It’s a big weekend for local football, as the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs begin Nov. 8.
McDonogh and Spalding will face off in the first semifinal at 6 p.m. Nov. 8, while Calvert Hall and Mount Saint Joseph will play in the second semifinal at noon Nov. 9. The winners will play for the conference title at Spalding Nov. 16.
It’s been nearly two months since Mount Saint Joseph and Calvert Hall played each other. The Gaels beat the Cardinals, 20-10, at Calvert Hall Sept. 27. However, the playoffs are a completely different animal, and with a spot in the championship game on the line, the semifinal will feel very different.
“It’s their first time in a real playoff setting, so we’re looking for them to show some maturity and [to] understand how you have to prepare in the playoffs,” Mount Saint Joseph head coach Rich Holzer said of his team on the PressBox High School Football Show Nov. 4.
Holzer said many of his assistants have coached at local public schools in the past, which gives them some playoff coaching experience going into the semifinal matchup against Calvert Hall.
“I think we have a good idea and a good plan on how to mitigate some factors that flare up with playoff football,” Holzer said. “It’s just a matter of getting the kids to understand the practice changes a bit. It may not be as physical or as long, but it needs to be intense mentally as opposed to physically.”
Mount Saint Joseph’s 8-2 record is due in large part to the offense. That unit is led by junior quarterback Billy Atkins, who has thrown for 2,677 yards and 33 touchdowns this season, according to MaxPreps. Atkins is coming off his best game of the season Nov. 2 against Archbishop Spalding; he threw for 399 yards and five touchdowns en route to a 49-7 rout of the Cavaliers.
“He’s really worked at his craft. We put him through our quarterback training program for three straight years that begins in February and runs through April and he’s just taken to it,” Holzer said. “He’s a real smart kid, very football-savvy and really picks up on the little things we ask him to do.”
The intensity level for the Gaels is up and for good reason. The playoffs bring out that intensity, but that’s not just for Mount Saint Joseph. Calvert Hall has a statement to make, not just to avenge the earlier loss this season, but to get one step closer to possibly winning the MIAA A Conference championship.
“We’re expecting all the stops pulled out. We’re happy about the result earlier in the season. It was a closely contested game. We were lucky enough to come out on top,” Holzer said. “… I expect to see some stuff they haven’t done before and their kids to be really fired up. They get a chance to return the favor and beat us on our own field.”
While Calvert Hall will throw its best punch Nov. 9, so will the Gaels, who come into the game averaging 36.5 points per game on offense and giving up 15.3 points per game on defense. It’s win or go home, and Holzer said his team is more than prepared for that.
“We’ve got to come out and play our game, play physical, play fired up and just execute,” Holzer said.
To hear more from Holzer, listen to the Nov. 4 PressBox High School Football Show here:
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Mount Saint Joseph