The St. James football team (4-0, 2-0 FRC) hosted Owensville for a Four Rivers Conference matchup on Friday, Sept. 8. The Tigers survived a third quarter comeback attempt on their way to a 40-26 victory over the Dutchmen.
St. James opened the game with a touchdown drive and they used a bit of misdirection to get there. First the Tigers were held to a third and long on the 48 when Ryan Harlan threw a screen pass out to Cade Snitker, who then fired it right back to the Tiger QB for a 14 yard gain. St. James then took advantage of a personal foul by Owensville on a play that would've led to a third and long. That allowed them to move from the 35 up to the 20 and a couple of plays later the Tigers found the end zone. Snitker threw his second pass of the game after catching a screen pass, hitting Grant Conway for a 17-yard touchdown. The point after was no good, but the Tigers took a 6-0 lead.
The Tigers then instantly added to that lead on the defensive side of the football. Owensville quarterback Wyatt Ellis dropped back to pass and had a ball bounce off the hands of one of his receivers. The ball launched into the air, where it was picked off by Carter Keeney. Keeney then took the ball from midfield and carried it 50 yards for a touchdown, pushing the St. James lead to 12-6. After both teams traded punts, Owensville got on the board with a short run by Wyatt Ellis for the final touchdown of the opening quarter.
St. James didn't take long to find the end zone in the second quarter. After Ty Lewis and Michael Higginbotham forced a fumble at the end of the first quarter, Harlan hit Conway for a 38-yard strike, pushing the St. James lead back out to 19-6.
The second quarter was a quarter of trading punches. Owensville responded to the St. James touchdown with a TD of their own from Wyatt to Sean Irwin for 10 yards. The Tigers came right back with a bomb when Harlan hit Keeney for a 49-yard strike to extend the St. James lead to 25-14. Ellis then ran in another short touchdown with just under a minute left in the half. Snitker gave the Tigers a chance to score before the half when he weaved through the defense for a 50 yard gain, putting St. James on the 15-yard line. Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn't find the end zone and Seth Courtois missed a field goal attempt. Despite the missed opportunity, the Tigers carried a 25-20 lad into the half.
Owensville struck first in the second half to take their first and only lead of the game when Ellis punched in a one-yard run early in the third quarter. Head coach Greg Harlan liked seeing how his team reacted to adversity, as this was the first time the Tigers have trailed all season.
"We've been playing from ahead in every game and it's easy to play when things are going easy, but when things start getting hard, you have to start figuring out what we're made of," said the St. James head coach. "I felt like our guys showed a little bit of character and showed a little bit of what they were made of to get behind that game and get right back on I believe the next possession...our kids are playing with a lot of confidence on both side of the football and hopefully we can keep building on it."
While the Tigers scored on the next drive, they were put in a tight spot when they were pushed back to a first and 28. Harlan went on to hit Snitker on a series of completions over the middle. After three catches by Snitker got the Tigers a first down, Harlan and Snitker hit pay dirt on a 37-yard touchdown. Those would be the final points of the third quarter, putting St. James in front 33-26 with a quarter to play.
St. James went on to extend their lead in the fourth to bury the Dutchmen. First the Tigers worked their way down the field leading to the second straight touchdown from Harlan to Snitker, this time on a gorgeous 17-yard fade to the senior wide out. While it ended up being the perfect pass, Harlan said he just threw it up for Snitker to grab. Harlan has been able to do that this season because of the stable of receivers he has at his disposal.
"It's definitely nice knowing that I can look anywhere and we have a good chance of catching the ball, even if I just throw it up in the air like the one that Cade caught in the end zone," said Harlan. "I didn't even see the corner, I just threw it. Cade caught the ball really good down the middle when they were dropping off. He probably had eight catches in a row. Our receivers are phenomenal right now."
Harlan went on to add one more touchdown by gutting out a yard on the goal line to push the lead to 40-26. Owensville added a touchdown to Tanner Rector in the final minute, but it was too little too late and the Tigers sealed a 40-26 win over their Four Rivers Conference foe. While Owenville doesn't have the prettiest record this season at now 1-3, this is a great win for the Tigers. Owensville's other two losses came in an injury-riddled game against Potosi where they lost by four points and a 72-69 shootout with state ranked Eldon.
"Coming into the season, Owensville was picked to be one of the better teams in the area and make no mistake, they are a good football team," said head coach Greg Harlan. "We just feel like we've made some progress over the last two years with out team....We feel like we're competing with anyone right now and it just matter of maintaining confident and continuing to play hard."
That hard work paid off for the Tigers on Friday Night. Harlan completed 24-36 passes for 359 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He also ran the ball 13 times for 32 yards and a score. Snitker led the team in receiving with 11 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another TD in the air on a 2-2 performance for 31 yards. Conway was right behind him in the receiving game with nine catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns, while Keeney added one catch for a 49 yard touchdown. The Tigers were without Gunnar Seams for the second straight game as he recovers from a hamstring injury, but Harlan and his receivers, on top of some tough yards by Zach Koons in the backfield, made the offense hum all night long.
"This is the fourth game of the year and I think every week we've had a different player be our leading receiver," said coach Harlan. "When you've got those kinds of weapons that you can put on the field, where it's kind of hard for a team to match up on one guy, it just makes it a lot easier to throw the football. Then hopefully that backs them up away from the line of scrimmage a little bit and that helps you run the football."
Defensively, the Tigers won the turnover battle 4-2. Keeney had the lone interception of the game, but three players forced fumbles. Lewis, Harlan and Petty each picked up a fumble in the victory. Drake Ortiz was all over the field defensively with a total of 13 tackles and a sack to lead the team in tackles. Nick Wilson was a machine getting after Ellis wish three sacks and seven tackles. Sage Gibson added 10 tackles and a sack, while Petty chipped in with eight tackles and a sack. The defensive effort was outstanding, as the were facing off against one of, if not the, best quarterbacks they'll see this season in Ellis.
"We knew and everybody knows that when you're playing an Owensville football team this year, that you have to contain Wyatt Ellis and we did a great job of it," said coach Harlan. "I would dare to say he was hit more tonight than any other games he's played. Nick Wilson, Cole Petty, Drake Ortiz, Sage Gibson, we all got to him and did their jobs."
This was an exciting win for the Tigers who are now 4-0 and 2-0 in the Four Rivers Conference for the first time in a while and St. James' senior quarterback is pumped.
"Words can't describe it," said Harlan. "This is a huge game. It could be for conference. We knew that if we get this game we have a good chance of winning (the FRC). We came out, we played hard and we beat a really good football team tonight."
The Tigers have set the tone for their season early on with their perfect record through four games and their quarterback thinks they're going to be capable of a lot this season.
"It could get scary," said Harlan with a chuckle. "That's all I've gotta say."
His dad and head coach is optimistic about what the Tigers can accomplish, but the St. James head coach is going to make sure his team takes it one week at a time.
"At the end of last year and early summer, we talked about what our goals were and one of them was, obviously every year you want to compete and win the conference," said coach Harlan. "We're taking it one game at a time. I'd like to think that most people consider Owensville to be one of the better teams in our conference so we just think it's a step towards that goal of a conference championship. One step is done, we've gotta move on to the next step."
The Tigers will actually step it of their conference for a week when they host Cassville Friday, Sept. 15. Their next Four Rivers Conference matchup will come on the road against St. Clair a week later.