Calvert Hall holds off No. 2 McDonogh, wins first MIAA A football crown since 2010; Lewis, defense leads title charge (VIDEO HERE!)
2021 MIAA A CONFERENCE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONS
CALVERT HALL COLLEGE CARDINALS
by Derek Toney
Noah Brannock knelt Saturday as his Calvert Hall College football team celebrated McDonogh School’s failed fourth down attempt in the fourth quarter. After getting a quick instruction from assistant coach Mike Ward, Brannock stood upright and grabbed his facemask in disbelief.
Five seconds remained on the scoreboard at Whittles Field. Calvert Hall 14, McDonogh 8. All that all had to be done was Brannock getting the ball from center and putting his right knee on the turf.
Snap. Tap. The Hall’s championship drought was finally over.
The fourth-ranked Cardinals claimed the MIAA A Conference crown with the 14-8 victory over No. 2 McDonogh School at Archbishop Spalding.
The Hall (9-2 overall) combined two big strikes from Brannock to Donnie Lewis and an opportunistic defense which stopped McDonogh (6-6) in the final moments to capture its first MIAA A title since 2010 and second in the MIAA era.
It’s the 10th league title (eight Maryland Scholastic Association championships) in the storied history of the Towson private school that played its first football game back in 1899.
Many thought 2021 would be a season of adjustment for Calvert Hall after playing two games last year before COVID-19 concerns ended what would have been a shortened season. With nearly 50 underclassmen on the roster, 2022 was primed to be the Cardinals’ return to prominence.
The Hall 2021 didn’t get the memo.
“They just worked their butts off. They brought when I first got here,” said Calvert Hall coach Josh Ward, a 2004 graduate who took over the program in 2020. “Family over everything is what we preached. They just fight for each other til the end…They deserved this.”
“Hard work does pay off,” said Brannock. “I know it’s cliche, but it really does.”
On the field they absorbed a 37-14 beating a few weeks to Spalding, widely regarded as the championship favorite, the Cardinals mastered McDonogh, the team that ended Spalding’s perfect season last week, for a second time.
And, for a second time, it was Lewis, a 5-foot-8, 160-pound wide receiver who broke McDonogh’s vaulted defense. The junior accounted for both Calvert Hall’s touchdowns Saturday on plays of 83 and 34 yards.
“We preached finish all week. We knew we had to come out here with a lot of confidence,” said Lewis. “Coach told us all week whatever we did during the season doesn’t matter if we lost this game.”
Lewis, who had five catches for 77 yards in the first meeting Sept. 11 at Russo Stadium, surpassed his yardage output in one scintillating play. Lewis came across the middle and nabbed Brannock’s pass.
Lewis angled down the sidelines and slipped out of one tackle. After getting a block from teammate Rahkeem Smith that took out two McDonogh defenders, Lewis fended off another defender around the 15-yard line, then eluded one final tackler before crossing the goal line for the game’s first score early in the second quarter.
“I knew I was going to be open…we prepared that play all week,” said Lewis, who finished with three receptions for 135 yards Saturday. “We knew that was going to be a weak spot in their defense.”
Lewis, coming out of motion, went down the sidelines and hauled in Brannock’s pass in the corner of the end zone, putting Calvert Hall up 14-0.
“That’s all him,” said Brannock, who completed 5 of 9 attempts for 145 yards. “I got cracked on that one…let the ball go, saw the corner bite a little bit, put some air under it and let him go get it, just like the first game.”
The Cardinals’ defense, which stopped a nine-minute opening McDonogh drive with a fumble recovery, set up Lewis’ score with a fumble recovery by Antwan Morante. The Hall got three first half turnovers with Tim Downs recovering a fumble and KP Price’s interception.
Downs’ recovery, ending a 16-play Eagle drive, was arguably the tone setter Saturday.
“Gladly, I was there to pick it up but it was all about teamwork ,” said Downs, playing his first game in nearly two months due to injury. “Somebody forced the fumble, I got the fumble recovery, our ball and we can go score.”
After being stunned by Lewis’ big plays, McDonogh’s defense settled in. Senior defensive end and Penn State University commit Dani Dennis-Sutton brought Brannock down in the end zone for a safety with 4:51 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles kept Calvert Hall’s deep in their territory on the Cardinals’ next offensive possession early in the fourth, and a bad punt set McDonogh up just outside of Calvert Hall’s 25. Senior quarterback Preston Howard broke free and sprinted 14 yards for the Eagles’ first score with 8:41 left in regulation.
McDonogh got the ball back, at Calvert Hall’s 32, with 4:40 remaining. But, on 4th-and-2 at the 24, Howard fumbled and Downs recovered.
“We preach bend but don’t break in defense,” said Josh Ward.
The Eagles got one final chance at their 38 with 2:20 to play. Howard, who ran 16 yards on 4th-and-11, went for another 16 on 3rd-and-17, leaving McDonogh with a 4th-and-1 at Calvert Hall’s 12 with 13 seconds remaining.
Howard (29 carries, 159 yards), who’s committed to Maryland, barely escaped junior Zyir Daniel’s sack attempt. He threw as Hall senior linebacker Matt Conroy got him around the legs.
The ball landed on the turf and a celebration, 11 years in the making, was on.
“It was a lot of ups and downs, highs and lows, and we just came out on top,” said Brannock, who added last week’s come-from-behind semifinal victory at Mount St. Joseph buoyed the Cardinals’ confidence.
After the postgame celebration and pictures, Josh Ward shook hands with Calvert Hall President Brother John Kane.
“You got a big game Thursday,” Kane said.
After being cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Calvert Hall will meet Loyola Blakefield in the 101st Turkey Bowl at Unitas Stadium Thanksgiving morning.
“We got four practices…we got to come back out Thursday after a game like this against a very good McDonogh team to play a very good Loyola team is going tough,” said Ward, “we got to get ready.”
MIAA A Conference championship
at Archbishop Spalding
No. 4 Calvert Hall College 14, No. 2 McDonogh School 8
McDonogh 0 0 2 6 – 8
Calvert Hall 0 14 0 0 – 14
Calvert Hall – Donnie Lewis 83 yard pass from Noah Brannock (Andrew Petrino kick)
Calvert Hall – Lewis 34 pass from Brannock (Petrino kick)
McDonogh – Safety (Dennis-Sutton sacks Brannock in end zone)
McDonogh – Preston Howard 14 run (Sam Asplen kick)