Salesianum quarterback Zach Gwynn
WILMINGTON – Saturday night's Division I football showdown between No. 3 Concord and fourth-ranked Salesianum figured to be won on the ground, as the Raiders feature one of the state's best running backs in Grahm “Bam” Roberts, while the Sals bring a multi-pronged attack each week. The Sals rendered Roberts and his backfield mates nearly invisible while turning their punishing ground game loose on the Raiders in a 27-0 win at a packed Baynard Stadium.
It was Concord's first loss after opening with five straight wins.
Salesianum's offense relied almost solely on the run, and for good reason. Led by a large offensive line and Josh Patrick, who until a few weeks ago was a tight end, the Sals moved steadily all evening, chewing up yards and time, keeping the Concord offense off the field.
After their first drive ended on downs, the Sals took the lead on a 53-yard drive at the end of the first period. The first two plays of the drive were runs by Patrick, who picked up a total of 19 yards. The drive also included a 14-yard keeper by quarterback Zach Gwynn on a second-and-16. Patrick ran three more times on the drive, but on the final play of the first quarter, Peyton Mullin took the ball the final five yards for a touchdown.
Concord punted on its first two possessions of the third quarter, and after the second one Salesianum began its second scoring drive. This time, the home team took over at its own 40 and went back to the ground. Mullin put the Sals deep in Raiders territory with a 24-yard scamper to the 10. Patrick appeared to have scored on one play, but a holding penalty pushed the ball back to the 18. It did not matter. Patrick took the ball again on the next play and ran off right tackle barely touched into the end zone. A missed extra point kept the score at 13-0 with 1:53 to go in the quarter.
Patrick said he was happy to make the move to running back because it would benefit the team. That has been evident the past few games.
“Coach needed me to switch positions, and there was no question that our team needed a different look. The coaches thought that I could give us a different look. It opens up more for us in the throwing game, and I'm happy to be a part of it,” he said.
Concord was struggling to gain yards against the Salesianum defense, a task made harder in the second half, when Roberts remained on the sideline after receiving treatment from the trainer at halftime. His brother, Avery, along with Kyle Batch and Lennox Nembhard, picked up some of the slack, but Concord could not put anything together.
Salesianum regained possession on a punt to end the third quarter, and Gwynn ended any doubt about the outcome on the first play of the fourth. On first down, he carried the ball through the middle of the field 53 yards into the end zone. Gwynn said the designed play broke down, so he looked for another option.
“I saw the hole and just took off. I don't know what happened, honestly,” he said. “The line did a great job tonight. They dominated the defensive line all night. Whatever works, we're going to do it. The run was the key tonight, and the line did an awesome job.”
A partially blocked punt set up the final score, as Nick Merlino scored on a 28-yard run with 3:31 left.
Concord's best chance to score came in the final minute. Quarterback Sean Doogan scrambled for 51 yards to the Salesianum 15-yard line, but the Raiders lost the ball on a fumble with less than 30 seconds on the clock. Patrick said it was important for the Sals to maintain the shutout.
“Our defense has been questioned week after week, and that shutout was great to just prove that we are still one of the better defenses in this state,” he said.
Gwynn said Saturday's game proves the Sals can match up with the best teams in Delaware.
“We put together four quarters tonight, and I think if we do that, we can beat anybody in the state. We're a really good team if we put four quarters together,” he said.
Salesianum improved to 4-2 and travels to Dover next Friday at 7 p.m. to meet the Senators before playing the last three games at home. Concord is home next Saturday to face William Penn at 10:30 a.m. as they remain in the hunt for the Blue Hen Conference Flight A championship.