20 pass from Preston Howard (Jacobs pass from Howard)