For years, Salesianum and St. Mark’s contested their annual football rivalry at Baynard Stadium – about two blocks from Sallies’ locker room – even when St. Mark’s was the home team.
No more. For the first time, the teams will meet at 7:30 tonight at St. Mark’s on-campus stadium.
“Our administration and our community had wanted the game here for a long time,” St. Mark’s athletic director Matt Smith said. “We had played at Baynard for several years, and we decided that we wanted it on campus. We have a beautiful campus, and we want to have it here.”
Temporary bleachers have been installed to increase the seating capacity. But a maximum of 4,500 tickets are available, and none will be sold at the gate. Once the 1,100 parking spaces at St. Mark’s are filled, fans will be directed to park at the Pike Creek Shopping Center and ride shuttle buses to and from the stadium.
All the special arrangements aside, it’s still just a football game – if you can call Sallies-St. Mark’s just a football game.
“That’s exciting,” Sals coach Bill DiNardo said of playing at St. Mark’s. “It’s their home game; it makes sense for them. … We don’t care where the heck we play. With all the crowds and stuff like that, all the administrators can worry about those problems. We’re playing on a football field, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Sals come into the game 5-1 and ranked second in Division I. The fifth-ranked Spartans are 4-2. But as the old saying goes, you can throw the records out the window when these teams play.
“The things we’ve learned about this game, it isn’t always the best team that wins,” DiNardo said. “It’s the one that has the most fire in their belly for four quarters, and who makes the most plays.”
Sallies likes to run the ball, as usual, with 230-pound battering ram Troy Reeder, powerful Daulton Gregory and speedy Evander Blue alternating carries. But the Sals also are throwing more often this year, with quarterback Matt Sgro targeting 6-foot-7, 245-pound Brian O’Neill and 6-4 Tyler Marroni.
“They’re probably going to pass the ball more than we will, for the first time in a long time,” St. Mark’s coach John Wilson said. “They have a great passing threat with O’Neill outside and the other players that complement him.”
The Spartans favor a balanced attack with running back T.J. Brown (507 yards, seven TDs), quarterback Zach Whitehead (37 of 68 passing, 479 yards, three TDs) and five receivers with five or more catches. Linebacker Brendan Fogarty and end Patrick Bonk will return from injuries this week to give the defense a boost.
“We’ve been able to establish the running game,” Wilson said. “Our linemen are starting to grow up a little bit, and I think that’s important. More importantly, on defense we’re tackling in the open field a lot better.”