In writing the storybook start to the St. Michael’s season, coach Paul Varnado still had one qualm.
His team doesn’t start fast. He’s preached it every week, especially in advance of Friday’s District 6-4A showdown with Tara.
“Didn’t start as fast as we wanted to,” Varnado said. “But we were able to get moving a lot faster than we have been. A lot of times … the other team scores on us first and we have to come from behind.”
The Warriors (8-0) blocked one punt, snuffed out two bad long snaps and recovered a fumbled kickoff, leading to three short touchdowns, while senior quarterback Jeffery Vaccaro ran for 95 yards in a 43-7 win at Olympia Stadium.
Vaccaro carried the Warriors with his feet and the pitch on the first offensive series, perfectly timing an option pitch to Matthew Butler for a 26-yard gain down the sideline, setting up Ashton Fletcher’s 32-yard field goal to give the Warriors an early 3-0 lead.
While the Warrior defense smothered the Trojans (3-5) on the ensuing drive, it was the St. Michael special teams that broke Tara’s back.
After Tara’s first offensive possession ended, Trojan punter Da’Monte Coxie couldn’t field a low snap and was immediately swarmed by St. Michael defensive back Nathan Scott, who wrestled Coxie to the ground for a turnover on downs inside the red zone.
Three plays later, Butler punched it in from 3 yards out to give St. Michael a 10-0 lead halfway through the first quarter. Vaccaro then scampered for a 10-yard touchdown on the Warriors’ ensuing drive for a 16-0 lead.
“We try to be as balanced as we can be and give (Vaccaro) an opportunity to be able to throw the ball and be able to run,” Varnado said. “A special experience.”
Coxie atoned, though, gashing the Warrior secondary as part of a 12 play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 7-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jujuante Brown to cut the lead to 16-7.
St. Michael, however, responded with 27 unanswered points, including touchdowns on all three third-quarter possessions.
The barrage began on the opening drive of the second half, aided by runs of 13 and 12 yards from Vaccaro, before the quarterback delivered an option pitch to Butler for a 10-yard touchdown.
On the Trojans’ ensuing drive, Scott asserted himself once again on special teams, coming through the line unimpeded to block Coxie’s punt and set the Warrior offense on the Trojan 15-yard-line.
Six plays later, St. Michael running back C.J. McGarner took a sweep into the end zone from 3 yards out to make it 33-7.
“As good as advertised,” Tara coach Cooter Mansur said of the Warriors. “They do things really well. They play well together as a team … you can see the difference between last year and this year. They’re a really good football team.”