NEWARK — The St. Elizabeth football team took an early lead, but turnovers and a strong running game for Laurel proved decisive in a 28-14 Bulldogs victory in the DIAA Class 1A football state championship on Dec. 11 at Delaware Stadium. It was Laurel’s first football state crown sinxe 1991.
The Vikings saw their season come to an end with a record of 11-2, their best mark since 2010, when they went 9-2 and won the Division II state championship. They took full advantage of the DIAA’s move to three football classifications this season, where they were placed with the programs with smaller rosters and a lack of immediate past success.
Their 9-1 regular season was good enough to get them the second seed in the state tournament, with Laurel the team ahead of them. For a bit on Saturday night, before the wind gusts picked up and the rain began falling, the Vikings were the better of the two teams in the stadium.
Laurel opened with the ball, but the Bulldogs could not move the ball at all. Eric O’Neill and Jackson Benjamin both sacked Bulldogs quarterback Kaden Shockley before St. Elizabeth blocked Laurel’s punt. The Vikings took over at the Laurel 43.
From there, they went to their all-state workhorse, Quasim Benson, three times, but one of those carries was negated by penalties. Facing a third and long from the Bulldogs’ 49, quarterback Brett Smick hit Tom Schiavoni for 30 yards over the middle. Another holding penalty set the Vikings up at the Laurel 26, and Smick delivered a perfectly thrown ball to Chris Caracter along the right sideline in the end zone for a touchdown and an 8-0 St. E lead with 6:49 left in the first.
The Bulldogs responded immediately, embarking on a seven-play, 56-yard scoring drive. Various running backs advanced the ball, none more effectively than Kyler Weaver on third and 10 from the 40 as he reached the Vikings’ 5. From there, Javier White finished the last five yards. The two-point conversion was no good, leaving the Vikings with an 8-6 lead.
St. Elizabeth fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving Laurel the ball at the Vikings’ 32, but the defense was able to force the Bulldogs into a turnover on downs. That began a series of empty drives for both teams as the defenses took over. The Vikings had the ball as the second quarter clock ticked down, but an interception by Damontra Smith handed the Bulldogs a chance just before intermission.
The interception set the Bulldogs up at the St. Elizabeth 28 with 26 seconds left, and on first down, White blew up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown. He also scored the two-point conversion, and Laurel took a 14-8 lead into the break.
The Vikings got the ball to open the second half, but they were unable to generate any positive yardage. A rush for a loss, a sack and a fumbled snap resulted in a fourth and 20 from the 24. The snap for the punt was mishandled, and Laurel pounced on the loose ball at the 3. Kylse Wilson punched it in off right tackle, and with 9:29 left in the third, the Bulldogs led, 21-8.
The Vikings had other opportunities, but they were unable to get to within one score as the swirling winds and rain increased in intensity. Early in the fourth quarter, they embarked on a long drive that took them deep into Bulldogs territory. The drive included a 10-yard pass to Schiavoni and a pair of 13-yarders to Matt Trout, but St. Elizabeth turned the ball over on downs after fumbling the snap on fourth and one from the Bulldogs’ 22.
Wilson turned that into his second touchdown of the game. He scored on an 8-yard run with 3:02 remaining. Smick hit Caracter with a crossing pass on the next drive, and it became a 37-yard touchdown pass for the final scoring play of the night.
All photos by Don Blake.