Mount St. Joe dominates No. 4 Spalding, but still is eliminated from MIAA A Conference playoffs; complete breakdown of how the five-team tie for second place is resolved

Amir Hall (left) and Matt McDonald (center) had two interceptions each and Keyshawn Hailey had a pick six as Mount St. Joseph forced seven turnovers in a 22-7 win over Spalding.

After scoring an MIAA record 76 points one week ago, the Archbishop Spalding football team ran into a defensive buzz saw Saturday afternoon in Irivington as host Mount St. Joseph forced seven turnovers, including five interceptions, and recorded a safety to pull off a 22-7 blitz of the Cavaliers.

Playing inspired football in hopes of reaching the MIAA A Conference football playoffs, the 7th-ranked Gaels held No. 4 Spalding’s high-powered attack scoreless for all but the final 1:43 of the contest and left the field feeling good about their post-season chances. Later in the evening, Gilman knocked off McDonogh, 24-21, throwing the standings into a virtual dead-heat below top-ranked and undefeated St. Frances. An unprecedented five teams tied for second-place with 3-3 records, including St. Joe and Spalding. The tie-breakers, however, favored neither of them and both saw their seasons come to an end on Saturday.

Here is how the complicated puzzle is unraveled.

On the field, Gilman, McDonogh, St. Joe and Spalding all finished with 3-3 records. Calvert Hall, which has only played five league games to date, is 2-3, but the Cardinals are credited with a third league win under the formula adopted by the MIAA to account for the fact that the Calvert Hall/Loyola game is not scheduled to take place until after the playoffs. The rule adopted stated that whoever had a better record between Calvert Hall and Loyola, once the rest of the regular season was completed, would be credited with a win over the other for the purposes of playoff seeding. Thus, Calvert Hall becomes the fifth team at 3-3.

The first tie-break criteria is alway head-to-head and when multiple teams are involved you take each team’s total record against all other teams with which it is tied. In this case, all five teams were 2-2 amongst each each. In addition, all five lost to first place St. Frances and all five, including Calvert Hall, have a win over Loyola. The criteria then shifts to most points scored in conference losses.

Gilman, which scored 58 in its loss to Spalding last week, wins this criteria going away, with 83 points in its three losses, easily outdistancing the 42 scored by both Calvert Hall and McDonogh in their losses. St. Joe scored 29 and Spalding scored just 20. Once Gilman is elevated from this group into the second seed, however, the criteria reverts back to head-to-head among the remaining tied teams.

Among Calvert Hall, McDonogh, St. Joe and Spalding, Calvert Hall and McDonogh were each 2-1 and St. Joe and Spalding were both 1-2. Calvert Hall and McDonogh are then elevated into the top four and the playoffs, while the Gaels and Cavaliers are eliminated. Since Calvert Hall won its head-to-head meeting with McDonogh, the Cardinals become the third seed and McDonogh becomes the fourth.

Next Sunday at CCBC-Essex, in a semifinal double-header, St. Frances will face McDonogh at noon in the first game and Gilman will face Calvert Hall, at approximately 3:00 p.m. Sunday’s winners will advance to the championship game which will be played on Sunday, Nov. 19 at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field at 12:30 p.m.

Despite the bitter late afternoon news, the day could not have started any better for the Gaels as they celebrated Senior Day. The Gaels (6-4 overall) thwarted the Cavaliers’ game-opening drive with an interception by sophomore Amir Hall and then ground more than six minutes off the game clock with an 11-play 70-yard scoring drive, capped with a 20-yard touchdown pass from senior Naite Reese to junior Maurice Nelson, for an early 7-0 lead.

Reese, who lost his starting job early in the season, but who has ignited the Gaels offense since returning to the lineup, was 6-for-7 for 70 yards on the drive. For the game Reese was 15-for-30 for 214-yards and two touchdowns. In addition, he had a perfectly thrown pass dropped near the end of the first half which would have been a 51-yard TD pass.

