When the journey ended, the players stormed onto the field to celebrate. Seconds later, students climbed down from the bleachers. Coaches hugged.

And, Mike Whittles smiled brightly from the heavens.

No. 2 Archbishop Spalding won the MIAA A Conference football championship Friday night, defeating fifth-ranked Calvert Hall, 34-10, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

The wait is over for the Cavaliers (11-1 overall), who won their first A Conference title. The Anne Arundel County program atoned for a disappointing end to their prior season with three months of excellence this fall.

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Ten years after Whittles, the man who rebirth Spalding football, passed away after a valiant battle with cancer, the Cavaliers stand atop the area’s top high school football league.

The Mike Whittles Trophy is finally coming home.

“It’s really touching to think about the Whittles Family, they’ve been nothing but supportive from the start. We’ve lost a couple of assistant coaches the last couple of years, guys who helped you build it, that’s what you think about,” said a humbled Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt. “A lot of former players, the kids are amazing. This group of kids is what Spalding football is about.”

The 2021 Spalding team was arguably the program’s best - a talented steamroller that overwhelmed MIAA A foes and defeated perennial Washington Catholic Athletic Conference stronghold Gonzaga (D.C.) in a perfect regular season.

Archbishop Spalding running back Hakim Simms (6) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Calvert Hall in the MIAA A Conference football championship game Friday. The senior scored two touchdowns, including a 89-yard run, to earn game Most Valuable Player honors as the No. 2 Cavaliers won their first MIAA A title. (Steve Ruark for The Baltimore Banner) (Steve Ruark for the Baltimore Banner)

Then, came the postseason and a 7-0 loss to McDonogh in front of a stunned Whittles Field audience.

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The 2022 squad, especially the seniors, didn’t want that loss to be the defining theme this season.

They wanted to leave a legacy.

“I think it’s just believing, believing in our players, believing in our coaches and trusting each other,” said Spalding senior back Hakeem Simms. “If we trust each other, we’re going to win.”

Simms, the title game’s Most Valuable Player, helped exorcize past Cavalier MIAA A playoff angst. He took a handoff from sophomore quarterback Malik Washington, exploded through a hole and ran untouched 89 yards to the end zone, giving Spalding a 14-3 advantage midway through the second quarter.

“I just had to change the momentum,” said Simms, whose offense was laboring after a flawless game-opening touchdown drive. “I told everyone to lock in and step up because it wasn’t going to be easy to win this championship.”

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The Cavaliers did make it easy Friday, ending Calvert Hall’s reign as MIAA A champions. Simms capped a 61-yard drive to open the second half, taking a sweep handoff, fending off a defender on the sidelines before diving over the pylon for a 10-yard touchdown.

Senior linebacker P.J. Pokins nabbed Calvert Hall quarterback Noah Brannock’s pass down the middle inside the 50. He went untouched to the end zone, extending Spalding’s advantage to 27-3 with four minutes, 26 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers’ defense stifled Calvert Hall (6-6), which barely reached 100 yards rushing Friday after piling 265 in last weekend’s semifinal win at Mount St. Joseph. Junior Keyshawn Flowers had a sack and a fumble recovery and Tyler Brown and Jayden Shipps each had an interception.

Washington, whose meteoric rise was a major factor in Spalding’s championship breakthrough, went up top to senior receiver Max Moss, who came down with the ball over a Cardinal defender in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown midway in the fourth.

Washington, regarded as a major Power 5prospect, said low expectations after the graduation of the 2021 nucleus, motivate the Cavaliers this fall.

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“That fueled our fire, everybody saying we’re not going to be this, we’re not going to be that…they had us one of the last teams in our conference,” said Washington, who connected with Moss on a 23-yard scoring pass on the game’s opening series. “Now, we’ve won the conference.”

The last MIAA championship for Spalding was the B title in 2010, completing a back-to-back and stretch of four championships in six seasons under Whittles, who arrived at Spalding in 1999 after a successful run in the Severna Park Green Hornets youth league.

The Cavaliers moved into the A Conference the next year, and Whittles was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Spalding held its own, just missing the first MIAA A postseason tournament.

Whittles passed away June 7, 2012. After a transitional season, Spalding hired Schmitt, a former starting center and graduate assistant at the University of Maryland, whose coaching star was ascending at Atholton in Howard County.

It’s been an organic build for Spalding. But the foundation, set by Whittles, was in place.

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Schmitt was greatly appreciative of the support from former Spalding athletic director Jeff Parsons (now dean of students), former school president Kathleen Mahar and current president Brian Kohler.

After a season-opening loss at New Jersey’s Don Bosco Prep, Spalding won its final 11 decisions.

“You just go back to the people who believed in you. I’m just proud of what we built,” said Schmitt, whose team is 21-2 over the last two seasons. “We knew last year this thing was going upwards. I don’t think the school has bent at all with the mission of the team. We’re an extension of Spalding and the school, not our own entity.

That’s how Mike Whittles had it when I got here and I think, 10 years later, it looks the same.”

Archbishop Spalding won its first MIAA A Conference football title Friday evening at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Cavaliers won their final 11 decisions. (Steve Ruark for The Baltimore Banner) (Steve Ruark for the Baltimore Banner)

MIAA A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

NO. 2 ARCHBISHOP SPALDING 34, NO. 5 CALVERT HALL 10

Calvert Hall 0 3 0 7 - 10

Spalding 7 7 13 7 - 34

First quarter

Spalding - Max Moss 23 pass from Malik Washington (Patrick Claborn kick0

Second quarter

Calvert Hall - Carter O’Connell 23 field goal

Spalding - Hakeem Simms 89 run (Claborn kick)

Third quarter

Spalding - Simms 10 run (Claborn kick)

Spalding - PJ Pokins 49 interception return (kick failed)

Fourth quarter

Calvert Hall - Daniel Harper Jr. 11 run (O’Connell kick)

Spalding - Moss 33 pass from Washington (Claborn kick)

Archbishop Spalding running back Hakim Simms holds the MVP trophy after the Cavaliers victory in the MIAA A Conference football title game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The senior scored two touchdowns in Spalding's 34-10 decision over fifth-ranked Calvert Hall. (Steve Ruark for The Baltimore Banner) (Steve Ruark for the Baltimore Banner)