In its season opener at Walker, the St. Michael the Archangel football team fell in an early 15-point hole before reeling off 36 straight points in a dominant second half.
It appeared the Warriors were headed for another tough start Friday night when they fumbled away the opening kickoff, giving The Dunham School an early break and putting the St. Michael defense in gut-check mode.
Not to worry.
After forcing Dunham to settle for a short field goal, the Warriors quickly took control, exploding for 34 first-half points en route to a 44-17 victory at Doug Williams Stadium on the campus of Louisiana Leadership Institute.
“We’ve been slow to start the scrimmage, the jamboree, the opener against Walker and then tonight, but I believe God puts you in a place for a reason,” St. Michael coach Eric Held said. “I think the reason was to see what kind of character our defense has.”
The early stop set the tone for a unit that allowed only 49 yards and four first downs in the first half. Dunham scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.
St. Michael’s defense has given up big numbers in playoff losses in recent years, but Friday’s performance continued a strong start to 2011 after the Warriors kept Walker without a first down in the second half of the season opener.
The offense got going early, too, as St. Michael got off to its first 2-0 start since 2003.
Dash Duncan tossed touchdown passes to three different receivers on the first three St. Michael possessions. He finished 11 of 15 for 156 yards despite seeing action in only one offensive series after halftime.
Responding to Julian LaPrairie’s 22-yard field goal 1:40 in, Duncan hit favorite target Sonny Adams, who had 99 yards on six grabs, on a slip-screen and watched him race 44 yards to a 7-3 lead.
By then, the botched opening kickoff seemed like a distant memory.
Fields lined up in the Wildcat position on St. Michael’s fourth possession and ripped off a 46-yard touchdown run. Defensive tackle Stephen Scardina scooped a Dunham fumble and took it 10 yards for a 34-3 lead 2:30 before halftime.
“If it hadn’t gone south early, it may have been a better game,” Dunham coach Guy Mistretta said. “But no question about it, the better team won.”
Mistretta, who helped make Redemptorist a perennial contender in his previous stop, lost for the first time at his new school after leading Dunham (1-1) past Christian Life in the opener.
He sang St. Michael’s praises.
“That’s the way we want to build our program,” Mistretta said.
With the ground game bottled up, Dunham leaned heavily on the arm of senior quarterback Grant Messer, who responded with 157 passing yards.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, he lofted a long pass to Austin Miller for a 59-yard score, cutting the deficit to 41-10.
But the Tigers had few other highlights against the St. Michael defense.
Brandon Davenport, the player who fumbled the opening kickoff, brought the Warriors full circle when he intercepted a Messer pass late in the third quarter and weaved 55 yards for St. Michael’s second defensive score.
“When people think St. Michael, they think offense,” Held said. “With the number of players we have returning on defense, those guys know it’s time for them to step up.”