ST. JAMES — The one and only extra point that was converted on Saturday was the difference in a win or loss.
Ryan Abbott’s kick in the second quarter gave Saint James a 7-6 lead and ended up being the difference on a beautiful Saturday afternoon as the Saints presented head coach John Root with his first victory in a 13-12 nailbiter over Clear Spring.
“It’s nice to get the first win, but I’m more happy for the kids,” Root said.
The effort was strong, but the results leading to the final were a little sloppy, especially in the second half.
Both teams coughed up the football four total times — three through the air and once on the ground.
For Clear Spring coach Craig Bathgate, the loss on the scoreboard was less costly than the loss on the field.
The Blazers likely lost starting quarterback Jacob Brant with a right wrist injury that Bathgate thought was broken on a play midway through the second quarter.
“(Jacob) has command of our offense and that changed our game plan,” Bathgate said.
Four of the interceptions came in the second half, as neither team could make ample opportunities work.
Saint James had to move only 15 yards on a short field following a bad snap on a punt, with quarterback Garrett Blank getting in from the 3 with 2:32 left in the third quarter for a 13-6 lead.
Clear Spring’s Collin Schultz picked off Blank twice in the third quarter, but the Blazers couldn’t punch it in either time. The Saints had a fumble recovery by Tyler George and an interception by Alec Wingerd, but also couldn’t score.
“We certainly had wasted opportunities on our part,” Root said.
Clear Spring answered from its own 20 on its last possession of the third quarter, which bridged into the fourth.
Following seven plays on the ground, quarterback Henry Eby connected with Schultz on a 27-yard completion as Schultz, at 6-foot-4, easily outjumped two Saints defenders.
After two running plays netted nothing, the same tandem hooked up from the 9, but the Blazers couldn’t convert a two-point pass attempt for the lead.
“We just don’t have a kicking game,” Bathgate said, “and if we convert the extra points we win the game.”
Clear Spring drew first blood with 1:11 left in the first quarter when Damien Poet scored from the 1 after Brant found Brandon Blair on a catch-and-run for 55 yards. But the extra point attempt failed.
On the Blazers’ next possession, which started at their own 1 following an interception, they marched to midfield before the Saints’ defense stiffened.
Clear Spring tried a fake punt with Brant rolling out to throw, but he was intercepted by George, who went 56 yards to the Clear Spring 1.
Blank punched it in for six on the quarterback keeper and Abbott hit the kick for a 7-6 lead, which stood at halftime after Abbott missed a 22-yard field goal attempt with 9 seconds remaining.
“I was really surprised they ran that fake punt,” Root said of the Clear Spring decision.
Saint James, despite being at a weight disadvantage, outgained Clear spring 145-110 on the ground. Justin Pank had 77 yards on 13 carries for the Saints, while sophomore Miguel Molina led Clear Spring with 41 yards on eight carries.
The Blazers had a distinct advantage through the air with 164 yards. Brant was 3 of 12 for 107 yards, and Eby was 3 of 9 for 57 yards.
“Eby didn’t get many reps in the preseason, but he’ll get them now,” Bathgate said. “He’ll be OK for us.”
Root said Clear Spring did a good job “crowding the box” especially with the play of Schultz and Joey Fisher, who stands 6-4.
“Sherman (Harris) has been double-teamed both games and we’ll get Garrett going,” Root said. “Remember, he was a lineman last season so it speaks volumes to what he is doing now.”