Brother Martin and St. Augustine came out on opposed sides of the win-loss ledger in their Catholic League openers last week against Jesuit and John Curtis, respectively.
The Crusaders dispatched of the Blue Jays, 31-7, while the Purple Knights gave the Patriots all they could handle before a pair of touchdowns in the last 4:20 gave Curtis a 36-22 victory.
While many walked away impressed with St. Augustine taking the Patriots down to the wire, and that includes Brother Martin coach Mark Bonis.
“You and I don’t have enough time to talk about them,” began Bonis, whose Crusaders (4-0, 1-0) will take on the Purple Knights Friday at 7 p.m. at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium.
“They’re athletic, they’re physical, they’re well-coached and they probably don’t want to hear this, but they had an opportunity and really should have won that gave versus Curtis…Curtis is the standard and they went toe-to-toe with those guys which speaks volumes.”
Bonis was correct on multiple fronts including the “they probably don’t want to hear this,” part.
Purple Knights (3-1, 0-1) coach Nathaniel Jones took no solace in keeping pace with the Patriots saying “there is no ‘key’ when you lose the game.” He echoed those sentiments during Tuesday’s practice, which was a tough one to say the least for St. Aug.
The group practiced well into the night as they worked to correct the mistakes from last Saturday, which included a portion of practice focused on situational football. Jones put 29-22 on the practice scoreboard with 1:59 left on the clock, which signified the point just before Curtis powered its way into the end zone from one yard out for a 36-22 lead.
“You’ve got to be able to focus right here,” Jones told his team with all eyes trained on the veteran coach. “This is the difference! They went down and scored, we’ve got to go down and score. Defense, we’ve got to stop them! I don’t care what type of offense they run, we’ve got to stop them! Which one of us is going to pay more attention to the details?”
Meanwhile, Brother Martin was looking to stay consistent just a few miles down the road.
The defense put together yet another impressive performance allowing no more than one touchdown in any of its four games excluding a late score by Ponchatoula against the second-teamers in Week 3, which was a 45-17 victory. They also recorded shutouts in Weeks 1 and 2 against Byrd and Carver and the offense has been finding its rhythm as well.
Last week was arguably the unit’s best week, and it certainly was through the air as sophomore Garrett Mmahat threw for a season-high 211 yards with three touchdowns in just three quarters. Fellow sophomore receiver Austin Jackson was on the receiving end of two of those from 62 and 44 yards out, and running back Jaylon Spears had the other covering 74 yards on the opening series of the game.
Spears also had 16 carries for 43 yards and salted the game away with most of his carries coming in the second half with Brother Martin holding a big lead. He was also, however, sort of forced into the role as the Crusaders suffered a big blow with senior Chris Smith going down with a collarbone injury on a late hit late in the second quarter.
Bonis said the team’s leading rusher (55 carries, 394 yards) saw some practice time this week, but will be a game time decision. Aside from Smith’s injury, though, it was essentially business as usual for the Crusaders as they prepare for the Purple Knights.
“We’ve seen some success here lately and we’re learning how to deal with success,” Bonis said. “I think we’ve done a good job of staying focused and preparing the way we need to prepare.”
Just as Brother Martin has gotten going on offense over the past two weeks in particular, so has St. Augustine.
The Purple Knights put up 44 and 43 points in Weeks 2 and 3 against Landry-Walker and Kennedy, which was a far cry from their early-season performances in the jamboree and a modest 24-point outing Week 1 against McDonogh 35.
They also moved the ball well last week against Curtis totaling 349 yards of offense. Junior quarterback Kendell Sampson Jr. completed 15 of his 24 passes for 167 yards with two scores, one to Memphis commitment Khi Mathieu while the other went to senior Josh White.
White is the “Swiss army knife” for St. Aug lining up at receiver and sometimes taking snaps at quarterback from the Wildcat formation. He also occasionally lines up at defensive back and is a dangerous return man who was used extensively for the first time on offense this past week.
Senior running back Mahmood Bailey is also a key contributor for the Purple Knights offense, which is under the direction of offensive coordinator Reed Sanders. The Georgia native knows he has plenty to work with talent-wise, but is more focused on imparting the importance the mental aspect of the game to his players.
“I play chess with the kids everyday at lunch and you’ve just got to know there’s a game within the game,” explained Sanders, who gave an impassioned speech on Tuesday in what was sort of a “come to Jesus” practice for St. Aug.
“It starts with the little things and the details at practice and that’s what we try to instill in the kids,” Sanders said. “It’s never about talent at this point, everybody’s good. It’s about who’s willing to sacrifice and do the little things right At the end of the day, you’re going to have to give up something. To get something good, you’re going to have to give up something. It’s a barter system like I told them.”
Both teams are hoping they’ve sacrificed enough to pick up a key Catholic League win this coming Friday under the lights.