NEWARK – It turned out to be lopsided, but it was still a close game when Michael Drake seized the spotlight Thursday night.
Salesianum’s junior defensive back scooped up a blocked field goal and returned it 68 yards to the 1. Colby Reeder scored the third of his four touchdowns on the next play, and the Sals never lost the momentum in a 41-0 victory over St. Mark’s.
An impressive crowd of 7,012 came to watch the archrivals meet at Delaware Stadium for the first time, and they saw a very competitive first half. But Salesianum, 9-1 and ranked first in Division I, had too much in the end. The Spartans finished their season at 4-6.
Reeder went 60 yards on the first play from scrimmage before being dragged down at the 10. But St. Mark’s kept the Sals off the board, and made three first downs before Drake intercepted a pass at the Sals 33.
Sallies fumbled it away, but scored on its third drive. Jeremy Ryan broke a tackle to turn a short pass from Garrett Cannon into a 28-yard gain, and Reeder took it in from the 3 for a 7-0 lead with 8:52 left in the second quarter.
After a St. Mark’s punt, Reeder bounced a run outside for 22 yards, then cut up the middle for a 27-yard touchdown and a 14-0 cushion. But the Spartans used short passes to move the ball and set up a 39-yard field-goal attempt with 1:11 left in the first half.
Reeder blocked it, and the ball almost skidded out of bounds before Drake snagged it and sprinted down the sideline.
“I’m kind of mad I didn’t score on that,” Drake said. “I ran out of gas at the end.
“Colby made a great play. He ran in and blocked it, and thank God I was in the right spot to pick it up and run.”
Reeder punched it in on the next play, and instead of St. Mark’s getting on the board, the Sals went into halftime up 21-0.
“That was a huge play at the end of the first half,” Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo said. “I was content going in 14-3, still really happy. Our kids have done such a good job making big plays. Our special teams have done a great job.
“That just made such a difference for us at halftime. That gave us that extra push.”
Linemen Randy Sinnott, Daniel Fleming, Sean Keating, Devin Schofield and Domenico Marra and tight ends Kyle Cathers and Josh Patrick provided the extra push in the second half. Reeder finished with 15 carries for 248, gaining 124 in each half.
“They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast,” Reeder said of his line. “They drive the guys off the ball and make big holes for me.”
Reeder ripped off a 62-yard touchdown run, Peyton Mullin scored on an 11-yard burst and Nick Merlino went 50 yards for the Sals’ final touchdown.
After gaining just 21 yards on 15 carries in the first half, St. Mark’s didn’t hand the ball to a single running back in the second half. The Spartans did have some success through the air, as Billy Sullivan completed 18 of 35 passes for 170 yards. Jamai Rice caught 10 of those for 110 yards.
“The defense made them work,” DiNardo said. “They got first downs and they moved the ball, but when push came to shove our defense shut the door.”
The Sals appear likely to be one of the top two seeds in the Division I playoffs, which would net a first-round bye and a home game in the semifinals. They feel even better after closing the regular season with three straight wins over the Delaware teams that beat them last year.
“We wanted revenge. This is our third revenge game in a row,” Reeder said. “William Penn, then Sussex Tech, then St. Mark’s. We called it our revenge tour, and we completed it tonight. It feels great to get them back.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