MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s had an answer every time Red Lion made a move when the two teams met on Nov. 26 in the semifinal round of the DIAA 2A football tournament. The Spartans, seeded second in the 12-team field, used big play after big play to defeat No. 7 Red Lion, 45-18, at the Graveyard.
The Spartans defeated the Lions, 48-0, way back in their second game of the season, but young Red Lion gathered experience and cohesion as the weeks wore on. It showed immediately, as the visitors scored on their first opportunity when freshman quarterback Evan Budinger hit Seth McGroerty with a 62-yard scoring strike midway through the first quarter. The two-point conversion was no good.
Saint Mark’s responded quickly, but it wasn’t conventional. Tahj Johnson’s kickoff return put the Spartans in Red Lion territory at the 47, but by third down they needed 32 yards for a first down. Facing a third and 32, quarterback James Campbell hit his brother, Jude, for a 37-yard gain to the Lions’ 32. A few plays later, he threaded a pass to Logan Klein in the front corner of the end zone for the 27-yard score. Saint Mark’s placekicker Jeremy Shannon made the extra point, as he would all night, to give the Spartans a 7-6 lead.
After forcing a Lions punt, the Spartans went right back to work. They started at the Lions 44, lost a yard on two plays, and went the Campbell-to-Klein route again for a 45-yard TD.
The teams played some defense for a while, and a blocked punt set the Spartans up for their next score. The punt block gave them the ball at the Lions’ 27, although a sack pushed them back to the 35. That proved to be no obstacle, as Donovan Artis ran up the gut on the next play for a touchdown and a 21-6 advantage with 6:11 remaining in the half.
Red Lion cut six points off the deficit in the final minute when Budinger found Malik Pinkett for a 13-yard touchdown reception.
The Lions received the ball to start the second half, but they were unable to keep the momentum going. They lined up to punt, but the Spartans penetrated again, with Aidan Zellman getting a hand on the ball. From the Red Lion 24, the Spartans turned to T.J. Martin. He ran for four yards on first down, then broke a few tackles on the next play on his way to the end zone.
A Massimo Paoli interception in the middle of the third quarter led to the Spartans’ only points of that stanza. Again, it was a short drive. From the Red Lion 43, Campbell hit Jake O’Donoghue for seven yards, then Klein got open over the middle for a 36-yard touchdown reception.
Saint Mark’s took a 35-18 lead into the fourth quarter, and when they got the ball with 9:57 to go, it didn’t take long to extend the lead. Martin scored for the second time on the night, this time going 89 yards.
Final statistics were not available Sunday. Saint Mark’s (10-1) will host the third seed, undefeated Wilmington Friends, next weekend on a day and time to be announced.
Red Lion finished 8-4.
All photos by Mike Lang.