Defense leads the way in St. Mary’s third shutout win

St. Mary’s Zach Barden (7), Derek Coulanges (8) and Ali Barry (3) take down Arlington’s Sam Poindexter (11) during Saturday's game at Manning Field. (Joseph Prezioso)

LYNN– If defense wins games, the St. Mary’s football team’s heading in the right direction. 

Saturday afternoon at Manning Field, the Spartans forced a pair of fumbles, intercepted a pass and held Arlington Catholic two yards short of the goal line on the final play in an 8-0 Catholic Central League victory at Manning Field. 

Now at 4-2 on the season, the Spartans have qualified for the Division 7 North state tournament. 

“Defense wins games, especially when your offense isn’t finishing and struggling a little bit,” St. Mary’s coach Sean Driscoll said. “Our defense came up big. Our defense was exceptional.” 

Ali Barry and Derek Coulanges recovered fumbles, while David Brown recorded an interception.

With the defense on its A-game, quarterback Derek O’Leary’s 4-yard keeper on the opening drive was all the scoring the Spartans needed. O’Leary led the offense with 80 rushing yards and completed 2-of-6 pass attempts for 26 yards. His lone blemish was an interception in the end zone on his final throw of the afternoon. 

“Hats off to Derek,” Driscoll said. “He dealt with an illness in the morning. He gutted it out. He had a good game rushing. He led the team. I think he’d like to have that last one back. It wasn’t a good call. At the end of the day, we were trying to finish them off and we had some trouble moving the ball. Derek was the player of the game offensively.” 

Sal Afflitto (41 rushing yards) and George Pecy (45 rushing yards) also contributed to the ground game. Marcus Brunson-Perez caught one pass for nine yards and Brown reeled one in for 17 yards. 

“We still have to be able to finish,” Driscoll said. “But I will say that our team played hard in tough conditions. We had some illnesses run through the team, so it was tough. But they really gutted it out and played hard. To get to 4-2 with one game left in the regular season, that says a lot about a young team.” 

St. Mary’s took the opening kickoff and wasted no time moving the chains. The Spartans melted 9:34 off the clock on their first possession, ending with O’Leary’s 4-yard touchdown scamper. Brown tacked on the 2-point conversion via rush to put St. Mary’s up 8-0. 

Then it became a defensive battle. Anytime the Spartans needed a big play to hold Arlington Catholic at bay, St. Mary’s defense rose to the occasion. 

In the first quarter, Barry pounced on a fumble on Arlington Catholic’s first play from scrimmage. In the second quarter, Percy knocked down a pass attempt on 4th-and-6 in St. Mary’s territory. Coulanges scooped up a fumble at St. Mary’s 12 midway through the third quarter. Brown intercepted a pass at his own 10 and ran it back to his own 35 at the start of the fourth quarter. 

To Arlington Catholic’s credit, the Cougars never quit. 

Hoping to go up two scores, O’Leary took a shot at the end zone but was intercepted by Jose Daliva with three minutes remaining. The Cougars, led by their passing game, drove 95 yards to St. Mary’s 2 before the Spartans kept them out of the end zone on back-to-back carries to end it. 

“That was a gut check,” Driscoll said. “We stopped them at the end. Arlington Catholic has talent. They haven’t won a game yet but they’ve hung in there with some teams.” 

St. Mary’s travels to Mashpee Friday (6). Both teams could meet again in the Division 7 state semifinal, as they did in 2017. 

“Mashpee always has a great program down there,” Driscoll said. “It’s been somewhat of a rivalry the last couple years. They beat us here last year, on the last play. It should be interesting. It’ll be fun to go down there. Hopefully we get better.”

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