Entering Saturday's matchup with Boys' Latin, Spalding's football team was on track for its best start ever. The Cavaliers had outscored opponents 201-45 to compile a 6-0 record -- one win short of its best start. But penalties and two failed goal-line opportunities led to the Cavaliers' first loss of the season, 20-10, the third loss to their IAAM B Conference rival in as many years.

Though the Cavaliers are hoping for a rematch in the B Conference title game, they first must win the rest of their games to hold on to first place in the South Division. Spalding (6-1, 3-1) stands behind St. John's/Prospect Hall (5-1, 4-1), which they defeated earlier in the season, 21-6. Still ahead on the schedule: county foes Severn and St. Mary's, followed by Pallotti.

"We have to buckle down," said Spalding quarterback Casey Amsler. "If we'd won [Saturday] we'd still be on track for an undefeated season, and I think that would do wonders for the program. But we're definitely still in the running for the championship, and I think that would do just as well."

That's what this season is about for the Cavaliers: The players are chasing the school's first football championship, but also want to take another step toward the creation of an A Conference program. That was the goal Coach Mike Whittles brought with him when he signed up for the job in 1999, and he's taken the program a long way since then.

The Cavaliers could petition to become an A Conference team if they win the B Conference.

"You're talking to a coach who was 0-9 up here one year. There's a big difference between what that was like and now," Whittles said. "It just validates a lot of the things you believe in. We came in with a plan years ago, and we stuck to it, and we worked hard at it. Kids believed in it, the coaches believed in it, and it's paying off."

Whittles talks about aspirations to reach and compete in the A Conference, but is quick to point out that the football program is still developing and needs time to grow. He noted that some teams in the A Conference have a full, separate set of players who start on offense and defense, while Spalding starts several players both ways.

Archbishop Curley Coach Sean Murphy knows firsthand what it's like to make the jump from the B Conference. He and the Friars did it this season, and "it's been a disaster, to be frank," Murphy said.

After winning four B Conference titles in five years, the Friars are 0-7 this season in what Murphy calls "the best conference in the state." Murphy, in his ninth year at Curley, said he has learned from this season.

"Maybe we should have taken a closer look at what we were moving into when we made the decision [to move up]," he said. "Maybe we overestimated our success in B Conference and were hoping that would translate to A Conference. In A Conference, there are no breaks in class. You are playing one outstanding team after another. There are no breaks at all."

Spalding may face a long drive to join a conference full of schools with more financial resources, a higher quality of play and more depth, though Athletic Director Lee Dove wants to stay on the path and see where it takes them.

"We wanted to get to the point where we were one of the better teams in the B Conference, and we're definitely taking strides in that direction," said Dove. "Coach Whittles said his goal was to get to the A Conference. That's my goal as well: to challenge the kids to play at that level. It just takes a little time to get there."

Spalding's Matt Cassilly, above left, and his teammates couldn't grab hold of a first win over Boys' Latin in three years. Below, Spalding quarterback Casey Amsler gets off a pass.Spalding's A.J. Wineke, right, breaks up a pass. The Cavaliers had won their first six games before a 20-10 loss.A trio of Boys' Latin players brings down Justin Hughes of Spalding. The Cavaliers are hoping to win their first conference title this year.