By Allen Kha/ScrimmagePlay.com correspondent
Just two weeks ago, St. Anne’s-Belfield narrowly beat Christchurch 20-13 without the services of its star junior tailback Branford Rogers. Friday, STAB’s reintroduction of Rogers helped propel the top-seeded team past the fourth-seeded Seahorses 48-13 in the VISAA Division II state semifinals.
In the Saints’ matchup against Christchurch two weeks prior, senior quarterback Charlie Murray stole the show with two key touchdown passes to help keep STAB in contention for the playoff’s top seed. This go-around, however, the Saints made it their top priority to pound the injury-ravaged Seahorses on the ground.
STAB coach John Blake did this to the tune of 14 rushes in 14 plays in his team’s opening drive, which ultimately ended in a one-yard touchdown from a quarterback sneak. Blake acknowledged that with last week’s return of the athletic Rogers — for a team whose winning formula is running and defense — it was his team’s imperative to maximize his production.
“We watched the film two weeks ago, and we saw that we didn’t block anybody. We simplified our blocking schemes a bit, Branford was able to make our linemen look pretty darn good with his cuts, and it worked well tonight,” Blake said. “Branford plus successful execution equals 48.”
The Saints jumped out to an early 14-0 lead when early in the second quarter after the Murray’s touchdown sneak in the team’s first drive and a beautifully thrown seven-yard fade pass to senior tight end Lawrence Brayman.
“Charlie looked so good. Those fade passes to [Brayman] were great. We were able to run because our linemen did a great job, and Charlie did the rest,” Rogers said. “Charlie’s our leader, and he’s a senior so we’re going to win a ring for him and our seniors.”
Christchurch made the game interesting after Murray’s first touchdown pass to Brayman when sophomore athlete Jordan Wallace returned the ensuing kickoff 68 yards for a touchdown.
From there though, the Seahorses mustered almost nothing against a resolute STAB defense. In fact, Christchurch finished the game with only 119 total yards from scrimmage — 108 passing and 11 rushing — and committed two turnovers.
On the other hand, Murray finished the day 8-for-11 with 125 yards and two touchdowns, both caught by Brayman. Rogers rushed 32 times for 218 yards and three touchdowns.
Christchurch coach Ed Homer, who noted that his team played without two key offensive playmakers, extolled the Saints for their stellar play.
“[STAB] is the top-seeded team for a reason, and on a day where we didn’t play with two key offensive players due to injury, we just couldn’t hang on. We kept it close in the first half [at 20-7 Saints], but a lack of execution and lapses at defensive back plus fatigue because of our small squad having to play both ways just caught up with us,” Homer said.
He also added on STAB’s chances in the Division II finals against either Potomac or John Paul the Great: “I coached at Potomac and I know how far that program has come, but STAB is really good. They have a team that can do some great things.”
Blake was equally optimistic, noting his team really ratcheted up its focus over the past week.
“One key thing that we’ve noticed has been missing from our team was focus. It was really on display tonight,” Blake said. “Now, we want to win a championship, and the seniors know the urgency of that. But now’s also a time for fun, and we’ll play some games and such that have been tradition here. This week’s going to be fun.”
STAB now awaits its championship game opponent, to be settled Saturday at 1:30 between Potomac and John Paul the Great at 1:30 p.m.