St. Louis University High School football coach Gary Kornfeld was told by one of his assistant coaches near the end of Friday night’s Class 6 state quarterfinal game against that it would go down as an instant classic.
That coach – Mark Kornfeld – was right.
Following a first quarter that saw just a field goal kicked, the next three quarters exploded with 90 points and five lead changes. At the end, it was SLUH kicker Dan Tlapek’s 47-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining that gave the Junior Billikens a 47-46 victory over the visiting Spartans.
“It was, just, wow. That’s all I can say is wow,” Gary Kornfeld said. “I’m so happy, so proud of our kids. That’s a great De Smet ball club we just beat. I’m excited about the victory.”
The Jr. Bills (9-3) It did not appear that Friday night would be another high-scoring affair as the only points of the first quarter came on a 40-yard Tlapek field goal.
“We put some fireworks after that, didn’t we,” Kornfeld said.
And indeed they did. The Jr. Bills gave the Spartans (9-3) a lesson in anatomy in the first half with the arm of quarterback Trevor McDonagh, the hands of receiver Stefan Sansone and Tlapek’s leg.
McDonagh, who finished with 396 passing yards and four touchdowns on a 29-for-43 night, had 243 yards at halftime and three scores. All three TD tosses were to Sansone, who finished with 12 receptions for 277 yards.
Cameron Stubbs hauled in 13 catches for 160 yards.
“Trevor played unbelievable,” Sansone said of his quarterback. “And we can’t do anything without our line giving him time. Our line stepped up and Trevor knew what to do with the ball.”
Then there was Tlapek, who booted four field goals of 40 yards are more. He kicked a 44-yarder with 4:38 remaining in the second quarter and then added a 48-yarder as time expired at halftime and SLUH took a 30-12 lead to the locker room.
“Unbelievable,” Sansone said. “He’s been blasting the ball. I can’t be more proud of him.”
The scoring onslaught began early in the second quarter as De Smet senior Durron Neal took a direct snap, made one player miss in the backfield, got to the edge, got a block downfield and then was gone for an 84-yard touchdown. Even the Jr. Bills were impressed by Neal, who accounted for six De Smet touchdowns.
“He’s a very good player,” De Smet coach Pat Mahoney said of the 6-foot, 195-pound senior who will play college football at the University of Oklahoma. “I’m going to miss him like a son.”
Neal ran for 243 yards on 10 carries with four scores, caught a 48-yard touchdown pass and even threw a 62-yard scoring strike to KeVonn Mabon. Sansone could only describe Neal as incredible.
“What a great player Durron Neal is,” Kornfeld said. “He’s a special player. There’s no doubt. We were trying to do certain things to make sure we corralled him, but no matter what we did, we couldn’t.”
Following Neal’s first touchdown, the Jr. Bills wasted no time responding. On the first play of the ensuing drive, McDonagh found a wide-open Sansone for a 71-yard score.
The Jr. Bills added to their lead three minutes later when Sansone hauled in a 25-yard pass from McDonagh. Following Tlapek’s 44-yard field goal, McDonagh and Sansone again hooked up from 25 yards out to give SLUH a 27-12 lead with nine seconds remaining in the half.
To keep the ball away from Neal, the Bills squib kicked, but the ball was mishandled by a pair of De Smet players and SLUH’s Chris Lynas fell on it to set up Tlapek’s third field goal.
Uncharacteristic mistakes cost the Spartans, who lined up wrong on a two-point conversion attempt for the first time all season. A blocked extra point after the first touchdown, followed by a botched two-point conversion and then a mishandled snap on another extra point attempt proved costly.
“We were running uphill all day,” Mahoney said. “There were some issues that I don’t think we got much help on. It’s unfortunate, too. If we can kick some extra points, it’s a difference maker.”
The Spartans scored quickly in the second half with Neal taking a swing pass and then knifing 48 yards to paydirt. A two-point pass to Lucas Nikolaisen cut the lead to 30-20.
McDonagh fumbled a snap on the ensuing possession and De Smet’s Brandon Gutzler grabbed it and rumbled toward the SLUH end zone. That set up an 8-yard Neal touchdown run. The snap on the conversion was mishandled and SLUH led by four.
The Bills marched down the field and scored on the first play of the fourth quarter as McDonagh hit Matt Hinkebein from 12 yards out.
On the first play of the ensuing possession, Neal took the direct snap and darted up the middle untouched for an 80-yard score. When the Spartans got the ball back four minutes later, Neal completed his only pass attempt – the 62-yard touchdown toss to Mabon – to give the Spartans their first lead of the second half.
The Bills used some trickeration to respond quickly. The next play from scrimmage saw McDonagh toss a lateral to Stubbs, who then hit Sansone for a 77-yard strike down the left sideline.
“It was tough, tiring, too,” Sansone said of the track meet. “We’ve got guys going both ways, but finally we knew we just had to stop the run and we did it. We came through.”
De Smet took the lead back with 3:48 remaining as Conner Harrison converted a third-and-23 with a 28-yard touchdown pass to Mabon. Harrison was 8-of-14 for 164 yards and one costly interception late.
After Tlapek’s go-ahead field goal, the Spartans were on the move but Sansone intercepted Harrison to trigger the celebration on the Bills sideline.
“I told our kids that victory is in the soul,” Mahoney said. “We lost the game, but that doesn’t mean squat to me. Bottom line is in our souls, we had a victory. That’s the way I feel about it. Good luck to (SLUH).
“We fought our (butts) off. We didn’t win according to (the scoreboard) but judging from the things that happened, the issues that went against, quite honestly, I’ll take this one. I hate it for our seniors. We wanted another shot at CBC, but we didn’t get it. That’s the way it is.”
Instead, it will be the Jr. Bills who get to tangle with the Cadets next week. CBC, which remained unbeaten with a 31-10 victory over McCluer North on Friday, was a 34-7 winner over SLUH on Sept. 16.
“We know CBC pretty well and that’s a great ball club,” Kornfeld said. “They have no holes at all.”