After Mehlville returned a kickoff for a 92-yard touchdown to cut De Smet’s lead to 14-7, the Spartans rolled off 37 unanswered points to blow out the Panthers 51-7 Friday.
The win means is headed for the Class 6 playoffs for the fifth consecutive year. The Spartans have advanced to the state semifinals in three of the past four seasons, and they last won a championship in 2005.
“I just told the guys, it’s real simple – from here on out, only one team goes home happy,” De Smet coach Pat Mahoney said. “There’s only one team that finishes the season without a loss.
“You can’t beat good teams and you can’t be the team that doesn’t lose playing sloppy football. So it’s kind of a rededication. The tempo’s got to step up in practice. Special teams have to be cleaned up. There’s a ton of things that have to be done in order to move forward.”
De Smet (8-2 overall, 2-1 in District 2) took control of the game by scoring 27 second-quarter points to go into halftime with a 44-7 advantage. Mehlville (4-6 overall, 0-3 in District 2) had no answer for senior Durron Neal, a University of Oklahoma recruit, who caught two touchdowns and ran for another.
“Durron Neal got out in the open and electric happened,” Mehlville coach Eric Meyer said. “He just made plays.”
Neal opened the game’s scoring less than four minutes into the first quarter. Junior QB Conner Harrison found Neal streaking down the left sideline for a 67-yard score to put De Smet up 7-0.
De Smet recovered a Mehlville fumble on the first play from scrimmage of the Panthers’ next possession. On fourth-and-five from the Mehlville 8-yard-line, Harrison threw the ball to a well-covered Jack Barry. But Barry used his body to shield off Panther defensive back Avery Anderson for the TD, and De Smet was quickly up 14-0.
Mehlville showed signs of life on the ensuing De Smet kickoff. Mehlville’s Michael Sulya weaved through a few De Smet tacklers and beat everyone to the end zone to make the game 14-7. But that’s as close as the Panthers would get.
After De Smet’s David Rudolph hit a 31-yard field goal to make it 17-7, Neal and senior Jamie Placht took over. Neal started the second-quarter onslaught by catching a 23-yard strike from Harrison. Less than three minutes later, Neal scampered for a 40-yard score to push the Spartans’ lead to 30-7.
“It was a pretty good game plan,” Mahoney said. “All I did was give it to Durron Neal, and he just kind of took care of business. He’s just a really, really, really good player.”
With 2:49 remaining in the second quarter, Placht got in on the scoring by running for a 22-yard touchdown. Then with 40 seconds left before halftime, Placht plowed through the Panther defense for a 5-yard score.
Spartan sophomore Latif Adams finished the game’s scoring late in the third quarter, as he galloped for a 37-yard TD.
“When we’re hitting on all cylinders – especially when you’ve got players of the caliber of KeVonn Mabon, Durron Neal and Jamie Placht, I think we certainly have the ability to play with anybody in the state,” Mahoney said.
The De Smet defense shut down a Mehlville offense that was without its starting quarterback, senior Jeff White. White sustained a head injury in the last week.
In White’s absence, sophomore Brendan Moore made his first career start. Moore was 4 of 12 passing for 38 yards. In the running game, the Panthers gained only 39 yards on 26 attempts.
“Against a complicated offense, I thought we did really well,” Mahoney said. “I don’t think we did a great job of getting off our blocks, but that’s a little credit to Mehlville. I thought Mehlville did a very good job at controlling – at times – the line of scrimmage.”
De Smet finished as the District 2 runner-up, as Saint Louis University High clinched the district championship with a 35-21 win over Lindbergh.
As a result, the Spartans will take on 8-2 Eureka, who cruised past Oakville 48-21 for the District 1 title, in the first round of the playoffs. That game will take place at Eureka on Friday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.