After having a three-game win streak snapped by Gilman on October 18, the Archbishop Spalding football team got back on track and earned its seventh win of the season with a 28-24 victory over Georgetown Prep on October 25.
Following that win, the Cavaliers debuted in the Top 25 of the Maryland High School Football Media State Poll as the no. 23 team in the state.
In its first task as a freshly ranked team, Spalding faced one of its biggest tests of the season on November 1 against the visiting no. 5 McDonogh Eagles. If the Cavaliers could hand undefeated McDonogh its first loss of the season, the door would open to a possible three-way tie for the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title between Spalding, McDonogh and Gilman. A loss would end any title hopes for the Cavaliers.
Spalding slowed the Eagles’ relentless rushing attack early, but as the game went on, McDonogh’s pounding on the ground began to take a toll on the Cavaliers. The Cavs (7-3) came up short on senior night as McDonogh kept its undefeated season alive with a 23-12 win.
“We don’t like moral victories,” Spalding Head Coach Kyle Schmitt said. “We’re not into that. But I think the kids realize how close we are. I think we’ve taken great strides this year as a program. We’ve just going to keep working.”
Senior running back Alex Hurdle led McDonogh (10-0) with 138 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“The [offensive] line really carried me today,” Hurdle said. “I’ve been out for three weeks with an injured foot and didn’t really know what to expect. Those guys were blocking really well and they made the job easy for me.”
After a 41-yard McDonogh field goal opened the scoring in the second quarter, Spalding quarterback Zach Abey took the field looking to answer.
On second and long, Abey rolled out of the pocket to avoid getting sacked, but as defenders were dragging him to the ground, he threw an interception that was returned deep into Spalding territory.
“We had a protection issue, but Zach has got to eat that football, and he knows that,” Schmitt said. “But Zach Abey is the reason we’re here. I don’t know where we’d be without him. It was just a bad call multiplied by a bad decision, so that was a huge play.”
McDonogh scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive and took a 10-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Spalding’s defense stood strong in the third quarter and made a big play on fourth and two to halt McDonogh’s opening drive of the second half. Hurdle took the handoff but was met in the backfield by seniors Jack Havens and Zach Hill, giving Spalding possession at their own 35-yard line.
“Overall I thought we stopped the run fairly well,” Schmitt said. “As a defense, I’m really proud of the effort.”
On McDonogh’s next offensive possession, the Eagles extended their lead to 16 with 10:47 on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Spalding debuted its option-style offense late in the game and made it into the end zone when Abey rushed for a 15-yard touchdown.
“We kind of had the option open all game, so we kept that in our back pocket until the end of the game,” Abey said. “Who knows if we would have brought it out earlier in the game if it would have been a different game, but they played their hearts out, and they’re a tough team.”
The Cavaliers recovered an onside kick and capitalized with a 19-yard touchdown run by senior Avery Simmons.
Spalding failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, and McDonogh’s offense took over with a 16-12 lead and less than two minutes remaining in the game.
The Eagles kept chipping away at the Spalding defense on the ground, and Hurdle finally broke free to put the finishing touches on the game.
On second and long, Hurdle burst through the line and made it into the end zone for the second time of the night with a 21 yard touchdown run.
Despite the loss, Schmitt said that he is proud of the Cavaliers’ late run.
“Our kids fight until the game is over,” Schmitt said. “That’s what we’ve taught. It was expected. It’s 16-12, we’ve got to stop them, and they grinded it out on us.”