Archbishop Spalding Wins Second Consecutive Football Conference Championship

Unrelenting Defense Is Paramount In Victory


Defense wins championships. An example of this adage was on display when Archbishop Spalding used a suffocating defense that recorded seven sacks, three interceptions, two pass breakups and bone-jarring tackles to defeat the McDonogh Eagles 40-7 at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium on November 18.

The win marked the Cavaliers’ second consecutive Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) A Division football championship.

Spalding received the opening kickoff but appeared nervous and out of sync. Their receivers had uncharacteristic drops and McDonogh was applying pressure to the Cavaliers’ all-conference quarterback, Malik Washington.

As the first quarter ensued, the Cavaliers’ defense stopped McDonogh’s young but talented offense, but sophomore quarterback Braeden Palazzo used a combination of sweeps, reverses and passes in his team’s third drive to move the ball downfield. Those plays catapulted McDonogh to a 7-0 advantage with 1:11 left in the first quarter.

The Spalding offensive coaches gathered before the next drive to discuss a strategy that would counter McDonogh’s blitzing defense scheme. However, it was the Cavaliers’ sophomore cornerback and Severna Park resident, Sean Johnson, who put the Cavaliers on the board with a pick-six with 10:46 left in the second quarter.

“That was the turning point of the game,” said Spalding football head coach Kyle Schmitt. “Our defense was not going to let us lose.”

McDonogh was visibly shaken from the huge momentum swing and never recovered as they didn’t add any points the rest of the game. The onslaught of sacks began with Arnold resident and nose tackle Tyler McVicker in the second quarter. The Cavaliers continued the pursuit of Palazzo. Delmar White and Zack Philpott had multiple sacks, as did linebacker and Maryland commit Keshawn Flowers.

“It was the Loyola game that we decided to let Keshawn roam free and make plays,” Schmitt said. “He’s such a dominant player and he had another great game.”

Tight end and Severna Park resident Jameson Coffman echoed Schmitt’s thoughts on Flowers.

“I used to play against Keshawn in the youth leagues and he used to take my head off then,” Coffman said. “He’s so strong and quick.”

In the second quarter, the Cavaliers added two field goals by kicker Cooper Welch, and went into the locker room with a 13-7 lead.

McDonogh started the second half on an ominous note as within 45 seconds of the quarter, Cavaliers defensive back Trent Gillis read Palazzo’s eyes and intercepted the ball at the 15-yard line and easily strolled into the end zone. The two-point conversion failed, making the score 19-7.

From that point on, Spalding’s defense was unrelenting. They smothered Palazzo again and again and he was either sacked or was hurried with his passing attempts.

The Eagles had no choice but to repeatedly punt the ball to the Cavaliers, whose offense used that energy to march down the field throughout the second half.

A four-yard rushing touchdown by Coffman and two-point conversion made the score 27-7 at the end of the third quarter. That was Coffman’s 17th touchdown of the year (seven receiving and 10 rushing).

Spalding leaned on their ground attack in the fourth quarter, utilizing senior running back Kaden Curtis’ speed and enabled him and Washington to score two more touchdowns. They had one two-point conversion fail.

As the final seconds of the game wound down, Schmitt was doused with a Gatorade bath and the celebration began.

Schmitt was quick to credit his defense and coordinator Tyrone Forby, who he has referred to as the best defensive coordinator in the state.

“He’s an awesome coach and his players love to play hard for him,” Schmitt said. “He doesn’t want a lot of credit, but he always has our defense playing at an unbelievable level, especially in the playoffs.”

In preseason camp, Schmitt called his players together and told them that repeating as champions would be the hardest thing they would ever have to do. Schmitt revisited that moment during his postgame speech and told the players to enjoy this feeling because of all the work they have put into this season.

“Because we were champions last year, the target on our back got bigger and the league became stronger this year,” Schmitt said.

The postgame celebration included a mix of jubilation and tears. Many members of the Cavaliers’ senior class did not want this dream to end.

“I have many mixed emotions right now,” Coffman said. “I don’t want to take off these pads. But as seniors, we had to set the example and leave a legacy of hard work and being resilient. We lost to McDonogh two years ago in the semifinals and we did not like that feeling, so it was up to us as underclassmen to lead us to the championship title.”

Coffman hopes to continue playing football but has accepted a scholarship to play lacrosse at University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

This senior class is also special to Schmitt, who coached that group to a 33-4 record over the last four years.

“This senior class is an amazing group of student-athletes, and I loved coaching them because of their work ethic and camaraderie,” Schmitt said.

Washington, who was named MIAA A Conference Athlete of the Year, shared a similar sentiment.

“This is such a great feeling as we have put in many long days and long nights to be here,” he said. “We really need to thank our seniors for their dedication and leadership.”

Spalding will lose many of their stars this year as the school will graduate the bulk of their offensive line, a running back and linebackers. However, Spalding returns their heralded quarterback, Washington, who was recently named as one of the top 25 quarterbacks in the nation, according to 247 Sports, as well as a ball-hawking defensive backfield including Johnson, Gillis and Jayden Shipps.

“Johnson may be the next great one,” Schmitt said. “He’s a special player.”

Spalding has graduated many outstanding defensive players in the past few years including Kellan Wyatt (Maryland), Zakee Wheatley (Penn State) and Mansoor Delane (Virginia Tech).

The Cavaliers’ junior varsity football team went 9-1 this season to add more talented players for the 2024 squad. The A conference will add two new teams for the year in Concordia Prep in Towson and St. Mary’s in Annapolis.


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