Intense, spirited, dramatic, hard-hitting and highly competitive.
Those are just a few ways to describe Monday night’s Class 4 District 3 championship football game between St. Clair and Sullivan.
The big rivals from the Four Rivers Conference knew each other extremely well. There were no secrets.
It was clearly the two best teams in the district playing for the right to advance to the Class 4 quarterfinals.
That’s the way it should be.
It was a great game to watch.
Sullivan 32, St. Clair 17.
The Eagles proved to be the best team on the block. They handed the Bulldogs both of their losses this season. They earned the right to advance.
“We’re just a hungry team,” said Sullivan quarterback Adam Tiefenbrunn. “No matter what we do, we know we have to keep going.”
St. Clair had a great season. There’s teams still alive in Class 4 that the Bulldogs probably would beat.
But it wasn’t meant to be this season. The Bulldogs lose a great group of seniors, but they have some younger talent on that team. They’ll be back.
“We had a pretty good run. We just came up a little short,” said St. Clair Head Coach Cody McDowell. “These kids worked hard. When you get to this point of the year, you have to play well. And we didn’t play well.”
Sullivan expected a fight, and it got one. The Eagles prevailed on their home field.
“We knew it was going to be a tough one. St. Clair is a big rival,” said Sullivan running back Justin Biermann. “We just kept our heads in, stayed focused, didn’t worry about anything else and stuck with it.”
With the new playoff format this season, it was nice to finally experience a district championship game with so much on the line.
Last year, it was possible to lose your last district game and still go to the playoffs.
Not this year.
Instead of four-team districts, there were eight teams in each district.
It will be more difficult to win a district title under the new form at, and that’s OK.
Sullivan actually was awarded its district championship trophy following the game.
In past seasons, the district champion always was awarded its trophy prior to the sectional game. That’s no good. It took away the emotion.
District games in the past didn’t have anywhere near the emotion and suspense that Monday night had.
Now, part of that was due to the fact that Sullivan and St. Clair are big rivals.
Both teams really wanted to win. Both teams were confident. Both teams thought they were the better team.
I’m sure district games throughout the state were the same way.
High School football should be an emotional game. Both teams played with plenty of emotion Monday night.
“We talked all week about playing within our emotions. I think we did a really good job of that,” said Sullivan Head Coach Pat Burke.
“It’s basically everything a senior can ask for. It’s very emotional when everything comes together,” Tiefenbrunn said. “You work all summer and it leads up to this. When you’ve been growing up with these guys and can achieve something like this, it’s a big step. We’re going to relish this, but we have to move on to the next one.”
And the next one is a giant.
Sullivan pays a visit to two-time defending Class 4 champion Webb City, winners of 42 straight games overall and 90 straight regular season games.
The Cardinals’ last loss was in the 2009 state semifinals against Kearney. Their last regular season loss was against Hickman in 2003.
“All teams are different, but we do a lot of the same things we’ve done here for years,” Webb City Head Coach John Roderique told me Tuesday morning. “We were old school Webb City football last night against Hillcrest. We ran a lot of option right at them. We’ve run a shotgun pistol formation at times this year, but didn’t do it at all last night. We just ran right at them and rushed for over 400 yards.”
Roderique said he knows very little about Sullivan, but respects what the Eagles have done this season.
“If you’re still playing at this point of the season, you have a well-coached team with good players,” Roderique said. “We expect a big challenge from Sullivan.”
The quarterfinal contest takes place in Webb City Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
The Eagles will leave Friday, get adjusted to the surroundings and then face the biggest challenge of their high school football careers.
The Cardinals (12-0) slapped around a very good Hillcrest team to win their district title Monday night, 55-10. The game basically was over in the second quarter.
Sullivan has never faced a challenge quite like the one it will have Saturday.
No one outside of the Sullivan city limits will give the Eagles a chance.
A win over mighty Webb City would send shock waves throughout the state.
Yes, the Eagles are major underdogs, but I wouldn’t totally count them out. They’ve been an impressive team this season.
Sullivan’s line isn’t big, but it’s very good. The skill players are very talented.
Team health is a concern. The Eagles need to be healthy and firing on all cylinders to have a chance.
“To be able to go there and experience what high school football is all about is something I’m really looking forward to,” Burke said. “The kids are also looking forward to it. Whatever happens, happens. We have a great group of kids. I’d put them up against anyone in the state.”