The new grass unveiled at Episcopal High School on Thursday resembled a track meet more than a football field.
Episcopal weathered an early storm of big plays by Christian Life as the Knights outpaced the Crusaders with a school-record 520 yards rushing in a 49-28 home opener win.
Episcopal (4-0), ranked eighth in Class 2A, outlasted the Crusaders (2-2) with a 660-429 advantage in total yards. Wide receiver Julian Darden led the Knights with 183 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Running back Michael Henry rushed for 173 yards and two scores, and quarterback Vincent Dellocono added 104 yards rushing with a touchdown.
“I think we got punched in the mouth for the first time this season, and we had to respond,” said Episcopal coach Travis Bourgeois.
After falling behind 14-7, Episcopal seized momentum late in the second quarter with 21 unanswered points.
Henry erased a 7-0 first-quarter deficit with a 14-yard touchdown run that capped off a six-play, 68-yard drive. He hauled in a 38-yard reception on the ensuing possession to give Episcopal possession at the Crusaders 34-yard line. Darden tied the game at 14-14 three plays later when he took a sweep handoff for a 10-yard touchdown run.
A Christian Life punt gave the Knights possession at midfield with less than three minutes in the first half. Henry dragged four tacklers to the Crusaders 5-yard line on a 16-yard run. Henry scored his second touchdown from 4 yards out to put Episcopal ahead 21-14.
“One thing we pride ourselves on is our ability to run the football with a lot of different guys,” Bourgeois said. “Balance is one of the biggest goals this year for our offense.”
The Episcopal defense stifled the Crusaders offense in the third quarter, forcing three consecutive turnovers on downs. Darden cushioned Episcopal’s lead to 35-14 with scoring runs of 45 and 71 yards.
“The biggest thing that hurt us tonight was the fundamentals,” said Christian Life coach Keith Dooley. “We had some drives with mistakes or miscommunications, and that’s really what got us.”
Crusaders receiver Frank Bertley, who finished with six catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns, cut the lead to 35-21 with a 45-yard touchdown reception with two minutes left in the third quarter.
But the Crusaders regained control when Dellocono sneaked up the middle of the Christian Life defense, shrugged off two tacklers and broke loose for a 45-yard touchdown run. Dellocono then connected with Brian Bridgewater for a 76-yard touchdown pass that increased the lead to 49-21. Bridgewater finished with 89 receiving yards.
Dwayne Carral’s 71-yard touchdown run late in the fourth was too little, too late for the Crusaders, but Christian Life didn’t hesitate to capitalize on Episcopal’s first-half mistakes.
After a Knights’ opening drive stalled inside at the Episcopal 6-yard line, Crusaders running back Jerrell Richardson rushed for 62 yards on the first play from scrimmage.
Quarterback Trey Fisher, who threw for 214 yards and two touchdowns, connected with Carral for a 32-yard touchdown pass to give the Crusaders a 7-0 advantage.
The Knights defense regained possession with a three-and-out on the ensuing drive. But Richardson, who led the Crusaders with 116 rushing yards, intercepted Dellocono’s third-and-long pass to set up Bartley’s 57-yard touchdown reception that gave Christian Life a 14-7 lead.