At the beginning of summer practice, St. Paul's football coach Mitch Tullai asked his tri-captains what they hoped to accomplish this season.
Without batting an eyelash, each looked at the coach and replied, simply, "three-peat."
Said Tullai: "That's the last thing a coach wants to hear. The pressure is already enough as it is."
Yesterday that pressure finally was eased.
With a 15-0 win over Boys' Latin, the host Crusaders clinched at least a share of the Maryland Scholastic Association C Conference title for the third straight year.
They will share the honor with either Severn or St. Mary's, who meet at St. Mary's today at 2. All three teams came into yesterday's play 5-1 in the conference.
The Crusaders (8-1) used stingy defense in cruising to the end of their title road yesterday.
St. Paul's held Boys' Latin to 70 yards in total offense, including minus-24 in a second half that saw the Lakers gain just one first down.
Hard-nosed defense led to the turning point of the game.
With St. Paul's leading, 6-0, early in the third quarter, the Crusaders stopped the Lakers at their 22. On the ensuing punt attempt, the snap sailed high over the head of Matt Proutt, who recovered in his own end zone for a safety to increase the Crusaders' lead to 8-0 with 9:17 left in the quarter.
"I think [the snap] was the turning point," said Boys' Latin coach Drew Haugh, whose team fell to 4-5. "At that point we were still very much in the game and closer than a lot of people thought we'd be. As the second half went on, though, we just wore down."
L That's when St. Paul's running back Ben Strutt went to work.
The junior, who gained 99 yards on 19 carries for the day, gained 51 on one fourth-quarter drive to give the Crusaders a 15-0 lead.