Friday night started off slowly for the St. Maryâs Crusaders. The Gold Beach Panthers returned the opening kickoff to their own 35 yard line, and proceeded to rush the ball ten times in a row in their first drive, which resulted in a touchdown. After a failed 2-point conversion, the score was 6 to 0 in favor of the Panthers. Once the Crusaders got the ball back, the offense struggled to click. After 3 rushes from junior running back Gavin Rajagopal that netted only six yards, the Crusaders were forced to set up in punt formation all too soon.
The Panthers returned Rajagopalâs kick to their own 41 yard line, and immediately threw the ball, completing it for a 17 yard gain. This kicked off a drive that would march them deep into Crusader territory, where they found themselves with a 4th and goal on the 3 yard line. The Panther ball carrier was met by a swarm of Crusader tacklers, and the goal line stand was complete. The Panthers turned the ball over on downs, and it was time for Rajagopal, junior quarterback Cody Conner, junior running back Jake Reynolds, and junior wide receiver Jake Sieg to get to work. Through a combined rushing attack from Reynolds and Rajagopal, along with two long Conner-to-Sieg completions, the Crusaders capped off a 10 play, 99 yard drive with a 4 yard Rajagopal rushing touchdown. After Rajagopalâs extra point, the score was 7-6 with the Crusaders in the lead, and that score would remain until halftime.
St. Maryâs knew they were in a dogfight, and as the halftime adjustments were being diagrammed, the Crusaders listened intently, eager to get out and continue fighting in the third quarter.
The Panthers kicked off to open the second half and after a short return, the Crusaders set up shop at their own 27 yard line. In 9 plays, they drove the length of the field and scored on a 29 yard run by Rajagopal. The Panthersâ next drive only lasted 4 plays and they turned it over on downs back to the Crusaders. This gave them the ball on their own 41 yard line to start a drive that would also only last 4 plays, but would have a much more favorable outcome than the Panthersâ 4 play drive. After an explosive 24 yard run from junior wide receiver Alex Heycke, Rajagopal would again score on the ground, this time from 35 yards out. The Panthers would again turn the ball over on downs to the Crusaders on the Panther 36 yard line, at which point Rajagopal did what he does best, and scored a rushing touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. After trading a few more blows, the Panthers would score on an odd play that began as a typical veer dive, turned into an all out scrum around midfield, and ended with a Panther offensive lineman running unabated to the endzone after he somehow wound up with the ball in his hands. The third quarter came to a close with the score 27-12 Crusaders.
The Panthers scored on their first drive in the 4th quarter, making the score 27-18 after another failed 2 point conversion attempt. The Crusaders would answer with a score of their own, on a drive that included another explosive run from Alex Heycke, and ultimately ended with a brilliant 8 yard run from Alexâs brother, freshman running back Will Heycke. The Panthers got the ball back and tried in vain to reach the endzone once more, and the game ended with the Crusaders in victory formation, taking a series of knees to run the clock out.
The 2-1 St. Maryâs Crusaders are scheduled to play their first game at home in Spiegelberg Stadium this Saturday the 23rd at 7PM against the 3-0 Coquille Red Devils. The Red Devils beat Bandon 83-14 on Friday night.