SJCP v AACS Football skybox

Annapolis Area Christian School’s Mike Zahire is brought down in the end zone for a game-winning safety by Saint John’s Catholic Prep’s Luke Hegerty. Saint John’s won 22-21.

Trailing by one point, St. John's Catholic Prep's football team had just come excruciatingly close to getting a touchdown that would've put the Vikings in prime position to beat Annapolis Area Christian School for the first time in nearly four years.

So, seconds after seeing his offense get stopped at the 2 yard line on a fourth-and-goal situation, Vikings senior cornerback Luke Hegerty was thinking big as he lined up on defense for the game's next play.

"I wanted a fumble touchdown," he said. "But I'll take a safety."

That's all it took.

Hegerty tore into the backfield and tackled Eagles running back Mike Zahire in the end zone. The resulting safety put the Vikings in front and gave them the ball again, then their offense retained possession for the rest of regulation to close out a thrilling 22-21 win over AACS at McCurdy Field on Friday.

St. John's last victory over the Eagles came in the 2016 MIAA C Conference championship game.

"We hadn't beaten them in the whole four years I've been here, and I wanted a win tonight," Hegerty said. "We came and delivered."

He felt a rush of excitement after the go-ahead safety at the 6:33 mark. While the Vikings (1-1) had trouble containing AACS's passing attack — freshman quarterback Aaron Rhodes threw three touchdown passes — their defense was stout against the run, producing several tackles for loss.

And with his team trailing 21-20 and AACS backed up to its own 2, Hegerty yearned to add another TFL to the list.

"They had a man on the left side, he motioned over, and they left me open, and it was a free run," he said. "I met him at the hole, I wrapped him up and made the play."

"That was exactly what we needed. Those boys stepped up," said Vikings coach Daryl Hayes, whose team ended up in yet another close game against the Eagles. "We played one-point games with them, three-point games with them over the years."

Coming off a 48-6 loss to St. Michael the Archangle Catholic, the Vikings seemed poised to roll for their first victory of the season early on Friday.

Heading into the final three minutes of the first half, the Vikings enjoyed a 14-0 lead, compliments of a Micah Glover's 37-yard touchdown pass to Grayson DiPietro in the first quarter, Glover's 6-yard run in the second quarter and a defense that didn't let AACS mount a serious scoring threat.

But the Eagles' Aaron Rhodes starting making clutch completions, the biggest being an 18-yard touchdown pass to Corey Rhodes with with six seconds left in the second quarter.

In the second half, Rhodes sandwiched a pair of 20-yard touchdown passes around a 14-yard touchdown run by St. John's running Matt Hardin. The quarterback's final TD toss, to Rhodes in the left side of the end zone, gave the Eagles a 21-20 lead with 1:30 left in the third quarter.

"We had some coverage problems," Hayes said. "But it's just stuff you can fix Monday at practice, stuff we can fix on film."

Most of the night, the Vikings came up with big tackles on ballcarriers, with defenders like Charlie Walker-Hoover, Hardin and Will Curlett making plays. They also recovered a fumble at the Eagles 22 to set up a touchdown.

Glover helped the offense bounce back after last week's loss, hitting an open DiPietro, who grabbed the pass around the 10 and ran the rest of the way to complete a 37-yard touchdown pass with 7:30 left in the first quarter.

"He's like a coach on the field," Hayes said of Glover. "He took his lumps last week, got sacked a bunch, threw some picks, and he came back and studied some film, did the things he needed to do. He's a tough kid."

Glover tried to connect with DiPietro again on the Vikings' crucial fourth-and-goal with 6:46 left, but AACS's Tyler Williams batted the ball away in the end zone. But after the game-winning safety and ensuing free kick, Glover directed a time-expiring drive that included two first downs.

"That was the first time our seniors have ever beat them," said the quarterback. "That was just a great win for our team."

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