Trailing 14-0 to Mount St. Joseph late in the first quarter of Saturday’s MIAA A Conference wasn’t exactly what Archbishop Spalding wanted. Neither was missing three starters, just days after practicing without a dozen players due to injury and illness.

But, it was needed.

“That adversity is where you get stronger,” said Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt.

The second-ranked Cavaliers didn’t wilt under the distractions as they rallied for a 35-21 decision over the No. 3 Gaels to secure the top-seed in next weekend’s league semifinals.

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Hakim Simms rushed for 191 yards and two touchdowns for Spalding, and junior Jameson Coffman added two rushing scores. Junior quarterback Winston Watkins threw for a pair of touchdowns for Mount St. Joseph.

The Cavaliers (9-1 overall, 6-0 MIAA A) outscored Mount St. Joseph, 35-7, over the final 39 minutes of regulation to complete a second straight perfect league regular season in the area’s toughest conference. Spalding, which won its final nine regular season decisions, will host McDonogh in a semifinal contest Friday evening in Severn.

It will be a rematch of last year’s semifinal, won by McDonogh, 7-0, at Whittles Field. It was the lone loss for Spalding, which dominated the MIAA A regular season.

Though the 2021 team was arguably the best in program’s history, Schmitt said this year’s edition isn’t carrying the memories of last year’s stunning postseason exit.

“There’s great senior leadership that’s not always in front, but it’s in the hall, the locker room, the practice field,” said Schmitt.

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“We’re taking it one step at a time. I think last year we looked ahead,” said Cavaliers senior defensive end Damien Wilburn. “We’ve learned from it.”

There was no panic by Spalding, whose defense was methodically slashed in a game-opening 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. The offense just ran two plays before the latter ended with a fumble that was returned inside the Cavaliers’ 10-yard line, leading to another score.

The Cavaliers decisively responded with three unanswered touchdowns. After a turnover led to another Gaels score, Spalding quickly answered and put the game away late in regulation.

“Being down at their (Mount St. Joseph) place, we had to rally together and become a team,” said Cavalier sophomore quarterback Mailk Washington. “It wasn’t no barking at each other on the sidelines, it was like ‘alright, let’s take breath.’ That’s going to help in the long run.”

It didn’t take long Saturday for Spalding to dig out the early two-score hole. The Cavaliers sped things up and Washington (13-of-18, 138 yards, two interceptions) hit Max Moss with a short pass on the hash and the senior wideout sprinted to the end zone to complete a five-play, 65-yard drive.

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Spalding’s defense forced a three-and-out and the Gaels’ punt appeared to hit off of the back of a lineman, and the Cavaliers got possession at Mount St. Joseph’s 10. Simms took it into the end zone, tying the game at 14.

The Cavaliers gained their first lead late in the third as Coffman went untouched around the left side from four yards out. The drive, 11-plays and 58 yards, was keyed by Washington’s 15-yard pass to Coffman on fourth down-and-20.

Spalding got the ball back early in the fourth on Tyler Brown’s interception off a tip, but Simms fumbled on the next play and Mount St. Joseph recovered. Watkins (18-of-30, 205 yards, interception), on a rollout, hit Cox from two yards, tying the match at 21 with 8 minutes, 23 seconds left in regulation.

Simms quickly atoned with a seven-yard touchdown run, capping a four-play, 68-yard drive. He added a 14-yard run on fourth down, leading to Coffman’s second four-yard score and a 35-21 advantage with 1:58 remaining.

“We just had to stay calm,” said Simms, who carried the ball 31 times Saturday.

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The Gaels (7-3, 5-1 MIAA A), who lost at Spalding, 41-0, last season started strong Saturday with Watkins dropping a pass to Avery Jones in the end zone on the opening drive. Junior Greg Roman picked a Spalding fumble and returned it 42 yards, leading to Bryce Cox’s seven-yard touchdown.

The lead didn’t last long as Spalding labored the Gaels’ defense in no huddle. Their offensive line didn’t hold in the fourth quarter, drawing three holding penalties and allowing three sacks.

Gaels coach Dom Damico said the mistakes were the results of Spalding raising its level.

“Every time we had a chance to make plays, they made them,” said Damico. “They went over top of us for a long play…they’re so well-coached and you have to be almost perfect to beat them.”

Next weekend’s MIAA A semifinals will repeat of the 2021 edition as the Gaels will host defending champ and No. 7 Calvert Hall, Saturday at noon in Irvington. Friday at 7 p.m. Spalding hosts McDonogh, which overcame a two-touchdown deficit to beat Gilman.

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The semifinal winners will play for the title Nov. 18 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Spalding has yet to win a MIAA A playoff game.

“It’s really about the kids and the coaching staff,” said Schmitt. “This group doesn’t bear the burden of that loss. They’re their own team.”


Spalding 14 0 7 14 - 35

Mount St. Joseph 14 0 0 7 - 21

First quarter

Mount St. Joseph - Avery Jones 25 pass from Winston Watkins (Chris DeGroote kick)

Mount St. Joseph - Bryce Cox 7 run (DeGroote kick)

Spalding - Max Moss 38 pass from Malik Washington (Cooper Welch kick)

Spalding - Hakim Simms 10 run (Welch kick)

Third quarter

Spalding - Jameson Coffman 4 run (Welch kick)

Fourth quarter

Mount St. Joseph - Cox 3 pass from Watkins (DeGroote kick)

Spalding - Simms 7 run (Welch kick)

Spalding - Coffman 4 run (Welch kick)