BRANDYWINE — During his first season as the head coach of the St. Charles High School football team last fall, Patrick Orndoff became accustomed to watching his Spartans win more than their fair share of close games.
Friday night when Orndoff and his team ventured to Gwynn Park to play the Yellow Jackets, St. Charles once again displayed its flare for the dramatic.
Senior quarterback Klayton Batten rushed for two touchdowns and the Spartans outlasted Gwynn Park for a 14-13 victory in the season opener for both teams.
“Last year we had a lot of these types of games, so I wasn’t too surprised that this season would start like that,” Orndoff said. “We were playing a very good football team tonight. I think they’re definitely going to make some noise in 1A. They could compete with Fort Hill and Dunbar and those teams.”
Up 14-7 late in regulation, St. Charles’ stingy defense had kept Gwynn Park off the board for most of the second half until the Yellow Jackets mustered a drive to find the end zone.
Gwynn Park quarterback Imari Smith called his number from one yard out with three seconds remaining. Then on the 2-point conversion with the game hanging in the balance, the Spartans stuffed Smith to preserve the victory.
“I don’t know how many more of these close games I can take,” Orndoff said.
Both teams put together long drives that stalled in the first quarter and St. Charles appeared to get the game’s first early break at the outset of the second quarter. With Smith lined up in the shotgun, the snap from the center never arrived and the Spartans recovered at the Yellow Jackets’ 22-yard line.
But immediately after the play ended, St. Charles’ initial celebration was muted when the officials deemed that Gwynn Park’s center had committed a pre-snap violation and awarded the ball back to the Yellow Jackets. That early penalty enabled the hosts to eventually march 86 yards in 12 plays and Smith plowed forward from one yard out for a 7-0 lead.
Gwynn Park took the seven-point lead into the locker room at the intermission, but St. Charles would eventually have plenty of answers in the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, the Spartans found paydirt thanks to a superb effort from Batten.
In his first start as St. Charles’ signal caller, Batten called his own number on three straight plays, the first of which was negated by a holding penalty. On first down and 20, he rushed for 10 yards, then on second down bounced off a defender up the middle, rushed to the left sideline, avoided being shoved out of bounds by a Gwynn Park defender, cut back toward the grain and raced into the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown scamper.
“The play was designed to go outside, but I got pushed back initially then I got outside and just kept running,” Batten said. “When they didn’t push me out [of bounds], I knew I would take it all the way.”
Batten again displayed his abilities to rush for yardage on the Spartans’ first possession of the fourth quarter and appeared to score four times in one sequence.
On first down from the Yellow Jackets’ 15, Batten got to the outside and dove toward the right pylon and appeared to extend the ball against it, but was ruled out at the 1.
On first and goal from the 1, Batten plowed forward for another apparent touchdown but was ruled short. On second down, he again plowed forward and landed on a Gwynn Park player in the end zone, only to be ruled short again. On third down, Batten found a gap and plowed into the end zone for an obvious score. He then found Konner Blount-Foster open for the 2-point conversion and a 14-7 St. Charles lead.
“You know, I thought I was in on that long run,” Batten said. “Then I thought I was in on first down and again on second down. Finally, I went behind my left guard and got in easily. Those guys up front did a great job blocking. We knew this was going to be a tough game.”
St. Charles will host McDonough (0-1 after a 29-14 loss to Chopticon in Week 1) at 7 p.m. Thursday in a game that will have plenty of emotional meaning to the Spartans’ players and coaches. Rams first-year head coach Brock Virts is a county resource officer at St. Charles and is a very familiar face to Orndoff and his players.
“He’s the first person I see when I walk in the building every day,” Batten said. “It’s going to be a fun week.”