No. 4 Calvert Hall pushes past Mount St. Joseph for MIAA A football title shot; Smith and Brannock each account for 2 TDs

Calvert Hall quarterback Noah Brannock (4) directs a receiver downfield as Mount St. Joseph defensive linemen Stephen Shulze (left) and Nick Paxton gives chase during Saturday’s MIAA A Conference football semifinal. Brannock threw for two touchdowns, including the game-winner to Donnie Jones early in the fourth quarter as the fourth-ranked Cardinals overcame first half deficits of 14 and 12 points to beat No. 3 Mount St. Joseph to advance to Saturday’s title game against McDonogh School. (photo – SportsMajors)

by Demetrius Dillard

Special to VSN

Three weeks ago, Calvert Hall College football team left Mount St. Joseph damp and discouraged after falling behind 24 points in a loss. Down two touchdowns Saturday, the Cardinals’ MIAA A Conference season was speeding towards a disappointing end.

Not deterred, The Hall regrouped and a championship is now within reach. The No. 4 Cardinals rallied for a 31-26 victory over the third-ranked Gaels in a MIAA A semifinal at Pleyvak Field in Southwest Baltimore.

Junior quarterback Noah Brannock finished 10-of-16 for 120 yards and two touchdowns for Calvert Hall (8-2 overall), and Daniel Harper rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown.

Brannock’s 9-yard scoring pass to Donnie Lewis early in the fourth, combined with a solid defensive effort in the closing minutes helped advance the Cardinals to the championship round for the first time since 2012. Calvert Hall will play fifth-ranked McDonogh School for the crown, Saturday at noon at Archbishop Spalding’s Whittles Field.

The Cardinals lost, 24-14, in the prior meeting with St. Joe Oct. 23 after helping create a 24-0 deficit. Saturday, they trailed 14-0 and 19-7 in the opening half.

“We preached that all week – redemption. We put the score ‘24-14’ on our scoreboard all week and we left it up there all week so our guys can see it every single day so it was important for us to come back here and redeem ourselves,” Calvert Hall coach Josh Ward. “I’m just proud of our guys. We have such a team that excites me, like we don’t quit on each other. It was just a whole team effort.”

“This is huge. This is a hard place to play,” Brannock said.

Down 19-7 after Mount St. Joseph sophomore quarterback Winston Watkins connected with senior Dom Kibby for a 89-yard score, Calvert Hall started its comeback with Brannock throwing a 50-yard pass to Rahkeem Smith before halftime.

Smith, a senior, came up big again for the Cardinals, taking the second half kickoff 92 yards, giving the Towson school its first lead, 22-19. The lead barely lasted a minute as Watkins’ screen pass to Zion Williams turned into a 59-yard touchdown, putting St. Joe back up.

Calvert Hall got a Andrew Petrino 23-yard field goal to close to 26-25. The Hall defense came up with a stop, and the offense capitalized as Brannock, who overcame three interceptions, found Lewis for the winning score with 10:49 left in regulation.

The Cardinals’ secondary kept Watkins, who threw for 248 yards, to just 3-for-8 passing over the final six minutes Saturday. Kibby finished with three catches for 117 yards.

The Gaels (7-4) had little problems early as running back Bryce Cox capped off a 65-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown. He concluded a 57-yard drive with another easy run, this from two yards out.

Mount St. Joseph’s offense found the going much harder in the pivotal fourth quarter.

“I thought it would be this kind of a game and I thought the team that probably had the ball or had the momentum going in the fourth quarter would win and unfortunately it was them,” Gaels coach Dom Damico said.

Damico, in his first full season as coach, saw a lot of positives with a young and promising roster.

“A lot guys back. I think if we fill some holes, we should be very competitive again next year,” said Damico.

The Cardinals, also stocked with young talent, is a win away from their first MIAA A championship since 2010. Calvert Hall defeated McDonogh, 24-7, in the league opener for both back in September at Russo Stadium.

The Cardinals are riding a wave of confidence.

“We went into halftime, we were down by five and were like ‘just trust in each other,'” said Brannock. “Trust in your brothers and next thing you know, we got it done.”

MIAA A Conference semifinal

No. 4 Calvert Hall College 31, No. 3 Mount St. Joseph 26

Calvert Hall 7 7 11 6 — 31

Mt. St. Joe 13 6 7 0 — 26

First quarter

MSJ – Cox 1 run (Peter Lipscombe kick)

MSJ – Cox 2 run (kick failed)

CH – Harper 45 run (Petrino kick)

Second quarter

MSJ – Kibby 89 pass from Watkins (pass failed)

CH – Smith 50 pass from Brannock (Petrino kick)

Third quarter

CH – Smith 92 kickoff return (Smith run)

MSJ – Williams 59 pass from Watkins (Lipscombe kick)

CH – Petrino 23 field goal

Fourth quarter

CH – Lewis 9 pass from Brannock (run failed)