By Jason Maholy
St. Laurence head coach Harold Blackmon said his team needed a bounce-back game after beginning the season with a loss to Benet for the second straight year.
It didn’t take the Vikings long to get rolling on their way to their first win of 2018, as they built a 27-0 lead before the second quarter was a minute old, and cruised to a 48-6 triumph over St. Joseph on Aug. 31 in Burbank.
Sophomore running back Nate Thomas went wild, rushing 15 times for 213 yards and scoring five touchdowns. Thomas, filling the role vacated by the graduation of record-setting Tori Clinton, found the end zone on runs of 1, 7, 50 and 57 yards, and took a screen pass 21 yards for another score.
The Vikings also tallied on two Darius Wilson touchdown passes. The sophomore signal-caller wasn’t asked to do too much in the way of making plays, but he was efficient in completed 5 of 9 passes for 103 yards
“It was a tough Week 1 and I think our kids needed a boost, and fortunately we were able to get the win,” Blackmon said.
St. Laurence made some personnel adjustments Blackmon said were useful in helping keep players fresh, and having the best guys on the field for extended periods of time.
Performances such as Thomas’ are always welcome, but a strong running game is crucial this season as Wilson gets experience under center. Blackmon has no doubt 5-foot-8, 185-pound Thomas can be the dominant back the Vikings had with Clinton and Fayezon Smart.
“He’s still learning, but the thing about him is he’s eager to learn, and he’s a better person than he is a football player, and that’s a big compliment,” Blackmon said. “He’s fast, he has quickness and good vision, and that keeps getting better and better at each practice and each game.”
Wilson avoided turning the ball over and tossed his first career touchdown passes, the second going for 31 yards to Miles Scott.
“I think he made some progress, but he’s just trying to get acclimated to varsity and the varsity schedule,” Blackmon said. “But he loves the game of football and wants to learn about it, so I think you’ll see him grow tremendously from week to week.”
Scott, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound junior wideout, caught two passes for 67 yards. He leads a receiving corps that features two juniors and two sophomores. Blackmon called him “a cornerstone” of the Viking offense, and said his experience as a second-year starter is a great asset to have while developing a young quarterback.
“Miles is definitely a safety net, and we have to be smart and put him in position where he can be that safety blanket for Darius,” he added. “It’s a relief that he’s out there.”
St. Laurence’s defense also played well, and Kendell Spearment returned an interception for the Vikings’ second pick-six in two weeks. Spearment, a senior safety who also had four solo tackles, leaped high to snag a pass just beyond the line of scrimmage before rambling down the left sideline to paydirt.
Junior linebacker Sean Harrison had 4 solo tackles and 4 assists, junior linebacker Jeremiah Johnson had 1 solo tackle and 6 assists, and junior tackle Van Williams had 1 solo tackle and 5 assists. Blackmon said the number were indicative of his defense being aggressive and swarming to the ball.
“We run pursuit drills in practice and you’re starting to see it pay off in terms of those guys getting to the football and not allowing the person to get extra yardage if he breaks the first tackle,” he said. “And I think they’re still trying to reach their potential.”
The Vikings only count 10 seniors among their 49 players, but youth and inexperience hasn’t slowed them down the past three seasons, during which they have advanced once to the quarterfinals and twice to the semis of the IHSA playoffs. St. Laurence has been a model program the past few years as far as developing players during the season without sacrificing competitiveness, and even excelling.
“We stress discipline and attention to detail,” Blackmon said. “We understand each season is about growth, and we evaluate week to week. We understand our strengths and weaknesses, and we play to our strengths.
“There’s no real secret to it, you just have young men who want to do a good job and who step up. We preach that, we always say next man up. We tell them the system is the same and the faces change, and you guys are expected to perform – and they do.”
The young Vikings will be challenged in Week 3 against a Providence team that has outscored its opponents 69-7 en route to a 2-0 start. The Celtics beat St. Laurence 49-24 in the Class 6A quarterfinals last season. The two Catholic League teams have not met in the regular season since 2012, a contest Providence won, 38-0.
“We know Providence is a great team, so we know it’s going to be a big test for us,” Blackmon said. “But we just have to focus on us and play our game.”