LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Griffin Donnelly wasn't expected to lug the football as a featured back when the season began.
But when Luc Goeders suffered an injury in Saint Stephen's Kickoff Classic, Donnelly was suddenly thrust into the role.
The Falcons senior has become more and more comfortable in the position with each game this season.
And on Friday, Donnelly starred for Saint Stephen's (5-3) in capturing the Samler-Hill trophy for the Most Outstanding Player of the annual Headmaster's Cup game between the Falcons and Out-of-Door Academy (2-6).
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Donnelly tallied 146 rushing yards on 15 carries to lead the Falcons to a 43-21 victory over the host Thunder.
"With more games we've played and the more I saw the cuts and the holes, and just the more practices we had, I kept continuing to get north and south," Donnelly said. "And I think that over the season, now we're just coming into our prime."
It was the first time Saint Stephen's has claimed two consecutive wins in the series, after the Falcons tallied a 20-0 victory in 2013 to snap a seven-game losing streak against ODA.
"The last time we played here, we lost 42 to 20, and that was a tough loss," Falcons head coach Tod Creneti said. "That was a year where we felt like we were making some headway, and they really had their way with us. And so this is a great measuring stick for us. It's great to win at their place."
At first, it didn't look like Saint Stephen's could decode the Thunder's defense.
ODA only trailed 16-7 at halftime due to a defensive effort that limited the Falcons to three field goals.
A back-breaking, momentum-shifting, 32-yard touchdown pass from Fred Billy to Bobby Harrison with 24.6 seconds remaining in the second quarter lifted the Falcons.
That momentum carried over to the third quarter when Donnelly's number was called in the first play from scrimmage of the second half.
He bounced off defenders like a pinball machine as he darted up the middle and broke free for a 65-yard touchdown run.
That score, which made it 23-7, was followed by more big plays from the Falcons.
Billy found Jordon Murrell (five catches for 95 yards) for a 57-yard touchdown pass, Jordan Murrell had a 31-yard touchdown run and Donnelly covered 82 yards on a kick return to set up Nick Rodhouse's 9-yard touchdown run to cap the Saint Stephen's second-half offensive surge.
The Falcons' defense also keyed the victory as they forced four Thunder turnovers and had two punt blocks.
"We feel defensively, we played great," Creneti said. "Stuff happened late, and that's OK. They fought hard late and their kids made some plays late, take nothing away from them. But we felt like when we had to be there, we were able to limit them offensively."
ODA produced a couple late scores from Najee Rhodes, who finished with a game-high 239 rushing yards.
Rhodes covered 145 of his rushing yards in the final two minutes, 44 seconds, on three carries, with two -- a 68-yard and a 76-yard attempt -- going for touchdowns.
"Najee Rhodes played a great game," ODA head coach Brett Timmons said. "It gives us something to look forward to in the future."