St. Mary's walked into a pressure cooker at No. 9 City yesterday, facing a Knights squad stung by perceived press criticism and looking to blow off some steam. In the process, City nearly blew out the visitors, 18-6.
"We weren't getting the respect of the City teams of the past," said second-team All-Metro linebacker Jemini Jones, who had a sack and rushed for 39 yards as his team built an 18-0 third-quarter lead. "Nobody's going to come in here and do what they want against us. Nobody."
The Saints (3-3) certainly couldn't do much in the first half, being stuffed for just 49 of their 231 total yards as the Knights (4-2) got a sack each from Jones, Rodney Johnson, Quantay Johnson, Karim Cross and Anthony Salley.
The sacks totaled minus-26 yards and running back Rashi Reed (19 carries, 74 yards) was dropped five times for losses totaling ,, minus-29.
Saints quarterback Kevin Grace (6-for-16, 106 yards) completed just one pass for 16 yards in the first half and was intercepted by Dante White and Curtis Anderson. Grace's top receiver, Matt Murphy, caught just one pass for 5 yards.
St. Mary's drove into City territory three times in the first half, being stopped once on an interception and twice on downs.
"This is the best game we've played all year, especially defensively," said City coach George Petrides, who is 119-74-1 over 21 seasons. "We've been getting better each week, but we have no other options but to keep winning to make the [2A state] playoffs."
St. Mary's finally scored with 2:18 left in the game on a 52-yard pass from Ryan Metzbower to Jamison Mullen (two interceptions). But it was without two top linemen, with Zack Burk being out with a hand injury and Braxton McNeil returning in the third period from his Scholastic Assessment Test.
"It hurt us not to have key people that we had [in last week's win over Loyola]," said St. Mary's coach Brad Best. "But we played as well as could be expected under the circumstances."
City hammered the middle for 160 rushing yards behind linemen Carl Hebron, Chris Perkins, Andrew Lashley, Ricky Holloway, Romon Burks and Quantay Johnson, and led, 6-0, after a game-opening 11-play, 70-yard march.
The drive ended with Marcus Cornish's 27-yard touchdown reception from Michael Johnson (4-for-6, 98 yards) with 8:35 left in the first period. The line kept Johnson out of harms way on the few times he dropped back, such as on his second-quarter 54-yard scoring toss to Kevin Griffin that gave City a 12-0 halftime lead.
The Knights were without starter Taber Small, who missed his fourth game with an ankle injury, and missed first-team All-City running back Damian Beane (25 yards), who was ejected early in the second quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct. Small and Beane combined for 24 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards last year.
But Jones (39 yards) and Rodney Johnson (11 carries, 90 yards) carried the load -- Johnson ending the third period with a 24-yard off-tackle sprint for an 18-0 margin.
"Rodney's a hard runner, and he's not gotten some of the attention some of the others have," said Petrides. "But we've changed a lot of things from day one, like our whole offensive line has been revamped. I think we're a different team than the one we started with."