All good things eventually come to an end.
In this case, it was the end of the football season for the St. Clair Bulldogs (9-2) Friday in Week 11 football as Lutheran South (6-4) escaped the dog pound with a 27-20 win in the Class 3 District 2 semifinals.
Lutheran South thus earns the right to advance to the district championship game in Week 12 at Cardinal Ritter (11-0).
The game consisted of two very different halves. Lutheran South handily won the first half, but the Bulldogs gained steam and controlled the second half.
“We did a lot of good things and give those guys some credit — they’ve got some receivers over there,” St. Clair Head Coach Brian Robbins said. “One thing about it, our kids are all from St. Clair and Lonedell and that’s a big deal to me. They’re not paying to go to school here. They want to be Bulldogs and I’m proud of that. Those kids are from all over the place over there and they recruited well, so hat’s off to them.”
Lutheran South put up 20 points in the first half on three rushing touchdowns by Demetrius Jeffery, on runs of one, two and five yards. Meanwhile, the Lancers defense held St. Clair out of the red zone until time expired at the end of the second quarter.
Lancers kicker Jacob Martinez made good on 2-3 extra point attempts after the first three scores.
On the final play of the half, St. Clair senior Kamalei Bursey took the ball 58 yards before being dragged down around the 10-yard line after the time had run out.
Had it not been for the clock not stopping after Jeffery’s third score and running through the point after attempt without being corrected, the Bulldogs would have had a couple of plays to try to get on the scoreboard and gain some momentum going into the half.
Robbins discounted that as a factor, however, saying the game hinged on Lutheran South’s ability to make plays where the Bulldogs could not.
“There’s a lot of those situations where you could always point and say ‘What-if this or what-if that,’ ” Robbins said. “Ultimately, we just needed to make another play or two at some point early, middle or late in the game to give ourselves an opportunity to maybe tie it up or take the lead there at the end. I’m proud of our kids the way they battled. They made this a ball game. I know in years past, we had a bunch that would have just come out and laid down in the second half. There ain’t no quit in these kids and that’s going to serve them well in the future.”
Heavily penalized in the contest, Lutheran South found itself facing several long-yardage downs. However, the Lancers came up with the big plays needed to do just enough to stay out in front of a resurgent St. Clair offense in the second half.
St. Clair scored the only touchdown of the third quarter when quarterback Timmy Hoffman capped a 81-yard drive with a one-yard rushing score on a sneak up the middle. Landon Roberts added the extra point.
The Lancers responded with quarterback Vito Orlando’s only passing touchdown of the game, a 26-yard strike to Isaiah Wilson, to open the fourth quarter and push the lead back up to three scores.
Senior Dalton Thompson scored on the next two St. Clair drives on a three-yard run and then a 18-yard reception from Hoffman less than two minutes apart.
The Bulldogs relied increasingly on Thompson and Bursey as the second half progressed.
“It was a gut check tonight and you couldn’t ask for two better kids than Dalton Thompson and Kamalei Bursey,” Robbins said. “I could just go on-and-on-and-on with our kids — Tim Hoffman, Luke Feddersen and all those seniors.”
On Lutheran South’s final drive, the Lancers worked the clock down to around two minutes remaining as St. Clair burned through its timeouts in the hopes of holding on long enough to get a stop and get one final possession to try to tie the game.
On fourth and long, Orlando scrambled for the first down, but was tackled just short of the goal line. That would have set up a first and goal from short distance, but a slew of penalties after the play and on the attempt of the next snap backed the Lancers up 30 yards and resulted in Orlando being ejected.
After three straight running plays, the last rusher inexplicably running out of bounds to stop the clock instead of going down in bounds to keep the clock running. Lutheran South then punted the ball back to St. Clair and left the Bulldogs with three seconds on the clock to try to make something happen.
Hoffman’s hail mary pass to midfield did not connect with Bursey as time expired, to the Lancers’ relief.
Bursey carried the ball 11 times for a team high 116 yards in the contest. He made one catch for 35 yards.
Thomspon took 13 carries for 52 yards and a score. His 18-yard touchdown catch was his only reception of the game.
Hoffman completed five of his 10 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown. He ran the ball 10 times for 49 yards and a score.
Anthoni White gained 13 yards on three carries.
Harry Ramos, Caleb Smith, Lance McCoy and Brendyn Stricker each carried the ball one time. Ramos gained 10 yards while Smith, McCoy and Stricker each moved the ball four yards.
McCoy added one catch for five yards.
Chase Walters pulled in two catches for 66 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, White led the team with nine tackles, adding one assist.
Blaine Dace was next with seven stops, also with one assist.
Ryan Barrett, Ramos and Thompson made six tackles each. Barrett made two sacks, two tackles for a loss and turned in three assists. Thompson added one tackle for a loss and three assists. Ramos turned in one stop for a loss and one assist.
Aaron Herman made four stops with one assist and one sack.
Bailey Smith notched four tackles and one assist.
Bursey and Feddersen each made three tackles. Feddersen added an assist.
Tyler Stark and Hoffman made two tackles apiece.
Roberts, Caleb Smith and Jacob Hawkins each turned in one tackle.
While the season comes to an end for St. Clair, Robbins said this group of players have definitively moved the program in the right direction.
The Bulldogs ended the season by matching their best record of the past decade.
St. Clair has won a postseason game in two consecutive seasons and finished well above .500 in both years after toiling at 5-5 in the two previous seasons and below .500 the two seasons before that.
Despite losing the thunder-and-lightning backfield of Josh Richards and Marcus Kirk along with three starters from the offensive line off the 2017 team, St. Clair continued to steamroll opponents all season in the running game. St. Clair amassed 3,077 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns on the ground for the season, proving capable of reloading on the line and in the backfield with numerous options.
Cardinal Ritter’s Lions will be a strong favorite to claim the district championship when they meet the Lancers Friday.
The Lions bring an undefeated record and the Lancers will have to turn to a backup quarterback after Orlando’s ejection at the end of the St. Clair game.
Cardinal Ritter brings an even more potent passing attack than that of the Lancers. Quarterback Mekhi Hagens has compiled 3,324 passing yards and 41 touchdowns on the season to just five interceptions.
Hagens has a bevy of receiving options to throw to, led by Jameson Williams with 52 catches for 1,193 yards and 18 scores on the season.
The Lions add a 1,000-yard rusher on the ground in running back Shamel Morrow. Morrow currently has 1,026 yards and 15 touchdowns through 10 games (Cardinal Ritter won its first district game via forfeit).
Cardinal Ritter has held seven of its 10 opponents to 14 points or fewer on the season.