After opening its season with a pair of shutout victories, the St. Mark’s football team defense was finally pushed in its third game Friday against Sussex Central.
But one play in the opening minutes of the second half stemmed a rising tide and set the tone for the remainder of the contest for the Spartans, ranked third in the state in Division I.
Defensive lineman Keith Medley III forced a fumble that Rhett Schweizer recovered on No. 5 Sussex Central’s first drive of the second half. That set up a short field and lead-assuming touchdown drive for the Spartans (3-0) in their 33-13 win.
“I saw the guy running across the field, and I just ran behind him,” Medley said of his third-quarter strip. “He had it on his outside shoulder, so I just came back, ripped, and the ball came out.”
When Medley forced the fumble, Sussex Central was in the middle of a moderately successful offensive evening, having put together 174 yards of offense in the first half and entering halftime tied at 13. After the fumble recovery, the Golden Knights didn’t score and totaled only 45 yards of offense.
Late in the third quarter, a botched Golden Knights handoff led to a St. Mark’s fumble recovery and another short field. After taking over at the Sussex Central 9-yard line, Brendan Fogarty scored the second of his three touchdowns and put the Spartans ahead 27-13 with 11:57 to play. Given the performance the St. Mark’s defense put on in the second half, that lead proved insurmountable.
“I’m happy we responded in the second half,” Spartans coach John Wilson said. “That’s a good football team; they’re always well coached. … I’m really excited that our guys responded to the challenge.”
St. Mark’s took an early 7-0 lead on Taaron Brown’s 52-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and moved back ahead 13-6 on Zach Whitehead’s 44-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, but two touchdown passes by Sussex Central quarterback Anthony Clanton tied it at 13.
But in the second half, turnovers and a strong St. Mark’s defensive effort made the final minutes ones in which the Spartans could breathe easy.
“Turnovers really hurt us,” Golden Knights coach John Wells said. “We played pretty well, [but] we had the ball come out.”