NEWARK – The St. Elizabeth football team fought for every yard in its DIAA Class 1A championship game against Laurel on Dec. 10. The Vikings fell behind, 14-0, and clawed back to within a point with just under eight minutes remaining, but that was as close as they would get as the Bulldogs went on to a 28-13 victory at Delaware Stadium.
The Vikings and Bulldogs had been here before, a year ago to be exact. As was the case this season, St. Elizabeth was the No. 2 seed, with Laurel the top seed. And although the final scores were almost identical – the Bulldogs won in 2021 by a 28-14 score – this year’s final felt a lot tighter.
The Vikings received the ball to start the game, but a fumble on their first play from scrimmage gave Laurel possession at the St. Elizabeth 37 yard line. Laurel went right to the ground game, as it would all afternoon, and the Vikings did a good job limiting the damage. The Bulldogs faced a fourth and 2 from the 29, and Xavier Limehouse found an opening on the left side, reaching the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 9:43 left in the first.
The Vikings could get little going in the first quarter, and they punted twice. Laurel took over at its own 35 after the second punt with 1:23 to go in the first, and they went to work on the ground. Kylse Wilson did most of the work, rushing for 47 yards on five carries to help the Bulldogs get down to the St. Elizabeth 13. Tate Walls did the rest, carrying 13 yards up the middle for a touchdown at the 9:16 mark.
Down a pair of touchdowns, the Vikings took over at their own 14 with 5:13 left in the half. They relied on the prolific running backs, Quasim Benson and Chris Caracter, who combined for 64 yards on the ground on nine carries. On third down from the Bulldogs’ 22, Caracter took a pitch from quarterback Cole Soto and passed the ball to a wide-open Thomas Schiavoni for the team’s first score with less than a minute to go until halftime.
Neither team could score in the third quarter, as the defenses bent but did not break. The Vikings held Laurel on a fouth and 2 early in the fourth and began a drive at their own 46 with 8:16 to go in the game. Caracter rushed for 29 yards on first down, but a personal foul on St. Elizabeth brought the ball back to the Bulldogs’ 40. After a 3-yard gain for Benson, Soto hit Caracter down the right side, and Caracter found his way to the end zone. The extra-point attempt, however, was blocked, and Laurel kept a single-point advantage.
The Bulldogs gained some separation, and burned five minutes off the clock, on the ensuing drive. They went on an 11-play drive, all on the ground, with Wilson getting nine of those carries. The Vikings’ defense had been stingy all day, but on the final four plays, Wilson went for 7, 7, 6 and, finally, 4 yards for the score.
There was still time on the clock for a final attempt to tie, but Laurel’s Damontra Smith picked up a fumble after Patrick Belle sacked Soto, and Smith ran it 45 yards for the insurance touchdown with 36 seconds left.
Vikings coach Mike Lemon said his team will reflect on this season at some point “and know that we played a great brand of football for two years with this senior group. We were right on the edge of it with the fourth-quarter score with about eight minutes left. It’s tough.”
He said he was proud of the entire roster, and he wished he could have had the game end differently, particularly for the seniors.
“They are special young men. They’re special players,” he said. “They’ve taken our program back to where it needs to be, back-to-back state championships. I thank them for everything they’ve done.”
Caracter ran for 94 yards on 10 carries, and he threw the one pass for a score. Benson gained 65 yards on 19 attempts. Soto completed six passes on eight attempts for 94 yards and the touchdown. Defensively, Eric O’Neill had five solo tackles and 11 assists, and Stephan Goodman had three solo and eight assists. St. Elizabeth ended the season with an 11-2 record.
For the Bulldogs, Wilson had 190 yards on 29 rushes, and he caught the only completed pass by quarterback Kaden Shockley. Laurel had 288 total rushing yards. The Bulldogs finished the season a perfect 13-0.
All photos by Mike Lang.