“This is how he played in the preseason,” said St. Joe coach Rich Holzer of his senior signal caller. “We had some hiccups at the beginning of the season with him and (freshman) Billy (Atkins) stepped in and played really well and now, with Billy hurt, Naite has stepped up unbelievably. You have to give him a lot of credit because he’s been through a lot of adversity and he came out the other side.”

Spalding’s offense, on its second possession, drove the ball from its own 25 to the St. Joe four, but on a third and goal the Gael defense came up big once again. On the play, Spalding quarterback Jayden Umbarger stepped up as if he was going to run before stopping and flicking a little jump pass towards the end zone. St. Joe’s Matt McDonald, however, stepped in front of it and pulled in the Gael’s second interception of the game.

They were just getting started.

On the final play of the first quarter, Hall grabbed his second interception to stop the Cavaliers’ third possession of the contest. The next time Spalding got the ball, Umbarger fumbled the football and the Gaels’ Michael Corbi fell on it to give St. Joe a short-field, starting at the Spalding 31.

Reese needed just one play to put the Gaels in the end zone, as he connected with Hall on a simple in rout and watched his speedy sophomore teammate turn up field and race to the end zone.

Preparation was the key to the Gaels’ big performance according to Hall and McDonald.

“Coaches game-planned for the trip set and spread offense the whole week. It felt good catching those two interceptions, so did scoring on that touchdown pass,” said Hall. “I really appreciate my coaches, my family and everyone who put me in this position.”

“Just studying film,” added McDonald. “Every day after school with film, we spend 45 minutes just studying their formations and we worked playing man every single practice, staying with your man, and watching double moves. We’re just a shutdown defense.”

Spalding’s nightmarish first half continued on its next drive. The Cavs once again moved the ball, driving from their own 39 to the MSJ 15, before senior running back Julius Chestnut was separated from the football and the Gaels recovered once again. In the first half, Spalding had the ball five times and turned it over five times, but still trailed only 14-0.

Midway through the third-quarter, Reese pinned Spalding back at its one yard line with a punt and on the first play of the drive Umbarger was tackled in the end zone for a safety, giving the Gaels a 16-0 lead.

In the fourth quarter, Spalding coach Kyle Schmidt turned to freshman quarterback Austin Tutas and he was promptly greeted with McDonald’s second interception of the day. The Gaels were not able to cash-in on that opportunity, but with 3:03 to play in the game, MSJ senior Keyshawn Hailey stepped in front of a Tutas pass and took it 50-yards for a pick-six, stretching the St. Joe lead to 22-0.

Spalding’s lone score came on its next possession, as Tutas drove them 65 yards in eight plays with Chestnut scoring on a 4-yard touchdown run to avoid the shutout. Tutas for 4-for-6 for 49 yards on the march.

Holzer came into the game confident his team could win, but never anticipated such a dominant defensive effort against Spalding.

“If you said, you are going to win this game, I would have said absolutely,” said Holzer. “I thought it was a 50-50 game, but to play that well on defense is unbelievable.”

According to Spalding head coach Kyle Schmidt, turnovers have not been a problem for his team this year, but surmised that the law of averages caught up with his squad.

“I would say that was probably the difference,” Schmidt said. “It hasn’t really been an issue all year. It catches up with you. My father always said ‘its bound to come around at some point’ and we got it today.

“It was an evenly played game in a lot of ways. I thought our defense played incredible. We were down a couple of guys in the back end and I thought those kids fought really hard. More important, St. Joe played incredible. They were awesome. Rich did a great job rallying his kids after two tough losses and we just didn’t have it today.”

AS 0 0 0 7 — 7
MSJ 7 7 2 6 — 22
MSJ – Maurice Nelson 20 pass from Naite Reese (N/A kick)
MSJ-Amir Hall 31 pass from Reese (N/A kick)
MSJ – Safety – Umbarger tackled in the end zone
MSJ – Keyshawn Hailey 50 interception return (kick failed)
AS – Julius Chestnut 4 run (Camden Price kick)