Despite taking an early lead, Walker could not overcome an injury to its starting quarterback and seven turnovers as the Wildcats dropped their season opener to visiting St. Michael 28-21 on Friday night.
“We made too many turnovers tonight,” Walker coach Dwayne Severio said. “We moved the ball for most of the night, but it was a game of turnovers.”
With the score tied at 21 with six minutes left, Walker’s sixth turnover set up a 30-yard touchdown reception for St. Michael receiver Jude Housewright from quarterback Jeffery Vaccaro.
It was Housewright’s only reception of the game and the Warriors’ longest offensive play from scrimmage.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” St. Michael coach Paul Varnado said. “Hats off to Walker; they played their hearts out, but we made some key stops and forced some key turnovers to pull it out in the end.”
St. Michael was outgained 347-234 but was able to hold on to the ball better and capitalized when the Wildcats didn’t.
It did not help that Walker’s starting quarterback missed most of the second quarter when he injured his left knee after a 39-yard run.
“Our offense was pretty dominant between the 20s, but we could not finish,” Severio said. “We had the potential but could not finish.”
Lockhart and the Wildcats’ offense looked solid on their first possession of the game.
Starting at their own 25, the Wildcats were able to find holes in the St. Michael defense and quickly pushed the ball into Warrior territory. It appeared the drive would stall after a bad snap put Walker in fourth-and-15, but Lockhart was able to find Bryce Brown streaking down the sideline for a 25-yard touchdown to go up 7-0.
After both teams traded turnovers to end the first quarter, St. Michael was able to tie it up on its first chance in the second quarter when senior receiver Christian Frey caught a pass in the flats from Vaccaro, made one defender miss and outran the rest for a 31-yard score.
Vaccaro finished with 10 completions for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
With just over two minutes to go in the first half, Walker was setting up to retake the lead with a couple of big runs by Young, putting it at the St. Michael 35-yard line.
But the momentum turned when backup quarterback Justin Miller threw a pass intended for Trey Keller that went through the receiver’s hands and was intercepted by linebacker Brennan Messina. He ran it back 75 yards untouched, giving the Warriors a 14-7 lead at halftime.
“That was a big play,” Varnado said. “It’s tough to win on the road, so we need to take advantage of plays when we can. That was a huge momentum changer right before the half.”
It was the Wildcats’ fourth turnover of the half and third interception.
“You can’t turn the ball over — and especially right there,” Severio said. “You can’t expect a positive outcome when that happens.”
Sporting a brace on his left knee, Lockhart came back into the game to start the second half and immediately made an impact by leading a 10-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off with Lockhart finding the end zone from 3 yards to even the score at 14.
St. Michael answered with a 3-yard touchdown run by T.J. Mauldin to go back on top. The momentum tipped back into Walker’s favor at the 8:42 mark in the fourth quarter when Matthew Graham took a St. Michael punt back 46 yards for the game’s fourth tie.
“We thought that would turn the tide there,” Severio said. “We just couldn’t capitalize on our many opportunities.”