The MIAA A semifinal between the defending champion Spalding Cavaliers(9-2) and the Loyola Dons (6-4) appeared to be heading to another classic, just as their regular season meeting that was extended to overtime was two weeks before. Then, Kaden Curtis happened.
With the Cavaliers trailing 10-7 at halftime, Curtis broke free on the second offensive play after intermission and raced 71 yards to the end zone and give the Cavaliers a lead they’d never surrender. The burst by Curtis up the middle was just the first of three touchdowns the senior scored in the third quarter, which turned a three point deficit into a three possession lead.
In next-to-last week in the regular season, the Dons pushed the Cavaliers to overtime, before the defending champs pulled out a 30-24 victory. The Dons became the first MIAA A team to come within single-digits of the Cavaliers this season, and through 24 minutes, it looked as though this very well could end as a one score game.
On the first drive of the game, the Dons went 54 yards on nine plays into the Cavaliers red zone, when Trent Gillis picked off a tipped ball at the Cavs four yard to stymie the drive. After an exchange of punts, Curtis ignited the Cavaliers with a 40 yard run to put the Cavaliers deep into Dons territory.
The Dons defense forced a 4th-and-3 at the their 15 yard line, but committed an offside on a hard count. The next play, junior quarterback Malik Washington pulled back on a play option and went around the right end from ten yards out to put the first points on the board and give the hosts a 7-0 lead with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter.
On the next possession, the Dons came up with two third down conversions, one on amazing top shelf catch by Jayden Moore from Brad Seiss. But, the Cavaliers defense buckled down and forced the Dons to attempt a 43 yard field by junior Owen Scheihing, and Scheihing delivered, cutting their deficit to 7-3, with 8:31 left in the first half.
After a Cavaliers punt, the Dons again made two key third down conversions, but it was a 2nd-and-25 situation with :13 remaining before intermission when Seiss stepped through the pocket to avoid pressure and lofted a ball in the corner of the end zone that senior Christian Renaldo snatched from the defenders grip to give the visitors a 10-7 edge with :02.0 remaining in the half.
Then, it was ‘Curtis time’. After a nine yard run by Washington to begin the second half, Curtis raced 71 yards up the middle to give the Cavaliers a lead they’d never surrender. The Cavaliers offensive line, who has allowed just two sacks all season, showed their ground game work on Friday, opening wide lanes for Curtis, who added two more scores in the quarter.
After Curtis’ first score, the Dons drove down into Cavaliers territory, but facing a 4th-and-6 just outside the ‘red zone’, the Cavaliers sent Tyler Brown on a ‘zero-blitz’ and ended the threat. Three plays later, with the Cavaliers facing a 3rd-and-20, Washington put a bomb on the money to senior RJ Newton on the sideline for 47 yards, and on the next play, Curtis went up the middle untouched for 13 yards and a touchdown to give the Cavs a 21-10 lead, with 4:05 left in the third.
After the Cavs forced the Dons to punt, Curtis led yet again another scoring drive, spurred by a 32 yard run, and punctuated by his third score on a 3rd-and-5 from six yards out with :15 remaining in the third stanza.
On the following drive, the Dons moved down the field and looked poised to score, but after Seiss found Moore in the middle of the field inside the ten yard line, the Duke commit was hit hard and fumbled at the Cavaliers three yard line.
On the second play following the turnover, Washington appeared to make it a four score game when he raced 90 yards for a score, but it was placed further back on a block in the back penalty. The Cavaliers would grind the clock out, and take a 28-10 victory.
Curtis finished with 243 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, boasting four runs of 30 yards or more. Seiss completed 19 of 30 passes for 258 yards for the Dons, with seven going to Moore for 104 yards.
Now, the Cavaliers face McDonogh for the third time in as many post-seasons, but the first time in the title game. In ‘21, the then-undefeated Cavs were stunned by the Eagles in the semifinals, 7-0. Last season, the Cavs avenged that loss with a 41-6 pounding of the Eagles in a semifinal rematch.
McDonogh (7-2) advanced to the final after shutting down the Mt St Joseph’s (7-5) passing attack, and handing the Gaels a 30-6 loss. In week six, the Gaels escaped with a 26-20 win over the Eagles, with senior Winston Watkins throwing for 220
Yards and the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds remaining.
Saturday, the Eagles held Watkins and his weapons to only 86 passing yards, with just one touchdown. to go with two interceptions. Watkins finished his Gaels career with 5,807 passing yards, to finish fourth in MIAA A history in career passing yards. Watkins predecessor Billy Atkins finished as the league’s all-time leader in career passing yards, while Washington will look to surpass both in ‘24.
This meeting had none of the drama the first one had, as the Eagles built a 21-0 lead over Gaels midway through the third quarter on sophomore Braeden Palozzo’s second passing touchdown to junior Jefferson Exinor Jr. Palazzo surpassed 2,000 passing yards this season, after throwing for 1,818 yards as a freshman.
While Washington will be gunning for Atkins’ league career passing yardage mark next season, there’s a good chance Palazzo comes for Atkins and Washington’s totals in 2025.
In ‘21, after defeating the Cavaliers in the semifinal, the Eagles lost to Calvert Hall, 14-8, in the title game. McDonogh’s last league title came in 2014.
Concordia Prep (9-2) is headed to their second consecutive MIAA B title game after putting away the defending champion St Mary’s Saints (5-5), 28-7. The Concordia Prep Saints were again led by their defense and running game, with the defense holding their opponent to single-digits for the eighth time in 11 games, and the ground game producing 254 yards and three scores.
Senior quarterback Keyshawn Mister took 19 carries for 107 yards and all three touchdowns. Concordia Prep forced four St Mary’s turnovers, including junior Sidney Stewart’s 49 yard ‘pick 6’, one of three interceptions for Prep.
Concordia Prep topped the defending champions by 21 points for the second time this season, after beating their fellow Saints, 21-0, in week seven. Last season, St Mary’s topped Concordia in the league title game, 21-13, with a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Saints will face John Carroll (7-4) in the title game, following the Patriots 26-18 win over Archbishop Curley (6-5) in the other semifinal game. Patriots senior Avin Alexandre rushed for 319 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries in the victory.
Alexandre has rushed for 1,510 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Patriots in ten games, including 1,113 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in their last five games. Concordia Prep handled John Carroll in their first meeting this season, limiting Alexandre to a season-low 23 rushing yards on ten carries.
HS Sports Analyst
Willie, a native of Chicago, and now a resident of Columbia for 40 years, is an educator at Homewood Center in Howard County, after spending 12 years as a real estate agent, following 10 years of running a small men’s retail company. Willie has contributed to Max Preps, Digital Sports, and Varsity Sports Network. Willie has produced MPSSAA top 25 rankings for both football and basketball for 15 years, across various platforms. From a large ‘sports family’, Willie’s brother Mike led Reservoir High to the 3A basketball state title game in 2018, while his nephew Anthony serves as the Indianapolis Colts College Scouting Coordinator.