The Washington Blue Jays saw firsthand the talent of Fort Zumwalt North’s Cade Brister in a key Gateway Athletic Conference Central Division showdown Friday night.
The senior quarterback ran for five touchdowns and rushed for 219 yards in leading the Panthers to a 49-22 win over the Blue Jays, who were celebrating the school’s annual homecoming.
On a night that was more suitable for ducks, the rain that fell the entire game didn’t stop Brister from doing what he does best — run the football. He attempted just three passes, completing one.
The Blue Jays’ defense started out looking like they had Brister’s number, allowing him little yardage up the middle in the Panthers’ first two possessions. But when he found an outside lane on his team’s third series of downs, he bolted down the left sideline for 79 yards. North never lost that lead, but the Blue Jays had their bright moments, too.
“He’s been really solid for them so far, and we were aware of what he was capable of doing,” said Derick Heflin, in his first year as the Blue Jays’ head coach.
Washington (3-2, 1-1) had good field position early, when a fumble recovery gave the Blue Jays the ball at the Panthers’ 32, and a shanked punt by Brister slipped off his foot and went out of bounds at his own 27. But Washington could not capitalize on those first quarter opportunities.
“We missed a couple of good chances there,” said Heflin. “You have to take advantage of those situations against a good team like that.”
Zumwalt North is one of the more highly touted teams in Class 5 and came into Friday’s game with a 3-1 record, losing a season-opening game to Ladue, 24-21. Washington also entered the game at 3-1, and its lone setback to Warrenton (30-24) came when the Warriors scored at 3:56 left in the game.
Brister’s TD run at 5:23 was the only score in the first quarter, but the Panthers strung together four touchdowns in the second quarter, one of them a 70-yard punt return by junior Jack Ederer.
Heflin knew that the steady rain was not going to favor his team, what with quarterback Matt Hoemann’s throwing being an integral part of the Blue Jays’ offense. They still managed to get in some big plays.
None was more spectacular than the one that came on the final play of the first half after North had taken a 36-7 lead. With 4 seconds left in the half and the Blue Jays at the Panthers’ 40, Hoemann unleashed a “Hail Mary” pass toward the end zone that deflected off Ben Straatmann’s and a defender’s hands. But senior Tanner Webb, standing in the end zone, alertly pulled in the wet ball out of the air with no time left on the clock.
“We talked with Matt about what we wanted to do; told him to throw it as far as he could,” said Heflin. “He said, ‘coach I can get it there,’ and he did.”
The final drive by Washington to end the first half covered 80 yards. Two big plays that kept the drive going was an 11-yard run by senior Lucas Hellebusch and a 30-yard pass from Hoemann to Straatmann. The pass to Straatmann set up the touchdown right before intermission.
The Blue Jays showed some grit and came out in the second half with high energy. Tommy Ruether returned the kickoff 70 yards to the Panthers’ 20, and with 10:02 remaining in the quarter Hoemann tossed an 18-yard scoring pass to Straatmann.
Heflin said the Blue Jays continue to show him their resolve, and willingness to compete.
“They don’t give up, and I am proud of the way they came back and continued to play very hard,” he said.
After the pass from Hoemann to Straatmann cut North’s lead to 36-14, Brister scored his last two touchdowns in the third quarter, a 1-yard run at 5:33 and a 34-yard run with three minutes left in the quarter.
Sophomore Cory Hardesty took over the signal calling for Washington in the last 5:30 of the game and scored on a 20-yard run with 4:02 left.
Hoemann put up respectable numbers, even though he was throwing a wet football all night. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried the ball 15 times for 37 yards. Adam Kleekamp rushed six times for 23 yards; Hardesty two carries for 21 yards; Hellebusch eight carries for 15 yards; Ruether one carry for 12 yards; and Straatmann three carries for three yards,
Straatmann was the leader on defense with 11 total tackles and one fumble recovery. Kleekamp and Alec Holtmeyer each had eight total tackles while Ruether was credited with five. Matt McGilvray and Darren Winistoerfer had four tackles apiece. Kleekamp, Holtmeyer, Wininstoerfer and Cole Mareli each had a tackle for a loss.
Heflin said he is seeing positive results from his players as they adapt to a new head coach and a new system.
“It is a process and they keep working to get better,” he said. “I really like the way they have responded. There is no quit in them, and they showed that tonight.”
Washington travels to Ft. Zumwalt on Friday for another GAC Central Division game. Kickoff is 7 p.m.