Calvary Day’s girls flag football team had a memorable inaugural season last year as the Cavaliers embraced the challenge of taking on a new sport en route to winning the Class 1A-5A state title.
It was an effort supported schoolwide, as most of the players on the team were multisport athletes — including quarterback Hannah Cail and running back/receiver Mahkayla Premo, who double as one of the top basketball guard duos in the state.
Now an improved Cavaliers squad is looking to make another deep playoff run. Calvary Day (13-0) won the Division I-4A, Area 1 title last week with a 42-0 shutout of Jenkins, then closed out the regular season with victories over Savannah Christian (28-0) and Savannah Arts (42-6).
In the win over Savannah Arts, assistant coach Nick Grassi called an excellent game, using an imaginative, fun-to-watch offense that kept the Panthers on their heels.
Before one play, he predicted a touchdown and he was nearly right as Cail hit freshman Scarlett Jackson over the top for a gain of about 30 yards.
Later, Cail passed to Abby Walsh, who dodged a defender on her way to the sideline, where she dished a perfect pitch to Premo, who raced down the right sideline for a long touchdown.
Premo rushed for 133 yards and four scores in the win over the Panthers, while Cail was 7-of-7 passing for 59 yards. Madi Grace Carswell and Breanna Jones had touchdown catches for Calvary. Monica Maker of Savannah Arts showed off her speed and scored on a long run for the Panthers.
“We had a great season last year, but this is a totally different group with a lot of freshmen and we had to build chemistry,” Premo said. “But we’ve got everyone on board. Last year everything was new and fun, and it seemed like I was just running out there. This season, I’m seeing the field better, reading defenses and anticipating what’s about to happen a lot better.”
Coach Chad Griffin, who also served as Calvary Day’s athletic director and boys and girls soccer coach, has moved on to Hebron Christian and Taylor King has taken over the flag football program while serving a college counselor at Calvary. But Grassi, a Calvary alum who has played flag football in adult leagues for years, is back — teaching the girls all the tricks of the trade.
Grassi said Cail and Premo are senior leaders on the team, along with defensive end Morgan Soukhamneut, but a contingent of freshmen are making big impacts, including Walsh, Jackson and Jones.
“We’re tying to be consistent and we have a motto that seems simple, but it’s important. “It’s ‘If you can’t catch, if you can’t pull (flags), you can’t win.’ “
Soukhamneut and Jackson are leaders on a defense that has posted eight shutouts while allowing just 2.4 points per game.
“The key to playing defense is keeping your eyes open looking for the handoff or pitch in the backfield,” Soukhamneut said. “Then you have to be disciplined with containment and trust your linebackers.”
There’s a strong contingent of Cavaliers who are playing basketball during flag football season as Cail, Premo, Soukhamneut, Walsh and Jones are juggling two sports, academics and the everyday life of a teenager at the same time.
Calvary Day’s basketball team, which entered the season ranked No. 9 among Class A Private teams by Sandysspiel.com, was set to open Tuesday against highly-regarded Johnson, ranked No. 4 in Class 3A.
The Class 1A-4A flag football playoffs start Tuesday, Nov. 30, and Calvary is hoping to play two as the Cavs host Statesboro. With a win, they would face the winner of Mount Vernon Christian/LaGrange that same night. Start times are to be announced.
Cail said the team is ready.
“I think I’ve improved with my deep passing this year, and I’m also a better runner,” Cail said. “I’ve see a lot of defenses and I’m more confident in the offense with my decision making. There’s a little more pressure this year with expectations, but we’re still having fun and our goal is to repeat as champions.”
St. Vincent’s rolling in inaugural flag football season
St. Vincent’s Academy is in its first year of flag football and the Saints have embraced the sport – earning a No. 1 seed in the Class 1A-4A playoffs as the Area 2 champions.
The Saints (9-1) have reeled off seven wins in a row since a 27-18 loss to Long County on Oct. 21.
SVA coach and athletic director Nichols St. Louis coaches the team with her husband, Mike, who she said runs the show when it comes to teaching the game to the girls.
The Saints have a dynamic one-two punch with junior twins Hayden and Reagan Aliotta.
Hayden plays quarterback and leads the state with 2,443 yards passing and 43 touchdowns passes, while adding 450 yards rushing and six more scores.
Reagan Aliotta has 36 catches for 726 yards and 15 touchdowns, and Abbegail Nowell has 37 catches for 697 yards and 14 scores.
Sophomore Anna Bridges Smith and junior Belle Jackson are leaders on a defense allowing just 5.1 points per game.
“We didn’t think we had the capacity to play last year because of COVID-19,” Nichols St. Louis said. “But once things got back to normal, we decided to go for it. We had never allowed athletes to play two sports at the same time before, so we had to change that rule.
“But the girls are loving it, and they’re having a monstrous season,” St. Louis said. “Hayden is an amazing quarterback, and our ‘D’ has been killing it. We have a great group.”
SVA is on the opposite side of the state playoff bracket from Calvary, so if the teams were to meet for the first time, it would be in the state finals.
SVA is set to host Kendrick at Memorial Stadium in a first-round playoff matchup on Tuesday, Nov. 30, and with a win would follow up against the winner of Columbia/Mary Persons that same night. Start times are set for 4 p.m. for the matchup with Kendrick, and 6 p.m. for SVA’s possible second game.
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at Dknight@savannahnow.com. Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN