It wasn’t the most picturesque victory of the season for St. Mark’s. But when a win clinches a playoff spot, it’s a work of art.
The Spartans ran the ball effectively, and Michael Catalano intercepted two passes in the second half as St. Mark’s punched its ticket to the DIAA Division I football playoffs with a 30-7 victory over Oxford on Thursday night.
St. Mark’s coach John Wilson searched high and low for a 10th game for his team, and Oxford finally stepped forward two weeks ago. The Hornets (7-4) were eliminated from contention for the Pennsylvania playoffs with a 70-24 loss to Unionville last week but were willing to play another game and put up a good fight against the Spartans.
“Thanks to coach [Mike] Pietlock for having us up here,” Wilson said. “He asked his kids if they wanted to play, and they did. They had a tough week last week, but they kept to their word. They didn’t have to play us, but they did. They did us such a favor.”
St. Mark’s (7-3) scored easily on its first possession, moving 43 yards in four plays. T.J. Brown ran it in from the 13 to make it 7-0 with 8:07 left in the first quarter.
Oxford moved from its own 16 to the Spartans 18 before turning it over on downs. St. Mark’s went right back to work, rolling 82 yards in six plays. Quarterback Zach Whitehead broke free, picked up a great downfield block from Rhett Schweizer and scored on a 30-yard run for a 14-0 lead after one quarter.
A 62-yard punt by the Hornets’ Brandon Frazier pinned the Spartans at their own 2, and a short St. Mark’s punt set up Oxford at the Spartans 27. Zach Deasey scored on a 5-yard run six plays later to pull the Hornets within 14-7 with 4:42 remaining in the second quarter.
That left St. Mark’s time for one more first-half score, as Brown capped an eight-play drive with a 2-yard burst with 16 seconds left.
“It was kind of slow at the start, but the line started opening up the holes really well for me and made it easy,” Brown said. “We just came out real sluggish. I don’t know what we were thinking. But we picked it up in the second half.”
The Spartans took seven minutes off the clock with their opening drive of the third quarter, and Jeff Richards kicked a 37-yard field goal to make it 23-7.
In the fourth quarter, Catalano returned his second interception 35 yards to the Oxford 25 to set up Greg Betts’ 7-yard touchdown run with 2:05 remaining.
“We ran the ball pretty well, but I was discouraged with some of the execution,” Wilson said. “… I’d like to see more of a sense of urgency with this team.”
Nothing is more urgent than the playoffs, and the Spartans will have another chance to please their coach next week.