Salesianum assistant coach Anthony Spadaccini told Daulton Gregory he thought he could score on the opening kickoff of the second half on Friday night.
So Gregory did, motoring 96 yards to swing the momentum fully in the Sals’ direction in what turned out to be a 21-0 victory over St. Mark’s in the first Sallies-St. Mark’s game to be played at the Spartans’ on-campus stadium.
“When I scored, [Spadaccini] came running over to me and just jumped and gave me the biggest hug,” Gregory said. “It was pretty exciting. I saw a hole, and I just took off.”
The second-ranked Sals (6-1) held the fifth-ranked Spartans (4-3) to 160 total yards, just 43 after halftime. Sallies intercepted two passes in the fourth quarter to keep St. Mark’s off the board.
“[Defensive coordinator Paul] Salvo came up to me and said, ‘Keep that zero on the scoreboard,'” Sals defensive end Connor Freeborn said. “We played hard in the fourth quarter, didn’t let up, played well all around.”
Neither team came close to scoring in the first half until a short St. Mark’s punt set up the Sals at the Spartans 43 midway through the second quarter. Even then, it wasn’t easy.
Sallies had to convert two fourth downs, with Gregory breaking a tackle and lunging for an 8-yard gain on fourth-and-6 and quarterback Matt Sgro gaining 7 on a fourth-and-1 keeper. On the next play, Troy Reeder picked up steam up the middle, bulldozed a couple of St. Mark’s defenders at the goal line and scored on a 15-yard run with 1:29 left in the second quarter.
“The line opened up a huge hole,” Reeder said. “We made a little adjustment on the drive right before that one, and it worked. Our guys got bodies on bodies, opened up a nice hole and made my job pretty easy.”
The Spartans responded with their best drive, as Zach Whitehead sprinted 29 yards on a quarterback draw to quickly move St. Mark’s to the Sallies 42. The Spartans reached the 25 with 23 seconds remaining in the half before they mishandled a pitch and the Sals’ Ben Mersman recovered the fumble to keep Salesianum up 7-0 at halftime.
“That was huge, because they were driving down the field, they’ve got a great kicker, they could have at least gotten three [points] out of that,” Sallies coach Bill DiNardo said. “That was a big play for us.”
Then Gregory started the second half with an even bigger play, quickly pulling away to make it 14-0.
“I don’t think anyone touched me,” Gregory said. “I saw the seam, and I was looking right and I knew the kicker was going to go right. I just cut left and took off.”
Later, the Sals chewed 6:44 off the clock with an old-school drive, taking 14 plays to go 45 yards. Sgro took a quick snap and plunged in from the 4 for a 21-0 lead with 6:47 to go.
The Sallies defense finished it off, as lineman Jared Lewis intercepted a pass tipped by 6-foot-7 end Brian O’Neill, and defensive back Louis Fedele picked off a long throw with 3:37 remaining.
All of the permanent and temporary bleachers were filled well before kickoff, and hundreds more fans lined the hill above the north end zone. Sallies earned a 36-19 victory in front of a huge crowd at Steubenville (Ohio) last week, and DiNardo said that prepared them for another charged setting on Friday.
“This game, there was so much hype,” DiNardo said. “With all respect for St. Mark’s, it was like a circus atmosphere. There were so many people here, just such fanfare for this game. And our kids, all of them experienced this last week. We went into hostile territory last week, played in front of 8,800 people on their homecoming, and we succeeded. So this was not out of the ordinary for us.”