Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Santa Fe Catholic pulls away from St. Edward’s to win 2nd SSAC championship

LAKELAND – Specialized teams helped Santa Fe Catholic take the early lead, allowed Vero Beach St. Edwards to get back into the game, and then proved crucial in helping the Crimson Hawk pull away.

The final major special team game – Santa Fe recovered a subdued punt at St. Edward’s 4 – sparked the crucial fourth quarter in Santa Fe’s 31-7 win on Saturday night in the AAA championship game of the Sunshine State Athletic Conference Class in Bryant Stadium out.

The win crowned Santa Fe’s turnaround season in which the Crimson Hawks rose from a 0-7 team to a championship team in winning their second SSAC title. The Crimson Hawks, who finished runner-up in 2019, won in 2015.

“They had to buy in,” said Santa Fe trainer Joe Faiola. “We talked about it. You have to believe in the system and believe in what you are doing.”

The bottom line belies the fact that before the fourth quarter it was everyone’s game as Santa Fe held onto a 14-7 lead. However, the final statistics show how Santa Fe outperformed St. Edward’s in the end.

St. Edward's running back Connor Wolfe runs to a big game against St. Edward's towards the end of the first half on Saturday night.

Santa Fe coach Joe Faiola was concerned about St. Edward’s pass, but Pirates quarterbacks Dylan Redmon and Nate Sparkman combined only 7 of 30 passes for 83 yards and three interceptions. St. Edward’s only rushed 96 yards, 80 of them in the first half, and the Pirates only had 179 yards total offensive.

“The pass three or four weeks, we didn’t see any safety so we figured that if we see them come out in that two-high look, we can establish more of a running game,” said St. Edwards coach Rich Schofield said. “But they’re stocky up front. They have people who can fly around, so I suppose we were surprised we couldn’t get what we wanted.”

Santa Fes preparation for the game focused on stopping the passing game.

“We were worried about their passing game and the kids were watching movies,” said Faiola. “You were ready for it. … Finishing the passing game was key.”

Santa Fe used the 1-2 running punch from Dayrel Glover and Julian Franzino to control the ball. Glover ran 122 yards 17 times and Franzino ran 83 yards 14 times. Quarterback Cam Sowder made his first six passes, finishing 8 of 11 for 82 yards with two touchdown passes.

Sana Fe Catholic student Julian Franzino goes for an interception against St. Edward's in the SSAC class AAA championship game at Bryant Stadium on Saturday night.

Still, it was only a 14-7 game that went into the fourth quarter after St. Edward’s, trailing 14-0, came into play with special teams and defense.

A punt pinned Santa Fe on the 3, and the Pirates forced a punt off the 9 that went only 28 yards onto the Santa Fe 37. Six games later, Redmon completed a 27-yard touchdown pass for Connor Wolfe to make it a 7-yard. Point game with 4:26 in the third quarter.

The Crimson Hawks’ subsequent drive stalled at St. Edward’s 41 and they were forced to poke. The punt bounced toward the end zone when a St. Edward’s player picked it up, facing the end zone, and Franzino came closer. Franzino forced a fumble and Santa Fe got the 4th.

“I saw the ball hit the ground and it went into his hands and I packed it up and knocked it out,” said Franzino, who rolled his ankle at the beginning of the game but returned later.

Sowder then hit John Starks for a 2-yard touchdown pass on the fourth down, giving Santa Fe a 21-7 lead.

The Crimson Hawks dominated the fourth quarter, adding a 43-yard field goal after a Franzino interception, and Swoder added a 1-yard touchdown run at 2:27 after the Crimson Hawks left the Pirates in fourth place stopped at St. Edward’s 12.

Santa Fe took the lead 7-0 in their only long, sustained goal run of the game. The Crimson Hawks drove 63 yards in nine games, topped off by Sowder’s 28-yard pass for Glover.

In the subsequent possession of the St. Edwards, Santa Fe forced a punt, partially blocked it and took over at the Pirates’ 17th. Sowder, four games later, plowed in from the 1 to give Santa Fe a 14-0 lead at 1:41 give the first quarter.

This stayed that way for most of the next two quarters until the Crimson Hawks finally left.

“We knew they were a well-trained team, so we knew we had to go on and on,” says Sowder. “When they scored a goal, we came back to the top and kept pushing.”

Roy Fuoco can be reached at [email protected] or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.

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