The St. James football team (6-2, 4-1 FRC) hosted Union for Homecoming on Friday, Oct. 6. The Tigers were dominant from the opening snap and had phenomenal performances across the board in a 49-7 victory over their Four Rivers Conference rival.
St. James got out to a quick start and never really slowed down on Friday night. Gunnar Seams got the first touchdown of the game in the first minute when he punched in a two yard score. After a quick turnover on downs by Union, St. James was right back on the board. The second touchdown was just four minutes into the game when Ryan Harlan found an open Carter Keeny for a 55-yard strike. Those two proved to be a dynamic duo all night long. The snap was bobbled on the extra point, but Harlan stayed composed and hit Cade Snitker for two points, pushing the lead to 15-0.
St. James didn't lose a yard on their first two drives, but Union finally started to slow them down on their third drive. While St. James had their first negative plays on their third drive, they were hardly stopped. The Tigers found the end zone one more time in the first quarter, this time on a four yard run by Harlan, as their lead ballooned out to 22-0.
The Tigers carried that momentum into the second quarter and refused to slow down. After a 45 yard interception return by Tate Whitener, St. James had first and goal on the nine. They scored a few plays later on a seven yard run by Seams to stretch their lead out to 29-0. Union got their only break of the game in the second quarter. After the Tigers stuffed them on fourth and goal on the eight, St. James fumbled it on the first play of the ensuing drive. Union took advantage for a touchdown from Jacob Fleming to Eli Klenke. After that, it was all St. James. The Tigers scored two more touchdowns in the final two minutes of the half when Harlan hit Keeney for two more scores. The first one came on a 30-yard pass in the corner of the end zone and the second came on an over the shoulder catch for 37 yards with 20 seconds left in the quarter. That gave St. James a 42-7 lead at the half.
The second half saw a running clock with the Tigers leading by 35 points. The combination of running clock and a huge lead slowed down the Tiger offense. The St. James defense continued to dominate and it led to the only touchdown of the second half. Keeney continued his stellar game by snagging an interception with a minute left in the third quarter. That set up an odd play for the Tigers, as Harlan flipped a swing pass out to Grant Conway. Conway saw he wasn't going to have enough room to score, so he stopped short of the line of scrimmage and chucked a pass to a wide open Whitener in the end zone. Whitener made the catch for a seven-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 49-7. St. James would maintain that lead for the remainder of the game.
While the offense is going to get a lot of the credit, the St. James defense was incredible on Friday night. Nick Wilson got to the quarterback four times for sacks. The Tigers also had three picks from Whitener, who also recovered a fumble, Keeney and Michael Higgenbotham. St. James also tipped two passes to help hold the pass-happy Wildcats to just seven points.
Offensively, Harlan continued his strong senior season with 313 passing yards and three touchdowns in the air, while adding 49 yards and a score on the ground. Keeney lit up the scoreboard all night long with four catches for 135 yards and three touchdowns. Conway was only able to find the end zone by throwing the football, but he also caught three passes for 102 yards. Cade Snitker caught four passes for 55 yards, while catching a two-point conversion.
Despite Union's record, the Tiger's senior quarterback wasn't going to come into this game expecting a blowout. He and his team just fed off the phenomenal Homecoming crowd and ran away with a big win in his final Homecoming performance.
"We knew coming in that their record wasn't really what it was because they have played some really tough teams," said Ryan Harlan. "It feels good. Everyone wants to win on Homecoming, everyone's here, they're cheering you on, it's a great feeling."
The Homecoming victory was St. James' second straight win over Union, a team that has always given them trouble in the past. It also sets the Tigers up for a chance to play for the Four Rivers Championship next week. If St. James is able to beat Pacific on Senior Night on Friday, Oct. 13, they'll finish in a three-way tie for the conference crown with either Owensville or St. Clair, as those two teams will face off next Friday with one loss in the Four Rivers Conference.
"We've beaten them two years in a row now and our kids just came and played, they're motivated," said head coach Greg Harlan after the game. "They're looking at this game as a step towards next week and hopefully getting a chance to play for a conference championship. Now we've got ourselves in a position where our destiny, so to speak, is in our own hands. That's what we've been talking about all year and the kids played outstanding tonight. Hopefully we'll be able to continue that next week."