WILMINGTON – For the first time in the long rivalry between Salesinaum and St. Mark's, the two Catholic schools' football teams met Friday night at the Spartans' Pike Creek campus. Extra bleachers were brought in, the students were allowed to sit behind each end zone, and there was an extra energy surrounding the contest.
What didn't change, however, was the nature of the game between the archrivals, as both teams showcased their ground attack and stiff defense. Salesianum broke through for a touchdown late in the second quarter, added two more in the second half and shut the door on defense in a 21-0 defeat of the Spartans.
The big play for Salesianum (6-1) occurred on the second-half kickoff. Taking the ball at his own 4-yard line, Daulton Gregory found a seam along the left side and ran virtually untouched for a 96-yard score. It was one of the few big-yardage plays on the cool evening.
Gregory said a member of the Salesianum staff had a premonition at halftime.
“Coach (Anthony) Spadaccini came over to me and said, 'Daulton, you've got to score on this,'” Gregory said. “He said, 'Daulton, I just have a feeling you're going to score.' I started laughing. I thought he was just joking. When I scored, coach came running over to me – he's probably the oldest coach on the field – he came over and just jumped and gave me the biggest hug. It was pretty exciting. I just saw a hole and took off.”
Gregory, Troy Reeder and quarterback Matt Sgro shared the ball throughout the night as Salesianum basically abandoned its potent passing game for a ground attack. Coach Bill DiNardo said he just did what he thought gave his team the best chance to succeed.
“The stuff we were doing with the passing game, we weren't succeeding. We weren't doing a real good job passing the ball, we weren't catching the ball, we weren't throwing the ball. We weren't performing as well as I would have liked throwing the ball,” DiNardo said.
The first half featured mostly short runs and punts as neither team could find a rhythm. Reeder, however, put the Sals on the board with a 15-yard run with 1:29 left in the second quarter. The drive featured two converted fourth downs by Salesianum. The first, fourth and six from the St. Mark's 39, came on an eight-yard screen pass to Gregory, while Sgro gained a few yards on fourth and one on the next series of downs. Sgro fumbled the ball on his run and the Spartans recovered, but the officials ruled the play down.
On the first play after Sgro's run, Reeder took the ball from the 15 and carried or ran over several defenders on his way to the end zone.
“The line opened up a huge hole. We made a little adjustment after … the drive right before that one, and the adjustment worked. Our guys got bodies on bodies, opened up a nice hole and made my job pretty easy,” he said.
The Sals took the 7-0 lead into intermission, but St. Mark's put together its best drive of the night after receiving the ensuing kickoff. The Spartans reached the Salesianum 31, their deepest penetration of the game, before a fumbled pitch between quarterback Zach Whitehead and running back T.J. Brown was recovered by the Sals.
Both offenses were silent during the third quarter, but the Sals generated some positive yardage after taking over on downs at the St. Mark's 45 in the fourth. Runs by Reeder, Gregory, Sgro and Evander Blue moved the ball to the Spartans' 24. Reeder had the key play when, on a fourth down with six yards to go, he picked up the exact amount of distance needed to keep the drive alive. Gregory and Reeder took the ball to the three, and Sgro kept the ball himself for the touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
DiNardo praised the job the defense did and the progress it has made this year. “Our defense did an outstanding job. Paul Salvo's done such a great job with this defense. They've come so far in the course of seven games. In our first couple games, we really struggled defensively. In the past couple games, we've been lights out. I couldn't be prouder of any group than I am of them.”
It wouldn't be Salesianum vs. St. Mark's without a bit of extracurricular activity, and the teams did not disappoint. With 2:32 left in the game, Sgro ran the ball on a keeper and was hit perhaps a bit late and a little low. As Sgro crumpled to the ground, a Salesianum player slugged a Spartan, drawing a flag for a personal foul. All in all, however, the teams played well within the rules.
DiNardo said the Sals' trip to Steubenville, Ohio, last weekend served his team well. “We went into a hostile territory last week, played before 8,800 people on their homecoming and we succeeded. This was not out of the ordinary for us. We were able to survive.”
He was not worried about a letdown, not against his team's biggest rival. “There's no letdown for this game. The kids are so excited; this game is everything for them.”
The Sals return home after a three-game road trip for a game next Friday vs. Delaware Military Academy. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at Baynard Stadium. St. Mark's (4-3) visits Caesar Rodney, also Friday at 7:30.