One of the most momentous plays in the recent history of Archbishop Spalding football was made possible by the grimy, hard-nosed work that goes on in the trenches.
Senior linemen Brian Baucia and Jim Fitzgerald each made pivotal blocks, allowing senior quarterback Nick Gutierrez to have an unobstructed path to the end zone on the first play of overtime.
Gutierrez’s 10-yard touchdown run provided the game-winning points in Spalding’s 20-13 win against perennial D.C. power Gonzaga on Sept. 24 in Severn.
The win was the first against a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference opponent for the Cavaliers. The victory renewed Spalding’s confidence and momentum as it pursues the first MIAA A Conference championship in program history.
“I just saw an opening. All I saw was the end zone in front of me,” Gutierrez said of his memorable touchdown run. “It was incredible. It was crazy. The place went wild. It was so exciting.”
Spalding is built in the spitting image of its coach of the last nine years, Kyle Schmitt, a former offensive lineman at the University of Maryland who grew up playing blue-collar football in Western Pennsylvania.
The Cavaliers believe games are won along the line of scrimmage with their offensive and defensive lines, and one of the most commonly used words around the program is toughness.
“That may be a bit old school, but that’s where my roots are,” Schmitt said. “We take care of our players and work hard at avoiding injuries. But at some point, we’ve got to strap it up, and we’ve got to go at each other. That’s something we do a lot in August [during practice] and back off as the season progresses.”
The Cavaliers are big and experienced along the offensive and defensive lines. Fitzgerald, the left tackle, is 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds, while Baucia, the right guard, and fellow senior Matthew Benny, the left guard, are right around 6-foot and 300 pounds. Schmitt said all three linemen have a chance to play in college at the FBS or FCS level. Baucia recently earned preferred walk-on status at Maryland.
“We go by the mindset that we are the toughest team in Maryland. So, people are going to have to out-physical us to win,” Baucia said. “… I spent a whole year in the weight room and on the field just training. I told myself that no one was going to out-tough me this year.”
On defense, senior outside linebackers Kellan Wyatt (6-2, 225) and Jason Robertson (6-4, 210) create havoc for opposing offenses. Schmitt said the versatile Wyatt “makes our defense go in a lot of ways” and that Robertson “is a terror in the backfield and makes a lot of tackles for losses.”
The Cavaliers don’t have a lot of players competing on both sides of the ball, which allows their players to stay fresh and wear opposing teams down.
Already twice this season, they have turned close games at halftime against Calvert Hall and Malvern Prep (Pa.) into comfortable, double-digit wins simply by being the stronger, more physical team in the second half.
“I saw a really good comment,” Schmitt said. “It was actually from Brandon Staley, the [Los Angeles] Chargers coach. He’s got some Eastern Ohio, Western [Pennsylvania] roots as well. He talked about the run game, and he’s like, ‘The run game creates physicality for your football team.’
“And I do think that, too. Our goal is to run the ball on offense, stop the run on defense, and be a physical group that plays really well in all three phases. We’ve been able to do that. … We are dominating the field position, and the defense travels.”
It helps that Spalding has a dynamic running back in senior Jordan Harris, who transferred in from Good Counsel after his sophomore year, and a dual-threat quarterback and two-year starter in Gutierrez.
They were the team’s leading rushers through the first seven games, with each totaling more than 500 yards and combining for 20 touchdowns.
Schmitt said Harris’ ability to create home-run plays out of the backfield commands a lot of attention from defenses and opens up opportunities for Gutierrez to run at quarterback.
“If you can run between the tackles with the tailback, you have a lot of other options,” Schmitt said.
The Cavaliers have already won more games this season than they did in 2019 when they went 5-6 and many of their experienced players were underclassman.
Last fall, they were 3-0 and harboring conference-title aspirations before COVID-19 shut the season down.
“It gave us a lot of confidence,” Gutierrez said of the hot start last season. “If we had a full season last year, I think we would have won [the conference]. So, it gave us a lot of confidence, but it gave us a lot of vengeance, too, since we got our season cut short. We want to come back and prove that we are the best team in the MIAA A Conference. And whatever I’ve got to do for the team to win is what I will do.”
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Burke/Spalding Cavalier Club
Originally published Oct. 20, 2021