STAMFORD, Conn. – With time winding down and King’s football team clinging to an 18-12 lead over St. Luke’s, the Stamford school needed just one more stop from its defense. And as it did all day, the Vikings delivered.
Zach Mulhern’s interception sealed the victory for the Vikings, and clinched a New England Prep School Athletic Conference playoff berth. Joey Santoro rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the work of the Vikings’ defense that shut down the previously unbeaten Storm, which had been averaging more than 40 points a game.
“We watched a ton of film,’’ King coach Dan Gouin said. “We watched more film this week than we have in the last five years. The key was to focus on Noel Thomas, because he’s such a good football player. When he’s making plays, they all start making plays. We thought if we could control him, we could control the other kids.”
Thomas had eight receptions for 102 yards, but had just 20 yards rushing and one touchdown. Whenever Thomas touched the ball, he was surrounded by King helmets. “We thought if we could lock down Noel, then it would be our game,’’ Santoro said. “We wanted to contain him.”
The King defense did more than contain Thomas. It helped turn the momentum around in the fourth quarter.
St. Luke’s led 12-11 early in the fourth quarter when it was pinned near its own goal line. A 15-yard run by quarterback Charlie Nelson gave St. Luke’s a first down on the King 23 with about eight minutes remaining. One or two more first downs could have been deadly for King.
But back-to-back sacks by Charlie Mercein and Anthony Spadaccini pushed St. Luke’s back to its own 3-yard line. And after a poor punt, King took over on the St. Luke’s 18. Four plays later, Santoro ran in from three yards out for the go-ahead score.
King had six sacks for the game, including two by Mercein. Mulhern and Bobby Wyman had interceptions. Alex Haendler, who recovered a fumble by Mulhern after the interception, had 10 tackles. Wyman had a tackle for a two-point safety. St. Luke's rushed for just 76 yards – the first time it has been held under 100 all season – and Nelson was under duress the entire game.
The victory puts King in its first New England championship game since 2009, when it had Silas Redd and Kevin Pierre-Louis. This is a much different group, one that had won just six games over the past two years before turning it around this year. King meets St. Sebastian of Needham, Mass., on Saturday for the New England title in the Arthur Valicenti Bowl.
“I thought if we played to our capability, then we had a chance,’’ Gouin said. “I knew St. Luke’s would be there. We had to find a way to get past them. But that’s why you play sports. Rival vs. rival. A playoff berth on the line. This was a great game. We just made one more play at the end.”