If St. Paul's first-year coach Brian Abbott wasn't on the John Vereen bandwagon before yesterday's matchup with No. 12 Severn, he is now.
And who could find fault with that? Vereen gained more than one admirer as he scored four touchdowns to lead the Admirals to a 41-6 victory over their Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference rivals.
"Vereen is, in my opinion, the top running back in our area, bar none," said Abbott after watching the 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior rush for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. "He has a rare combination of strength and speed that not too many kids have."
Vereen, who entered the game as the metro area's second-leading rusher with 1,061 yards and 15 touchdowns, also exhibited power, speed and balance from his defensive back position when he picked off a pass late in the third quarter and raced 62 yards for a touchdown.
Two St. Paul's players had a chance to knock Vereen out of bounds as he sprinted down the sideline after the interception, but Vereen somehow kept his feet in play and won the -- to the end zone, giving his team a 34-0 lead.
Vereen scored three of the Admirals' four first-half touchdowns, on runs of 12, 55 and 19 yards. Severn's other score came on an 81-yard interception return by senior inside linebacker Javaul Mack.
"Our line did a nice job in sustaining their blocks and I just ran as hard as I could," said Vereen, who has scored 12 touchdowns in the past three games. "We scored a lot of points today, but we played well on defense and that was the key."
Severn's defense held the Crusaders to 2 yards on their first three possessions, and St. Paul's could only muster 14 yards rushing in the first half, which ended with the visitors on top, 28-0.
A couple of time-consuming drives by the Crusaders (5-2, 2-1) helped keep the ball out of the hands of Severn's high-scoring offense in the second half, but the Admirals (6-1, 3-0) showed the hosts that there's more than one way to get into the end zone.
After the Crusaders got on the board with a 1-yard touchdown run by Tucker Radebaugh, the Admirals displayed more of their versatility as freshman Dennard Melton returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards for the game's final touchdown, his 12th of the year. Melton finished with 51 yards on five carries. He also completed a 37-yard pass, setting up Severn's first score.
RTC "We hurt ourselves with penalties and mistakes, and we just didn't execute today," said Abbott, who was without injured veterans Scott Kim and Chris Berrier. "Severn is a big-play team and they have a lot of weapons, and you just can't make the mistakes the way we did today and expect to win the game."
Severn quarterback Willis Wu did his job in getting the ball in the hands of his talented backs. The Admirals' committed only one turnover, and that fumble was recovered by Rasaan Jones.
"We've been playing good, and we knew that if we could get John [Vereen] free in the secondary, we would score," said Severn coach Jim Doyle. "Our offense has been playing well all season, but right now our defense is the best thing going on."