The Marian Knights experienced their share of tough breaks in a 2-4 start to the high school football season, and Head Coach Michael Davidson had seen his players’ confidence waver. But that wasn’t the case against archrival Saint Joseph High School in the regular season finale on Friday, October 13.
The Knights recovered from a couple early miscues and secured a late defensive stop to edge Saint Joseph 16-10 at Saint Joseph’s Father Bly Field. The victory gave Marian its eighth win in the last 10 meetings in the “Holy War” rivalry between the two Catholic schools. According to Davidson, the win wouldn’t have happened without his players’ ability to handle adversity.
“We’ve come a long way in that regard,” Davidson said of his players’ mental fortitude. “In our first four games, there were possessions right before the half that ended up with a score that went against [us]. It certainly affected our confidence, and [Friday] night, we showed a lot of growth in that area.”
That growth showed after a 57-yard touchdown run from Saint Joseph sophomore Franco Biffle gave the home team a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and Marian’s subsequent drive stalled just short of the goal line, giving the ball back to Saint Joseph. However, the Knights’ defense stood tall, and Marian senior Michael Przygoda blocked a Saint Joseph punt through the back of the endzone for a safety. The Knights punched in a score from junior Brian Osman in the second quarter before Saint Joseph senior Gerry Jones converted a 26-yard field goal to give Saint Joseph a 10-9 halftime lead.
The second half saw both teams move the ball despite the wet field conditions, but key defensive stands kept Marian and Saint Joseph off the scoreboard. The Knights finally broke through with a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Braxton Brooks on fourth down
“He’s one of our better athletes, so we try to find ways to get him the ball,” Davidson said of Brooks. “On that fourth down, we knew we needed it, and I had confidence in our offensive line. Braxton’s a good athlete, and he got into the endzone for us.”
Trailing 16-10, Saint Joseph had one final drive to go for the win. Unfortunately for Saint Joseph, the field conditions finally caught up with senior quarterback Alex Ortiz, as he slipped and fell on a fourth-down scramble to end the game.
Moments later, players and coaches from both teams gathered at midfield for a postgame prayer. Both teams knelt side by side as brothers united in Christ.
“It’s a longstanding tradition that I’ve been a part of since 1998,” Davidson said. “It says a lot that we respect and love one another enough, bound by that Catholic identity, that we can come together after the game. For years, it was led by Father [Walter] Bly, God bless him,” Davidson recalled, referring to the longtime teacher, coach, and chaplain at Saint Joseph High School. “To hear him bring us together after the game was truly special.”
Special, also, was the effort to ensure that the prayer happened this year at all. After last year’s 28-21 overtime victory, Saint Joseph players and fans rushed the field, and the postgame prayer was lost amid the chaos. Davidson said he and Saint Joseph head coach Ben Downey spoke about it this week, with both resolute that “win, lose, or draw, it’s got to happen.”
With no chaplain from either team available after the game, Downey assumed the responsibility to lead the prayer – a display of humility from a coach who had just experienced defeat at the hands of his team’s biggest rival.
“A lot of credit to him,” Davidson said of his coaching counterpart. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
Another memorable installment of the “Holy War” behind them, Marian (5-4) and Saint Joseph (4-5) turned their attention to sectional play, which began on Friday, October 20.
“I truly believe the hardest thing to do in our sport is win a sectional; you’ve got to win three games in a row,” Davidson said. “It’s been a couple years since we’ve done that. This game was a championship in and of itself – beating our archrival – but that’s three wins in a row for us. Our guys now know what it feels like to win three in a row.”
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