CLAYMONT — Fifteen-round boxing matches have not been a thing since the 1980s, but that’s what the Saint Mark’s-Archmere football game on Sept. 16 felt like. The Spartans and Auks, who have turned close battles between them into an art form in recent years, added another chapter this season.
Back and forth they went until the final bell, as it were, with the Spartans claiming the 34-30 victory in front of a spirited crowd at Coaches’ Field. Keigan Barnes scored the winning points early in the fourth quarter as Saint Mark’s evened its record at 1-1.
The stage was set for this one immediately. The Spartans opened with the ball, and four plays later, quarterback James Campbell hit his brother Jude with a screen pass, and Jude ran 44 yards for a touchdown 66 seconds into the game.
The Auks were forced to punt on their first drive, but they got the ball back on the Saint Mark’s 12 after a fumbled punt and went to work. Archmere quarterback Miles Kempski kept the drive alive when he converted a fourth down at the 3, followed by a one-yard keeper that tied the score.
The battle was on. Saint Mark’s next embarked on a 75-yard drive to reclaim the lead. Barnes was the featured back on this drive. Of the nine plays, eight were Barnes rushes, including ones for 9, 17 and 12, along with the last one, a one-yard score with 37 seconds to go in the first.
The Auks cut the lead to 14-10 early in the second quarter on a 32-yard Cole Fenice field goal. They went ahead in the final minute of the half. Taking over at their own 36 following a fumble recovery, Kempski opened with an 11-yard pass to Fenice, then hit Fenice for 14 to the Spartans’ 39. Kempski finished the drive with an 8-yard keeper. The point after was blocked.
Just 57 seconds remained on the clock until halftime, but time was not an obstacle for the Spartans. Saint Mark’s started at the Auks’ 44, and Campbell found Logan Klein for 13 yards, then Jude Campbell over the middle for another 29, getting them to the Auks’ 4. James Campbell scored on a quarterback sneak. After a missed two-point conversion, the Spartans took a 20-16 lead into halftime.
Archmere received the opening kick of the second half, and Kempski found Drew Duncan down the right side for a 70-yard scoring pass two plays in. The Auks had a three-point advantage, but not for long.
James Campbell showed off his arm on the ensuing drive, connecting with Klein for 17 and Jude Campbell for 7. Klein was the target again, and he took a throw along the right sideline past everyone, restoring the Saint Mark’s lead at the 8:44 mark of the third.
That lead lasted a bit more than four minutes. The Auks marched down to the Saint Mark’s 26, but a penalty and a sack put them back at the 42. PJ Blessington got 10 of those yards back on a screen pass, and Gavin Lee caught a 32-yard touchdown pass over the middle as Archmere went back on top.
The Spartans forced a turnover on downs on the first play of the fourth quarter, and they got the ball at their own 35. James Campbell fired to Edward Taylor on first down, picking up 21 yards. Barnes ran for 10 to the Auks’ 34, and it was Barnes again on the next play, streaking untouched up the middle for a touchdown.
That was it for the scoring, but with 10:30 left in the contest, there was time for plenty of intrigue. The Auks’ defense forced two Spartans punts, the last giving Archmere the ball at its own 16 with 25 seconds and two timeouts left. They were able to move ahead to the 31, but good pass defense and a sack from Jake O’Donoghue shuttered any hopes of last-second heroics.
No statistics were available Saturday night for the Spartans. They travel to Red Lion on Sept. 21 for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
For the Auks, Kempski threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for two others. Duncan caught two passes for 107 yards, and Ryan Hagenberg had three receptions for 93 yards. Brendan Burke led the Auks on defense with 10 tackles. Archmere (1-1) visits Newark on Sept. 16 at 11 a.m.
All photos by Jason Winchell.