St. Mary’s edges KIPP in the fourth

St. Mary's quarterback Yaniel Belliard fires the ball. (Emma Fringuelli)

LYNN — At last, the wait was over for football at Manning Field. After Super Bowl appearances for both programs last season, St. Mary’s outlasted KIPP 22-20 in a back-and-forth showdown Friday night.

“They have a nice little team there, a physical team, which I was a little concerned about going into the game,” St. Mary’s coach Sean Driscoll said. “A win’s a win. Now, we’ve got to find a way to get better.”

It came in heroic fashion, no less. KIPP had possession in the redzone with less than a minute remaining. After a few failed run plays, KIPP converted on a screen pass, but a fumble was recovered by Jacob Peterson to seal it.

“Our kids preserved themselves down the stretch and made a big play to close it out,” Driscoll said.

St. Mary’s had just two possessions in the second half. KIPP opened the third quarter with a 10-minute, ground-and-pound drive.

“If you told me we were going to win a football game with two possessions in the second half, I would say you’re out of your mind,” Driscoll said. “We were fortunate.”

He’s fortunate to have Ernie Panias (82 rushing yards, 2 touchdowns), too. After a strong return from Tyler Guy, he bolted for a 30-yard touchdown with 8:07 remaining in the game, followed by a two-point conversion on the ground.

“I thank my coaches, my offensive line, and all of my teammates,” Panias said. “We started off really slow and [a] big shoutout to KIPP. Overall, it was a big win for us.”

Panias was helped off the field towards the end of the third quarter, to which he said “I’ve just got to drink more water and stretch more.”

When asked who he was impressed by, KIPP coach Jim Rabbitt pointed to Chanel Gutierrez. The dual-threat quarterback threw for a 41-yard touchdown in the first quarter to Morenel Castro, and ran for two scores in the second half.

“Chanel impressed me. He ran the ball hard at quarterback and he carried us for a lot of those first downs and third-down plays,” Rabbitt said.

However, both Gutierrez touchdowns in the second half were followed by failed two-point attempts.

“It’s a new offense we’re running. It’s different from last year as far as our run [and] pass stuff,” Rabbitt said. “We’ll work on the passing game a little bit more.”

Driscoll said momentum was “back and forth” Friday. Perhaps the biggest example was when KIPP recovered an onside kick in the third quarter.

“It was a great call by them.” Driscoll said. “We didn’t pick it up. They came right down, had all of the momentum, and we were on our heels.”

That said, Driscoll said it was good for his players to come back from adversity.

“I think there was a sense of urgency from our guys,” he said. “We’re not getting many shots at this, so we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

From forcing two three-and-outs to start the game to nearly pulling off the upset, Rabbitt was “proud of my guys.”

“Any time you can play a St. Mary’s team down to the wire like that, there are a lot of things to be proud of,” Rabbitt said. “Obviously, a lot of things to clean up and I think we made a lot of mistakes. We kept them in the game, and I thought we didn’t capitalize on some things we should have.”

It was quite the first half for St. Mary’s freshman Maxwell Parent. He scored a 15-yard rushing touchdown and pinned KIPP at its own 2-yard-line with a punt.

St. Mary’s hosts Winthrop at 5 p.m. on Friday, followed by KIPP at 7:30 p.m. against Boston Latin Academy.

“We’ll just have to put a full game together next time,” Rabbitt said. “We’re going to learn from that.”

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