Steve Gallo always hoped he could play a big role in a Salesianum-St. Mark's football game. But not long ago, he couldn't have imagined he would do it for Salesianum.
Gallo, a senior who transferred from St. Mark's to Sallies two years ago, recovered a fumble and intercepted two passes as the Sals downed the Spartans 7-2 in a defensive slugfest on Friday night at Baynard Stadium.
Salesianum won despite being outgained 171-7 in the second half. The Sals did it by intercepting four passes inside their own 20-yard line, including two in the end zone.
"Our defense stepped up so many times," Gallo said. "St. Mark's defense had a great game, too. This game meant a lot to me, because I actually went to St. Mark's my first two years. I've been looking forward to this game for a long time."
The victory gave Salesianum (9-1) the No. 2 seed in the DIAA Division II Football Tournament, which comes with a first-round bye. St. Mark's (8-2) likely will be the No. 3 or No. 4 seed when the pairings are announced Sunday.
The Spartans moved the ball, but couldn't punch it in. St. Mark's quarterback Zach Whitehead completed 18 of 32 passes for 257 yards, only to see the Sals catch some of the biggest throws.
"They took away our running game," St. Mark's coach John Wilson said of a Sallies defense that only allowed 43 yards on the ground. "They controlled the line of scrimmage, and that was the difference. ...
"Any time you give a good team five turnovers, you can't expect to win the football game."
Gallo recovered a fumble at the St. Mark's 33 late in the first quarter to set up the only score of the first half. The Sals covered 67 yards in seven plays, highlighted by a 23-yard pass from Matt Sgro to Alex Campli and an 18-yard end around by Jesse June. On the first play of the second frame, Andrew McClelland plunged in from the 1 to make it 7-0.
The Spartans came right back, getting a 47-yard strike from Whitehead to Jake Schneider to move to the Sals 12. But on second down from the 10, McClelland picked off a pass in the end zone.
"I got beat," McClelland said. "I just tried to recover, and I did. I saw the quarterback, I saw who he was going for."
St. Mark's linebacker Brendan Fogarty recovered a Sallies fumble at the Spartans 42 to give his team a chance with 3:40 left in the first half. Whitehead completed four passes to move St. Mark's to the Sallies 26, then appeared to find an open receiver at the goal line. But June unleashed a huge hit and the ball popped up to Gallo, who cradled it in the end zone to end the threat.
"That was pure luck," Gallo said. "That was a great play by Jesse. ... He popped him, and that was pure luck for me."
The Spartans kept moving in the second half, but Sals linebacker Tommy Wilmoth picked off a pass at the Sals 12 early in the fourth quarter. Two series later, Gallo made his second interception at the Sals 5 with 1:24 left.
Salesianum was facing fourth-and-13 at its own 7 with 28.2 seconds left when Sals coach Bill DiNardo instructed punter James Andrews to take a safety.
"The way our defense had been playing, I thought we'd give them two points and take our chances," DiNardo said.
St. Mark's returned the ensuing kick to midfield. Then Gallo broke up Whitehead's long pass at the Sals 5, and Sals linebacker Randall Schiccatano tackled a Spartans receiver at the 35 to put the lid on another Sallies-St. Mark's classic.