After a first half characterized by dropped passes and sloppy tackling, the tenacious play of unheralded St. Mary’s senior fullback Danny Wheeler sparked the Panthers to a 34-0 rout of Albany High (1-4) Saturday afternoon.
Taking over after Albany’s first drive stalled on St. Mary’s 24-yard line, the Panther’s embarked upon a six-play, 3:10 drive capped by Wheeler breaking one tackle and rumbling into the endzone from 12 yards out.
A back-up center for the Panther’s last year, Wheeler made the most of the opportunities afforded by an unsuspecting Albany defense to rush for 54 yards and one touchdown on nine carries, providing the backbone of the 237-yard Panther rushing attack.
Commenting on his play, Wheeler said: "Most people key in on Trestin (George), but they have no idea that I’m there. I just run with my heart."
After taking this seven-point lead, St. Mary’s fell asleep at the wheel and was unable to sustain any notable drives for the rest of the half, and accumulated only another 54 yards of total offense before halftime. Albany was similarly ineffective and put together only one more drive, pushing the Panther "bend but don’t break" defense to the 17-yard line.
The Panthers woke up at halftime, and played the second half with all the intensity they had lacked in the first. After kicking off, St. Mary’s promptly forced Albany quarterback Yaw Yiadom to fumble, and Omar Young pounced on the loose ball to give the Panther’s their first scoring opportunity of the half. Starting on his own 37-yard line, St. Mary’s head coach Dan Shaughnessy turned to his newly founded inside-outside running attack. With the Albany defense keyed in on senior running back Trestin George, Wheeler pounded the ball up their gut and George stuck with his strength, sweeping downfield. Seven plays and 3:26 later the Panther’s took a 14-0 lead.
After the game, Coach Dan Shaughnessy noted that "I was concerned about us being lethargic at the beginning, team-wise. We were slow getting ready. But that’s okay, we came through at the end."
Wide awake and playing full-tilt, the Panther defense roared again, and forced Yiadom into his second consecutive turnover. Squeezed in a collapsing pocket, Yiadom tried to dump the ball to tight end XY. Junior Omarr Flood leaped, tipped, and intercepted the ball. His sprint to the endzone was short, and 20 yards later the Panthers took a commanding 21-0 lead.
Looking confident after stopping Albany at midfield, St. Mary’s gave the ball to George, who sprinted 45 yards down the sideline to leave his Panther teammates salivating at the prospect of another six points. St. Mary’s pounded twice into the Albany line, and George bounded into the endzone on the third attempt to give his team a 27-point lead.
After receiving another Albany punt on the 41-yard line, St. Mary’s gave the ball to George. In a deja vu, virtual replay of a few moments before, George took a sweep left, avoided two tacklers, and scampered 41 yards downfield. This time, however, George crossed the goal-line to earn his third touchdown of the afternoon, and giving him 159 yards for the afternoon and his team a 34-0 victory.
The win carries St. Mary’s to 4-3 (2-0 BSAL) while Albany drops to 1-5. St. Mary’s goes on the road to take on St. Patrick’s High at 5:30 next Friday night.