By Allen Kha / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor
Playing on its home turf for the first time in four weeks and eager for its first win in the same time span, St. Anne’s-Belfield coach John Blake wanted his team to start off fast Friday evening against Collegiate.
After attempting an onside kick to begin the game — which Collegiate recovered — senior linebacker Antione Currie jarred the ball loose from the Cougars’ Tyler Kemeny.
Fellow senior Shane Palmateer scooped the ball up in the open field and rumbled 35 yards for a touchdown and a six-point lead, a minute into the contest.
“The play of the game is probably Antione [Currie]’s hit early to give us an early score,” Blake said.
“Shane [Palmateer] picking that ball up… to [also] have the presence to pick it up and run with it instead of dive on it. It was a great play, and it got us feeling good about ourselves early in the game.”
The Saints (3-4) pushed their momentum even further by attempting a two-point conversion on the score — which they failed to convert — and attempting an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff.
After trading possessions through the middle of the first quarter, STAB drove down the field in the final few minutes of the quarter. After stalling just short of the red zone, Saints kicker John Griffin missed a 34-yard field goal slightly left with a minute remaining in the quarter.
Collegiate responded on its next drive, when Kemeny rocketed a pass to wide receiver Caleb Wharton down the left sideline for 39 yards on a fourth-and-14 play.
Both teams continued their strong defensive performances going into the second half, with Collegiate leading 7-6. Each quarterback was hurried throughout the half, with STAB quarterback Jake Allen often scrambling to elude the Cougars’ pass rush and Kemeny rolling out of the pocket to throw on the run.
“Jake Allen’s done an amazing job for us. Sometimes I say that our offensive line and the team doesn’t help him enough… and that he’s being asked to carry us to the level that we never asked [previous starting quarterback] Charlie Murray to go, as a freshman,” Blake said. “At some point we needed our seniors and other players to step up.”
Fittingly, several Saints players — familiar and new — stepped up in the second half.
STAB reclaimed the lead with 2:25 left in the third quarter when Griffin kicked a 33-yard field goal. After stalling in the red zone on a long drive — with star running back Branford Rogers almost throwing an interception in the end zone on the previous play — Griffin kicked a field goal just through the upright on a hurried snap amidst confusion on both sides of the ball.
“Second biggest play of the game,” Blake said. “After missing one earlier, having the confidence to step up and make that kick… that was huge.”
The Saints started to pull away in the fourth quarter when Branford Rodgers scored a 16-yard touchdown with 10:47 remaining in the game, giving the Saints a 16-7 lead.
After recovering the ensuing kickoff — a long squib kick that Collegiate mishandled — and driving into the red zone, fullback Charles Sipe capped off STAB’s resurgence with a six-yard touchdown run up the middle and 8:14 left in the game.
The Saints and Cougars traded the next few possessions before Collegiate scored a touchdown with 2:02 remaining in the game. Kemeny connected with Wharton again for a 45-yard touchdown pass, and Kemeny converted the two-point attempt himself.
With the Saints lead down to 23-15 in the game’s final two minutes, Branford Rodgers converted multiple first downs to secure a much-needed victory.
“Having four away games in a row, all tough games… it feels great to come back home. The crowd’s there, my friends cheering me and the team on, [them] having my back…” Rogers, who finished with 132 yards and a rushing touchdown, said.
“We really needed this win, being at the bottom of the totem pole right now. It’s a challenge for us, but our team has stayed together despite our tough stretch and we have to work our way back up.”
Blake added that his team needed to maintain the performance they gave in Friday’s win to get back into the playoff chase.
“We’ve played some tough teams on the road, and we’ve done just enough bad things during those games to hurt us and lose games,” Blake said.
“Now we’ve got to win a bunch of games — and tough ones — to try to get into the playoffs. I was very impressed with the showing and statement from our players… they took it upon themselves to really come out and try to make a statement.”
STAB continues its daunting — but not unprecedented — task of winning-out next week when they host Covenant on Homecoming night, and later travel to play Blue Ridge and Christchurch.
“It’s six [wins] to get in,” Blake said. “We’ve been here before… in 2007, we were in the same spot. But our backs are still against the wall.”