MARPLE — For a moment in the first half Friday night against Del Val Charter, Cardinal O'Hara held its breath. It was happening again. Senior wide receiver Thaddius Smith took a swing pass from quarterback Dashawn Darden and fought his way to the Warriors' end zone. In an effort to extend the play, Smith dropped the football. Del Val recovered. In a winless season full of mistakes, a team leader had just committed another.
"You can't keep your head down,' Smith said. "The younger players look up to [the seniors]. If we have our heads down, they'll put theirs down too.'
O'Hara responded like a winning football team even if its record doesn't show it. The defense led by senior Nolan Cummings forced Warriors quarterback William Turner into five first-half turnovers. Smith intercepted an errant Turner throw in the first quarter. JT Blyden picked off two passes in the second, returning the second of the two deep into Del Val territory as the Lions cruised to a 41-8 win.
It was Cummings, though, who powered the Lions' rout. The linebacker was all over the ball the entire game, recording numerous tackles and several for a loss.
Then with the Warriors driving to lessen the 14-0 deficit, Cummings and safety Brandon Laughlin blitzed.
"It was a pass play,' Cummings said. "Laughlin did a good job of getting to the quarterback and forcing him to me. I swiped at the ball, knocked it loose, and picked up.'
Some fifteen yards later, he found himself in the end zone with a 20-0 lead. The game was effectively over.
Darden was an efficient 4-for-5 for 53 yards passing and a touchdown, and Smith accounted for 96 yards of total offense and three scores as the Lions bolstered their lead to 41-0 by half's end. As the second half got under way with the second stringers in, O'Hara could breathe easy for once.
"If you look at our schedule there are no gimmes,' coach Danny Algeo said after the game. "Our kids always play hard. We just did some dumb things [in previous games]. It finally got to a point where I said, ' We just have to think a little more.''
Smith cited the week's "more intense' practices as contributors to the blowout win.
"We came out on Monday and practiced hard right away. It showed tonight. The O-line did a great job. We ran the ball well.'
Algeo pointed to the run game as a key to the Lions' success moving forward.
"We have to be able to run the football. We have to be balanced. Thaddius [Smith] and Lamont [Veal] are great talents. We need to get the ball in their hands and maximize that talent.'
Friday night, Algeo found the balance he has been looking for all season. It resulted in an emphatic victory. Obtaining a second one won't be so easy.
"[Archbishop] Wood, Haverford School, Roman [Catholic], Bonner are all good. They're all tough.'
"But,' he added, "We have a great group of kids here too.'