St. Pat’s finished the regular season undefeated on Thursday with a 32-0 win over Hershey at Knights of Columbus Field.
Brent Aufdenkamp, St. Pat’s defensive coordinator, said the Irish won all three facets of the game and that offset the mistakes they made against Hershey.
“We preach all three phases of the game,” he said. “We don’t have a great offense, defense or special teams but when all three play well, you win a lot of games.”
The Irish started their first drive in great field position, at the Hershey 38 yard line after Landan Maassen’s punt. With Brandon Niesen getting the bulk of the carries, St. Pat’s moved the ball to the three before facing a fourth down situation.
The Irish had converted on fourth and one from the 17 to get first and goal but they decided to settle for a chip-shot field goal, which Niesen missed.
It didn’t hurt St. Pat’s on Thursday, but in the playoffs, the Irish can’t afford to come up short on such opportunities, Aufdenkamp said.
“In playoff time, you’ve got to punch those in or at least get three points,” said Aufdenkamp.
But St. Pat’s changed things up to start its second drive. Quarterback Sean Keenan connected with Mark Mayfield on an option pass for a gain of about 30 to the Hershey 27.
On the following play, the Irish then went back to their bread and butter on the ground when Matthew Buhrman carried the ball for nine yards on the last play of the first quarter.
To begin the second quarter, Keenan gave St. Pat’s another first and goal with a run to the 10. Buhrman got half the yardage on first down and Niesen got the rest on second with a pitch to the right side of the field where he stretched the ball over the goal line as he was going down for the turf.
Niesen’s kicking woes continued though as the senior missed the PAT.
The Irish had a chance for the knockout blow when Josh Margritz mishandled the kickoff and Alex Harms recovered at the 14. But St. Pat’s turned the ball back right over to the Panthers (4-4) by fumbling on the next play.
It was one of two untimely turnovers for the Irish in the second quarter. The second came after Henry Aufdenkamp blocked a Maassen punt with about four minutes to go in the first half. But on the next play, Hershey recovered another fumble at its own 38.
But with a little under two minutes left until halftime, the Irish got the big play they needed. Niesen fielded the punt and then reversed the ball to Buhrman who took it all the way down the right sideline for a touchdown for a 12-0 lead. A two-point conversion attempt failed when Buhrman just missed Andrew O’Neill in the end zone on a desperation pass after a botched snap.
Facing a struggling Hershey offense, Aufdenkamp said that he felt pretty good about his defense’s ability to hold a two-possession lead going into the second half.
“That was huge because if you’re only up one-score, you are only one play away from being tied or giving up the lead,” he said.
St. Pat’s got the ball to start the second half and took advantage with a 60-yard touchdown run by Keenan two minutes in for an 18-0 lead.
From there, the Irish were on a roll. With a little under four minutes left in the third quarter, Keenan connected again with Mayfield for a 41-yard score.
Keenan scored one more touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard run to finish the game that resulted in St. Pat’s clinching the district championship and its seventh undefeated regular season in school history.
Aufdenkamp said that being able to get long-yardage plays against a stingy Panther defense was the best thing he saw from Thursday’s win.
“Our kids settled in and we had some big plays on offense,” said Aufdenkamp. “Sean Keenan made some big plays tonight and he’s been a big leader for our football team.”
Hershey coach Ryan Smith said that St. Pat’s was just tough to stop.
“St. Pat’s made some great, athletic plays in the third quarter,” said Smith. “I give a lot of credit to Coach (Kevin) Dodson and his staff. Their guys play physical football. I thought we made some good plays and both sides made plays. But they just made more of them. I thought we played tough in the first half and there’s a lot of things we need to work on and get corrected, which we will, before our playoff game.”
Hershey 0 0 0 0 - 0
St. Pat’s 0 12 13 7 - 32
SP-Brandon Niesen 5 run (kick failed), 11:04
SP-Matthew Buhrman 78 punt return (conversion failed), 1:45
SP-Sean Keenan 60 run (conversion failed), 9:59
SP-Mark Mayfield 41 pass from Keenan (Niesen kick), 3:50
SP-Keenan 25 run (Niesen kick), 8:26