The margin between the top teams in Division I isn’t very wide, and Friday night proved as much as a visiting No. 10 St. Paul’s squad took down No. 7 Holy Cross at Tad Gormley Stadium.
The first-round victory vaults the Wolves into the quarterfinals against No. 2 Catholic-B.R. (10-0) next week, but St. Paul’s will savor a hard-fought win for the next day or so before turning their attention to the Bears.
The defense stole the spotlight Friday night limiting a high-flying Holy Cross attack to just 226 yards while forcing a rarely-seen three safeties.
“I’m really proud of (the kids’) effort,” Wolves coach Ken Sears Jr. said. “Holy Cross had an outstanding offense and we saw that on film coming into the game. It was just a Herculean effort by our kids. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game where three safeties won it for us.”
Two of those safeties came courtesy of junior defensive end Jacob Frolich, and the other was a blocked punt by senior Wayne Galloway. Frolich got the Wolves (6-5) on the board first with a sack for a 3-yard loss with 1:28 left in the first quarter before Galloway cut Holy Cross’ lead to 7-4 with 7:45 to go in the game.
A 27-yard field goal by senior William Grand knotted the score at 7-7 with 4:33 remaining, then a bull rush by Frolich resulted in a 6-yard loss for a safety giving St. Paul’s a 9-7 advantage with 3:04 remaining.
Holy Cross (5-6) tried to put together one last scoring drive getting all the way to St. Paul’s’ 43-yard line after a 22-yard completion to Tyler Kirkwood, but Wolves senior Carter Elie burst into the backfield for St. Paul’s’ sixth sack of the game dropping quarterback John Dade Wooton for a 10-yard loss with six seconds left.
The Tigers tried a hook-and-ladder on their final play to Kirkwood who was knocked out of bounds near the 20 sealing an impressive playoff win for St. Paul’s, their first since 2017 when they beat Holy Cross, 27-24.
“This feels great,” Frolich began. “We put a lot of effort in this week, played with great intensity and came out with a win against a great program like Holy Cross…I came out extra motivated because I really wanted to get this win for our seniors. It was a big game and I’m just really proud of my team.”
“Our defense is something special,” said sophomore quarterback Grant Billson, who accounted for 99 yards in the win. “We’ve got a lot of seniors that are really good and they’re one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen here.”
St. Paul’s held the Catholic League’s top passing team to just 122 yards through the air, and 55 of those came on the Tigers’ lone score of the game to Tyler Kirkwood while another 48 came on their last drive of the game.
They also faired fairly well in the running game holding Holy Cross to 104 rushing, but the pressure they put on Wooton during the game was the key in many aspects. Frolich and senior defensive end Michael Crockett both had 2.5 sacks while Elie had the other.
Wooton was also being chased when the Wolves got their only turnover of the game on an interception by senior linebacker Miles Biggs on the first play of the fourth quarter.
“The key was the pass rush,” Sears said. “Our front-four has given people trouble all year long. A lot of times you have to double one of them and that puts another guy 1-on-1 and we were effective. I thought we forced their quarterback to get out of the pocket a little bit and I didn’t think he was comfortable doing that. When he’s in the pocket and he has time he can pick you apart, but we didn’t allow him to do that tonight.”
As good as the Wolves defense was against the Tigers, they’ll likely have to be even better against a Catholic-B.R. team averaging 49.9 points per game. The offense also knows they’ll have to be better after totaling just 198 yards with no touchdowns, but they did enough to keep field position in their favor throughout the night.
Holy Cross began nine of their 11 possessions inside their own 25-yard line, and just weren’t able to sustain drives to consistently put points on the board. They came into the night averaging 29.2 points per game scoring 28 or more in four of their last five games, but couldn’t find that same rhythm against the Wolves in a tough night.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Holy Cross coach Guy LeCompte, who was hoping to lead the Tigers to their first playoff win since 2015 after taking over shortly before the 2018 season. “We hadn’t won a playoff game here in several years and we wanted to at least get this victory. I’m just disappointed for the seniors, you don’t want to go out like that.”
St. Paul’s: 198 yards of total offense (126 rushing, 72 passing)
Holy Cross: 226 yards of total offense (104 rushing, 122 passing)
Rushing: Mitchell Smith, 16-62; Carter Elie, 9-28; Grant Billson, 3-22; Michael Crockett, 2-10; Mica’h Crockett, 1-2; Danny Sears, 2-2.
Receiving: Wayne Galloway, 1-38; Mitchell Smith, 3-19; Brody Reina, 1-10; Danny Sears, 1-3; Caleb Frost, 1-2; Cole Piazza, 1-1; Danny Sears, 1-(-1).
Passing: Grant Billson, 9-16, 72 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT.
Rushing: Amiri Franklin, 7-56; Celven Hulbert, 8-49; Jaden Handy, 6-14; Jalen Johnson, 3-5; Tyler Kirkwood, 1-2.
Receiving: Tyler Kirkwood, 2-77, 1 TD; Jaden Handy, 2-17; Alondre Wells, 1-10; Jalen Johnson, 1-8; Celven Hulbert, 1-6; Amiri Franklin, 1-4.
Passing: John Dade Wooton, 8-17, 122 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT.
St. Paul’s — Safety (Jacob Frolich 3-yard sack), 1:28, 2-0.
Holy Cross — Tyler Kirkwood 55 pass from John Dade Wooton (Eli LaFrance kick), 10:46, 2-7.
St. Paul’s — Safety (Wayne Galloway blocked punt), 7:45, 4-7.
St. Paul’s — William Grand 27 field goal, 4:33, 7-7.
St. Paul’s — Safety (Frolich 6-yard sack), 3:04, 9-7.
NEXT UP: St. Paul’s moves on to face No. 2 Catholic B.R. on the road in the quarterfinals of the Division I playoffs at a date and time to be determined.