Without Rogers, STAB still stays unbeaten

By Nick Eilerson / Scrimmageplaycva.com contributor

For many anxious fans at St. Anne’s Belfield, it might have seemed as if the moment would never come. After several squandered scoring opportunities, senior quarterback Charlie Murray finally found a way to open the floodgates when he fired a five-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Dylan Park with three minutes left in the first half. The Saints never looked back and went on to crush visiting Trinity Episcopal 21-0 on Friday.

Even when their offense stalled early on, STAB (4-0) maintained control of the game with a suffocating defense that forced five turnovers. Junior quarterback Bryant Drayton replaced a struggling senior Zach Swift at the start of the second half, but the anemic Trinity (1-3) attack could not find a way to move the ball, ending the night with just 131 total yards of offense.

“Our defense has been playing like this all year,” St. Anne’s Belfield coach John Blake said. “We’re really playing great, we’re running to the football… We play 15 or 20 guys on defense and all of them play. They played hard and did a great job.”

With leading junior tailback Branford Rodgers sidelined and a passing game that only managed 70 yards, STAB needed senior reserves Sheldon Shifflett and Erik Allen to carry the load. They did just that, finishing with a combined 165 rushing yards.

“The line did well and I thought that given the situation, we started out real slow in the first quarter, and it was hard to get going,” Shifflett — who ended the night with 88 yards on 23 carries — said. “But we came back out here pretty good.”

Yet the real spotlight shined on Park, who seemed to be anywhere and everywhere all night en route to accumulating his 15 points. Park — who after the game indicated he was more accustomed to the sideline than the end zone — finished with two receptions for 15 yards, two rushes for nine yards, two touchdowns, one two-point conversion, one converted PAT and an interception.

Playing in his first game as a receiver, Park followed his second quarter touchdown catch with a tricky score to cap off his team’s six minute, 59 yard drive to open the second half. Faced with fourth-and-goal from the six yard line, Shifflett took Murray’s handoff towards the right side of the field but promptly flipped it to Park in the backfield. Park raced towards the wide open left side of the field and dove into the end zone. He then caught another pass from Murray to convert the two-point conversion and extend his team’s lead to 14-0.

“[Coach Blake] told me at halftime that it was coming, so I was mentally ready,” Park said of the reverse. “I was a little nervous I’ll admit but it worked out perfectly. The fake just drew everyone away.”

The Saints’ defense continued to thwart the Titans in the game’s early going, but their offense simply could not take advantage. After forcing a punt on Trinity’s opening drive, Allen picked off Swift in Saints territory- the first of four STAB interceptions- on their second drive, but the ball was turned over again when Murray was sacked on fourth down. STAB then appeared poised to take advantage of a botched Trinity fake punt, but Murray was again stuffed on fourth and short, this time inside the Titans’ five yard line. The next Trinity drive went three-and-out, and the ensuing STAB drive resulted in a Shifflett fumble at Trinity’s 30.

But STAB’s offense finally responded with Park’s touchdown after sophomore defensive end Justin Hicks recovered a fumble at the Titan 37 yard line to set up the score. The Saints’ final touchdown came in the final seconds of the fourth quarter when Allen barreled into the end zone from one yard out.

“I thought that our guys hung in there, and we finally got a grasp of what they were doing on defense,” Blake said. “The second half we kind of took control of the game.”