An overflow crowd looked on Friday night as Episcopal, ranked sixth in the Class 2A state poll, welcomed third-ranked University in a matchup of longtime rivals with identical 5-0 records.
None of it kept U-High coach Chad Mahaffey from putting a tight game in the hands of a freshman running back.
Nick Brossette carried on 20 of U-High’s 26 snaps in the second half, finding holes behind a veteran offensive line and pointing the way to a 21-17 victory.
“He loves the big game,” Mahaffey said of Brossette. “That’s what makes him special.”
Brossette finished with 199 yards on 31 attempts and scored all three of U-High’s touchdowns, helping the Cubs get a leg up on Episcopal in this District 7-2A opener.
With the visitors trailing 17-14 late in the third quarter, Brossette got the call on the final seven plays of an eight-play, 80-yard drive. He took U-High deep into Episcopal territory with a 52-yard burst up the middle, then polished off the possession with a 3-yard run for the winning score.
Episcopal got big plays in the passing game with Vincent Dellocono finding 6-foot-5, 240-pound receiver Brian Bridgewater three times for 100 yards and an early 2-yard score. Dellocono, who finished 5-of-10 for 137 yards, later connected with Jarrell Rogers on a 22-yard slant to give Episcopal its 17-14 lead.
But in the end, Brossette and the U-High offense wore the Knights down.
“Nick was kind of rolling. Our offensive line was feeling it,” Mahaffey said. “We wanted to see if we could pound it out and wear them down.”
Brossette, who started for U-High as an eighth-grader last year, entered Friday with 522 yards on 87 carries.
“I can handle stuff like that,” Brossette said of his 20-carry second half. “It’s a credit to all the training I did over the summer getting ready for the season.”
U-High (6-0) had rolled by its first five opponents by three touchdowns or more, but the Cubs had a start-to-finish battle in what was believed to be their first meeting with Episcopal (5-1) when both teams were unbeaten.
Episcopal led 10-7 at the half, getting its first points on a 41-yard field goal by Austin Couvillion.
“Our defense was just on the field too long in the second half,” Episcopal coach Travis Bourgeois said. “We just kind of ran out of gas there at the end.”
On their only two offensive possessions of the fourth quarter, the Knights were unable to cross midfield looking for the go-ahead score.
Dellocono, who doubles as the Episcopal punter, ran a fake on fourth-and-6 from the Episcopal 37 with 9:06 to play. Tim Williams stopped him three yards short.
Later, with Episcopal facing third-and-11 from its own 37, Dellecono forced a pass over the middle with 3:49 remaining. William Armstrong stepped in front of Rogers to make the interception.
From there, the Cubs ran out the clock.
“We had a lot of respect for University coming in,” Bourgeois said. “We wanted to see what kind of team we had and what we were made of. We fought for four quarters. That’s all I can ask. It’s a game that will be good for us to go back and watch film and evaluate because the atmosphere was a playoff-type atmosphere against a playoff team. “