On the final play in No. 8 St. Frances Academy’s football victory over Calvert Hall College Friday evening, Panthers defensive linemen B’Ahmad Miller helped bring down Cardinal quarterback Emmett Avery. Miller took off his helmet to check if his nose was bleeding. 

For most of the evening, the Panthers’ defense bumped, bruised and banged the seventh-ranked Cardinals, netting a gritty 14-0 decision at Morgan State University’s Hughes Stadium. Temple University commit Gary Blackwell and quarterback Isaiah Robinson each had a rushing score for St. Frances (5-1 overall). 

A year after going winless in MIAA A play, the east Baltimore school won its 2016 debut in the area’s toughest league. With a roster including nearly two dozen transfers, who either didn’t play in a conference or contended for a league title, St. Frances coaches stressed this week the importance of starting strong in MIAA A competition.

“They were enthused by the opportunity to play for a championship…We said it’s the playoffs,” said Panthers coach Henry Russell. “This is the playoffs because there’s no end of the year playoffs so each week is a playoff game. There’s no room for error.”

“This is my first year in this conference and ready to show people what St. Frances got,” said Miller, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end.

Miller, who played for now-defunct independent program Eastern Christian Academy in Cecil County last fall, was part of a St. Frances defense that bend, but often broke Calvert Hall’s offense. Miller had a sack and a fourth quarter safety, junior Darion McKenzie finished with an interception and Eyobi Anoma and Jonathan Kingsley each recorded sacks.

The Cardinals (4-2, 0-1 MIAA A) finished with 80 yards.

“During the week we put in a lot of defenses. With B’Ahmad Miller and Jamehl Wiley, my job really wasn’t that hard,” said Anoma, a 6-5, 225-pound junior end who helped hold Calvert Hall to 41 yards rushing.

Despite gaining 260 yards, St. Frances’ offense was sproadic. The Panthers got off to an impressive start, taking the game’s opening possession 61 yards in 13 plays as Brightwell (27 carries, 83 yards) scored from a yard. 

Chris Cooper’s punt return helped the Cardinals into Panther territory for the first time in the second quarter, but Jeffrey Kordenbrock missed a 27-yard field goal. Tyshon Fogg put Calvert Hall in striking distance, intercepting St. Frances quarterback Isaiah Robinson and returning the ball to St. Frances’ 21.

A sack by Wiley, followed by an offsides call left the Cardinals with a 4th down-and-long. McKenzie snagged Cardinal quarterback Ben Brooks pass in the end zone.

“It’s going to be ups-and-downs, but it’s about who’s the better team and we showed that,” said Anoma. “A couple of times our offense threw a pick but we told our quarterback we’ll get the ball back and that’s exactly what we did.”

“The defense was unstoppable, they [Calvert Hall] couldn’t move the ball at all,” said Robinson, who threw for 171 yards and two interceptions. “We just had to score a couple of touchdowns.”

St. Frances advanced its lead to 12-0 in the third quarter after Robinson got across the goal line plane, capping a five-play, 68-yard drive. Tyree Henry’s nifty 52-yard catch-and-run keyed the series.

The Cardinals got back into Panther territory early in the fourth, but turned the ball on downs. On their next possession, Miller dropped Avery in the end zone for a safety with 7:20 left in regulation, moving St. Frances closer to its first MIAA A shutout victory.

Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis was proud of his team’s defensive effort, but lamented the missed chances deep in St. Frances territory.

“We weren’t able to have a complete effort,” said Davis. “They’re [St. Frances] big, strong and athletic. It’s difficult to score points on a team that got size and speed, and they’re physical. I don’t think we’re going to be only team that’s going to have difficulty with their defense.”

The Cardinals travel to Spalding – a 63-24 victor over No. 10 Loyola Blakefield in its league debut Friday – this Friday evening in Severn. St. Frances play at defending Gilman School Friday afternoon, marking the return of Russell and several members of his staff to the Roland Park school where they helped win several MIAA A championships.

“I care deeply for the kids and the coaching staff and have a lot of close relationships. I’ve been around Tim Holley [current Gilman coach] my whole life,” said Russell, a 1995 Gilman graduate who was the top assistant under Biff Poggi, who stepped down after 19 seasons this past January. “It will be an emotional week for us, but it won’t affect the kids. It’ll be another game for them. We’ll try to keep the coaches in check.”

No. 8 St. Frances Academy 14, No. 7 Calvert Hall College 0

at Morgan State University

Calvert Hall 0 0 0 0 – 0 

St. Frances 6 0 6 2 – 14

First quarter

St. Frances – Brightwell 1 run (kick failed)

Third quarter 

St. Frances – Robinson 1 run (run failed)

Fourth quarter

St. Frances – Safety (Miller sacked Avery in end zone)