St. Joe’s figured out the best way to get Nigel Davis and its offense untracked against upset-minded St. Francis on Friday night was to move the swift senior runner to quarterback.
It’s not the first time the Marauders have done that with Davis during his career but it’s the first time this season. It proved to be a good move with normal starting signal-caller Michael McCarthy sidelined with a concussion. The switch was also the decisive one in this showdown of longtime Monsignor Martin Association rivals, as St. Joe’s turned back the Red Raiders, 27-20, before an estimated 1,000 in Athol Springs.
Davis finished with 132 yards rushing on 11 carries, scoring another long touchdown – this time a 72-yarder – and completing both of his passing attempts for 44 yards and a touchdown out of the wildcat formation.
Davis has 32 career touchdowns, tied for most in St. Joe’s history with former All-Western New York and University at Buffalo standout Domonic Cook.
“We said ‘OK, overload one way. If you want to overload to the right side, Nigel’s just going to pull it and go because there’s just one guy,’ ” on the other side, said Marauders coach Dennis Gilbert, whose team dressed only 27 players with seven scratched due to injury. “Our whole offense is predicated on we want our guys in space against their guys. That’s what happened in the second half and we did a great job of that.”
Moving Davis to quarterback in place of substitute starter Tyler Hill late in the third quarter made sense as it not only enabled St. Joe’s (4-1, 2-0) to get the ball directly into the hands of its biggest playmaking threat but also enabled Hill, the one-time backup QB to Chad Kelly two years ago, to move to his natural tight-end position and create space off the edge with his ferocious blocks. Senior Roderick Payne also lined up in the backfield with Davis, rushing seven times for 50 yards and a touchdown.
“It helped a lot because they had to respect both Nigel and me running so we’d fake one, give it to the other and we knew what we had to do to get it,” said Payne, who finished with 12 tackles, including three for loss. “We’re an explosive offense. ... We made the plays in the second half.”
Did they ever.
The Marauders had just 55 yards of offense but still led, 7-6, late in the third quarter when Davis moved to quarterback. St. Joe’s scored on three straight possessions after the move and piled up 222 yards. Payne scored on a 15-yard run with 1:47 left in the quarter.
Davis scored on a 72-yard jaunt on the Marauders’ next possession to make it 21-6 with 9:13 left. After the Red Raiders pulled within 21-12, Davis hooked up on a 23-yard TD pass to Hill with 2:38 left on a third-and-19 play to make it 27-12.
“Nice play-fake to Rod, who picked up the end who came in clean … it was wide open. Tyler makes a nice circus catch over his head, and it’s a touchdown. So, you’ve got your big three making plays at the same time,” Gilbert said.
But Frannies, which converted 5 of 6 fourth downs at one stretch, including 4 of 5 in the first half, refused to surrender. Freshman quarterback Gerald Hickson (14 for 27, 201 yards) passed for two of his three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the last to Tyron Lawson followed by a two-point conversion pass to Lawson with 1:10 left to make it 27-20.
St. Joe’s pounced on the onside kick and ran out the clock.
“They kept fighting – we give them credit for fighting but we came out on top,” Davis said.
For one half, St. Francis played keep-away with St. Joe’s, grounding its high-scoring offense by not letting it possess the ball. When the Marauders did, the Red Raiders clogged running lanes (four yards rushing on six carries).
Still, the Marauders struck first on a 23-yard TD reception from Hill to Connor McKenna on a fourth-down play with 4:24 left in the first quarter.
Hickson’s 33-yard TD pass to Kordell Holness-Lightbody (two touchdown catches) on the last play of the first half on fourth down pulled the hosts within 7-6.
St. Joe’s hits the road for a nonleaguer at Cathedral Prep (Pa.) next week, while St. Francis (1-4, 0-2) looks to regroup against Cardinal O’Hara.