By CHRISTOPHER LAWLOR
PHOENIX – Kwincy Hall, one of the smallest players on the field, came up big on Saturday afternoon.
Hall’s two electrifying long touchdowns in the first half allowed No. 11-ranked St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.) to overcome an early deficit during a 41-3 convincing victory over previously unbeaten Bingham (South Jordan, Utah) at Grand Canyon University Stadium in the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series presented by Sonic.
The doubleheader between powerhouse programs from four states was televised nationally on ESPNU. It was the third time in as many bowl series that Bingham has played in, but dropped to 0-3 in those appearances, including last year’s event in Frisco, Texas.
“This experience has been unbelievable and we cannot thank GEICO enough,” SFA co-head coach Henry Russell, who also guides the team’s swarming defense.
St. Frances became the first program from the Northeast to play in the event and came away with an impressive win. Last year, Chandler (Ariz.) and St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) won GEICO Bowl games.
SFA scored in three phases of the game—offense, defense and special teams and did it from distance with touchdowns covering 78, 51, 19, 75 and 63 yards.
“I wish the game went a little better,” Bingham head coach John Lambourne said. “Often we’re able to out-physical teams and I thought our defense hung in there for a longtime but our offense couldn’t get going. We’ve knocked on the door in bowl games and the goal is always to win a state championship. I hope people saw our fight today; we’ll move forward with it.”
Hall and the St. Frances Academy defense broke open the game in the second quarter. The defense forced Bingham to punt from it goal line and the dangerous Hall fielded at his 49, appeared hemmed in at the far sidelines but alertly reversed his track and scooted 51 yards for his ninth score off a return this season a 17-3 lead at 5:39.
At 5-feet-7-inches, 160 pounds, Hall has interest from Army West Point, Navy and Florida Atlantic, but after Saturday’s performance, he might have more options after bagging the game’s Most Valuable Player award.
At halftime with SFA leading 17-3, the statistical numbers were relative even for both teams but Hall was the difference accounting for the game’s only two TDs and 163 all-purpose yards (75 yards in returns and 88 from scrimmage). Jones hit on 4 of 5 passes for 106 yards and netted 23 yards on eight rushes.
“Jalon [Jones] just put the ball right in my hands on that long touchdown,” Hall said. “On the punt return, Eyabi Anoma told me just before the play to follow him. That’s what I did and run to the open field.”
Quarterback Jalon Jones did most of his damage in the second half, winding up with 15 carries for 178 yards and two TDs and passed for 128 yards and a score. Jones, who recently de-committed from Mississippi State, is now considering offers from UCLA, Virginia, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
“I can’t do any of this without the O-line and the defense. This team is a family and there is great camaraderie,” said Jones, a junior transfer from Richmond, Va.
Eyabi Anoma, a five-star defensive end prospect who signed with Alabama last week, was disruptive with six tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Anoma, who previously played basketball, essentially has played two years of football. Sophomore Demon Clowney recorded two his team’s five sacks for 37 yards.
Bingham quarterback Ryan Woods went 5 of 10 for 34 yards but the Miners missed running back Braedon Wissler who saw limited action after sustaining a shoulder injury. BYU-bound wide receiver Brayden Cosper had two catches for 21 yards in the opening half. Early in the third, Wood left the game with an apparent concussion.
Junior backup Peyton Jones, a 6-3, 175-pound lefthander, came on, but went 6 of 9 for 85 yards with a pick-six interception and was sacked twice.
Cosper, a multi-sport athlete, closed out his prep career with 8 catches for 94 yards. Earlier in the week, Cosper pulled double duty playing in a tournament in Las Vegas for the Bingham basketball team.
With the game still in doubt at the break, the Panthers searched a better offensive output in the final 24 minutes in the desert.
“We needed to find an offensive rhythm in the second half, it was on us coaches to do this,” SFA co-head coach Biff Poggi said. “We needed to play 48 minutes of football. We respect Bingham; they have been down before at halftime and have come back to win.”
The Panthers are built on defense and it showed midway through the fourth with the Miners threatening inside the 10. That’s when SFA dialed up pressure and Peyton Jones was denied a TD pass when Indiana-bound defensive back Terrell Smith intercepted a pass in the end zone and later in the fourth, sophomore Breon Noel’s 63-yard fumble return for closed out the scoring.
This season the Panthers outscored opponents, 583-68, allowing only 5 points per game.
Smith’s interception set up signal-caller Jalon Jones’ 78-yard TD jaunt for a 34-3 lead with 4:59 left in the contest.
Leading 20-3 after three quarters, St. Frances essentially put the game out of reach just over a minute into the fourth quarter when Jalon Jones scampered 19 yards up the middle for a score, capping a six-play, 43-yard drive and a commanding 27-3 edge.
SFA took a 10-7 after one quarter after trailing by three points early. Jake Larson’s 31-yard field goal in the final minute capped the scoring in the opening 12 minutes.
Bingham, which last played on Nov. 17 when it won the Utah Class 6A state championship, forced the Panthers to punt on their opening drive and cashed in with 6:26 left when Brandon Lopez kicked a 37-yard field goal.
SFA responded with seven points in a hurry (try 43 seconds). On second-and-8 from their own 22, Jones rolled right and fired a 78-yard TD strike to diminutive, mercuric Hall, who torched the secondary gaining three strides of separation along the right sideline.
Both defenses brought the heat and ball-hawked. With the Panthers looking to build a double-digit lead midway through the second quarter, Bingham halted a 37-yard drive at the 1 when Jones’ bootleg left fell short of the end zone.
Bingham cobbled a drive late in the second quarter, moving to the SFA 30 and aided by a 15-yard facemask penalty. SFA’s defensive pressure made life tough for Wood and the rest of the backfield, forcing the Miners a long 47-yard field goal attempt that fell short with nine seconds to go.
No. 8 Bingham, which recently won the school’s 11th overall state title and the seventh in 12 years, finished with a brilliant 13-1 record. In three seasons at the helm, Lambourne has a sparkling 39-4 mark and two state titles.
“We [Bingham] needed to play well to turn the tables on this team,” Lambourne said.
SFA (13-0), which rolled to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship, is one of the nation’s feel-good stories. The school features notable boys and girls’ basketball programs but in the second year of the current coaching regime, the program has landed on the national radar. According to the coaching staff, 16 players were at one time or are presently homeless.
Several SFA players have signed national letters-of-intent or will in February, but mostly they are GEICO State Champions Bowl Series champions.
“We treated this experience as a national championship game,” Poggi added, who last year coached at the University of Michigan.