2016 MIAA C CONFERENCE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS
ST. JOHN’S CATHOLIC PREP VIKINGS
The way things started in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association C Conference championship game at Archbishop Spalding’s Whittles Field in Severn on Saturday afternoon, it looked like an offensive showcase was about to unfold.
Instead, both St. John’s Catholic Prep and Annapolis Area Christian School settled in for an old-school defensive battle, kind of like the one the rivals were involved in last November when the Eagles pulled out a 20-14 verdict in the conference final by employing a staunch defensive effort in the second half.
This time AACS went 71 yards in eight plays to grab a 6-0 advantage on the game’s opening possession yet never found the end zone again in what turned to be a hard-fought 12-6 victory for the Vikings from Frederick County.
The teams traded four-point wins over one another during the regular season, making another close outcome part of the intense rivalry. Saturday’s victory marked St. John’s first league title since 2013 and fourth overall.
AACS sophomore running back Sam Akinmukomi, who had 44 yards rushing on five carries in the sequence, bolted straight up the middle to cover the final 20 yards for the first score midway though the opening period.
It took the Vikings (7-4 overall) nearly two full quarters to notch the equalizer when junior running back Joey Keys started inside and then streaked down the right sideline and into the end zone just 40 seconds before the intermission to gain a 6-6 tie.
Defenses dominated between and after the scores, most notably when St. John’s (7-4) stiffened on an AACS drive that reached the 2-yard line and was ultimately snuffed on a sack by Viking senior linebacker Mike Hackett.
However, St John’s inched ahead, 12-6, after junior junior quarterback/defensive back Sully Dowling recovered a fumble at the AACS 25-yard line and the Vikings cashed in five plays later on Downing’s 1-yard sneak with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
From that point forward, both teams were prone to turning the ball over for the rest of the period.
It started when St. John’s sophomore defensive lineman Michael Haley blocked a punt before the Eagles recovered a Viking fumble on the very next play from scrimmage.
Dowling then intercepted Eagle junior quarterback Isiah Williams before AACS senior linebacker Brian Heverly recovered yet another fumble near the end of the third quarter to blunt a St. John’s drive.
Try as they might to draw even, the Eagles had difficulty blocking several members of the Vikings from seven, especially Hackett. He had four sacks in the second half alone.
Senior linebacker Will Hackett, junior linebacker Anthony Sofia, junior lineman Dennis Pittinger and sophomore Isaiah Luttrell also had sacks for the Vikings.
“We got to the quarterback,” Mike Hackett said. “We opened lanes up. We pushed through. We’re a tough defensive line.”
Mike Hackett had sacks on the first play of the Eagles’ first two possessions of the fourth quarter, forcing them into difficult down-and-distance situations.
Fittingly, he also closed the game with his final sack.
When asked how the Vikings were able to hold down the sleek and shifty Akinmukomi to 70 yards on 13 carries after the opening drive, Hackett said it was all about the pass rush.
“If you get to the quarterback before he can hand off, they can’t run the ball,” Hackett said.
First-year St. John’s coach Daryl Hayes said that he made a few adjustments to the defense after expecting the Eagles to go to the air early.
After all, Williams displayed a strong arm and senior tight end Jarrett Heckert, Akinmukomi and sophomore wideout Thaddeus Stansfield were all inviting targets.
“We just played our brand of football,” Hayes said. “We’ve been stopping the run all year. We shifted eight guys to the box and shut them down for the rest of the night.”
MIAA C CONFERENCE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
at Archbishop Spalding
ST. JOHN’S CATHOLIC PREP 12, ANNAPOLIS AREA CHRISTIAN SCHOOL 6
SJCP 0 6 6 0 — 12
AACS 6 0 0 0 — 6
AACS – Sam Akinmukomi 20 run (kick failed)
SJCP – Joey Keys 30 run (kick failed)
SJCP – Sully Dowling 1 run (kick failed)