By Jason Maholy
Battle on Pulaski. Battle of Pulaski. Pulaski Road Super Bowl.
Call it whatever you want, chances are the annual rivalry game between Brother Rice and Marist is going to be a hard-hitting, smack-talking, nail-biting fight to the final gun.
That’s how this year’s game played out in Week 2, with the RedHawks defending their home turf via a 20-16 defeat of the Crusaders on March 26.
Marist senior running back Jamari Grant ran 53 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 9:14 to play in the game, and RedHawks defense made several key stops down the stretch to preserve the lead.
Attendance was limited because of COVID concerns, but the fans in the stands were no less enthusiastic than they normally would be. To quote RedHawks coach Ron Dawczak: “It sounded like there were more fans than there actually were.”
“This is what we’ve been looking forward to,” Dawczak said. “As soon as that switch got flipped and we knew we were playing, this is the reason why our guys continued to work. It was games like this. It’s a great rivalry and this was another great game. [Rice] played really, really well, really hard, and our guys fought for 48 minute and came out on top.
“It was just a great game.”
The contest featured ties of 7-7 and 14-14, with the Crusaders pulling ahead with a safety late in the third quarter. They had the opportunity to extend that advantage on their ensuing possession, but a strong stand by the Marist ‘D’ provided a spark and set up Grant’s heroics.
Dawczak said his players never wavered after falling behind 16-14.
“I give all the credit to our seniors,” he said. “It didn’t phase them. They were going to fight, scratch, claw, do whatever they needed to do to get the win tonight.
“It would have been easy for them to put their heads down after that (safety), going down by two, but the offense came in and had a good drive and scored, and the defense came out and held them out of the end zone. It was a total team win.”
The game was a battle of defenses early, as neither offense could find much traction through one quarter. Marist got on the board first when junior Jimmy Rolder made a leaping grab in the end zone to conclude the RedHawks’ first drive of the second quarter.
The Crusaders answered on their ensuing drive, knotting the score at 7 on a seven-yard touchdown pass from Jack Lausch to senior running back Willie Shaw.
Marist looked to take a three-point lead into halftime, but the Crusaders blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the second quarter.
A six-yard touchdown run by junior wide receiver Khary Shaw on Rice’s first drive of the third quarter put the Crusaders up 14-7, but the RedHawks came right back on their next possession and tied it again on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to senior wide receiver Tim Warr.
Back and forth. Push and pull. Hit and hit back. Standard fare in this neighborhood rivalry.
Grant, who as the RedHawks’ scout team running back last season helped the defense prepare for opposing offenses, was having a solid if unspectacular game prior to his big run. On what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown, he beat the Crusaders defense to the edge and streaked down the left sideline to the end zone.
“I just ran and kept on going — they almost had me too,” Grant said. “I felt ’em. I was scared.”
The speedster has a newfound patience with the ball in his hand, and said he learned this season how to set up his blocks.
“Once you’ve got that O-line that you know is going to block for you, you know just to wait for them,” he said.
Dawczak said Grant’s experience his junior season as the scout team running back was invaluable to the team and the running back’s development. Grant did not play football his sophomore year.
“He earned the respect of all his teammates and coaches last year, so to see him come out this year and perform like that is a testament to his hard work and a great example to the guys in our program,” Dawczak said.