It took nearly a quarter to get going, but Salesianum made sure to send its senior players off right.
Backed by an air-tight defense, the Sallies exploded for 24 points in the second quarter of their 31-0 rout over rival St. Mark’s on Friday. Both squads entered with matching 6-3 records, but Salesianum ensured a playoff spot with the victory.
“It’s a huge rivalry game,” Sallies head coach Bill DiNardo said. “We played with a fire in our bellies. The D-I, DII thing doesn’t matter. For us, it’s still our big game of the year. It’s our Army-Navy.”
The hosts prevented the Spartans from gaining a single first down before halftime, and held them to -7 yards of offense. Sallies also sacked quarterback Billy Sullivan four times.
“We just prepared well,” DiNardo said. “Our defensive coordinator, Paul Salvo, does a great job. Our kids stepped up this week. We fought some illness and it’s always next man up.”
Salesianum running back Nicholas Merlino rewarded his defense, piling up 148 yards on 19 carries.
Salesianum’s offense endured a shaky start, going three-and-out and losing a fumble on its first two series. The Sallies found their rhythm on their third drive, traversing 84 yards on 13 plays. Four different backs contributed, while receiver Logan Bushweller made a diving 29-yard catch at the 1-yard line on 4th-and-3. It was quarterback Zachary’s Gwynn’s second pass of 25-plus yards, and Josh Patrick punched the ball in for the touchdown.
Merlino took over on Salesianum’s next drive, gobbling up yardage 4-5 yards at a time. Gwynn then scored on a 5-yard sneak to make it 14-0.
“(The Spartans) played good defense the way they flooded into the holes, but I told my line just get me a hole and I’ll hit it hard just like I did last week,” Merlino said.
After the defense forced the Spartans into two more 3-and-outs, the offense had enough time to tack on another touchdown (23-yard run by Patrick) and a 35-yard field goal by Cooper Urban for a 24-0 halftime lead.
St. Mark’s came to life on its first drive of the third quarter, driving deep into Sallies territory with short passes to the sideline. The Spartans reached the red zone, but senior Michael Drake picked Gwynn off at the 5 to preserve the shutout.
The victors added a final touchdown early in the fourth and now set their sights on the extra football they get to play.
“It’s a whole new season now,” Merlino said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to come out strong.”