The St. James football team (1-2, 1-0 FRC) didn't get off to the start they were hoping to this season. With two straight losses to open the year, the Tigers were determined to get their first win of the season when they opened their conference slate against Hermann on Friday. Despite the rain that rolled into town, St. James forged ahead and took advantage of an excellent running game and some big plays on defense to get their first win of the year 39-20.
Hermann took the ball on the opening kickoff and did what they do best and ate up a ton of the clock on the ground. The possessed the ball for over half of the opening quarter on their first drive, capping it off with a 17 yard run by Keegan Head. That started what would be a back and fourth half for the two Four Rivers Conference rivals. St. James came back and added a score of their own, charging down the field on their way to a four-yard touchdown from Tyler Recker. That would be his first score of what would end up being a big night for the Tiger senior. Hermann got the ball back with under two minutes to play in the first, but there was still a lot of scoring to be had before the buzzer. The Bearcats instantly ripped off a 68 yard run with Brennan Knipping and Hermann was back out in front 14-6. Recker then said 'anything you can do, I can do better' and took St. James' first offensive snap 69 yards for a score. St. James failed both of their conversion attempts in the quarter, so they trailed 14-12 going into the break.
The second quarter was pretty quiet, with Hermann scoring the only touchdown of the period. That touchdown nearly didn't happen, as Nick Halbrook seemingly intercepted a pass for the Tigers in the quarter. Unfortunately, that interception was called off due to pass interference and Hermann scored a 19-yard touchdown on the next play.
After St. James celebrated their youth football programs in a shorted halftime, the Tigers went to work. St. James dominated the second half, pound the ball on the ground all night long. After long runs from Recker and Conway got the Tigers into the red zone, Sage Gibson took a short handoff from the two and plunged in for a touchdown. Recker was then able to convert for two points and St. James tied the game at 20. But St. James was just getting started. On their next drive, Recker ripped off a 44-yard touchdown, which gave St. James their first lead of the night 26-20. They then added one more score in the quarter, which was sparked by some excellent defense. Hermann was threatening with the ball deep in Tiger territory, but the ball slipped out in the pouring rain. The ball bounced into the end zone, where St. James was able to jump on it to end the scoring threat and start one of their own. On the ensuing drive, Gavin Caldwell was the last person to touch a double handoff and carried it 55-yards for a Tiger touchdown to extend the St. James lead to 32-20 with a quarter left to play.
From there, the Tigers just needed to eat some clock. The fourth quarter ticked away, while the St. James defense held strong. They added one final touchdown to seal the game with 28 second left, as Tate Whitener picked up a bad snap and turned a loss of 10 into a 21-yard touchdown to seal a 39-20 victory for the Tigers.
St. James was unstoppable on the ground led by Tyler Recker in just his third varsity game. The Tiger senior carried the ball 19 times for a staggering 234 yards and three touchdowns on the night. Conway and Caldwell each added 55 yards on the ground with Caldwell scoring a touchdown. Whitener ran for 25 yards and a score, while Gibson had four carries for eight yards and a touchdown. Recker was thrilled to play a big role in the Tigers winning their first game of the season against a conference rival.
"It felt good, just helping the team out and having fun with my friends. That's what it's all about," said the senior running back. "I think (this win) will help us out, get us pumped up and ya know, we'll keep it going."
Head coach Josh Rodriguez was thrilled to see his team with a ton of energy, despite the rainy conditions. The Tigers were out to prove that their season wasn't lost after two losses to open the season and they were able to get coach Rodriguez his first win as the St. James head coach.
"Our kids came out and they wanted it today," said the Tiger coach. "We had that emphasis of taking care of the ball this week and we did a really good job of focusing on that. I've very proud of our kids."
After letting in a few touchdowns in the first half, the Tiger defense was spectacular in the second half. They forced big turnovers when they needed it most and gave their offense great field position. St. James had five tackles for a loss in the win. Gibson and Connor Gorrell led the charge in the tackling department with 12 a piece, while Caldwell added eight of his own. Logan Saxbury added a sack and six tackles in the win.
"The defense did a great job and took advantage of the opportunities," said coach Rodriguez. "It's something we hadn't been doing in previous games and we did it tonight. It turned out to be the game."
Coach Rodriguez hopes this win against a conference foe will help St. James move in the right direction.
"Every win is a good win, especially the first win in conference. It keeps us on the right track," said Rodriguez after the victory. "It keeps one of our main goals in check that we can still accomplish. We've gotta come back tomorrow and get ready for our next opponent, but I'm happy for these kids and we'll let them enjoy it tonight."
The Tigers will stay in the Four Rivers Conference, but hit the road this week with a trip to Owensville on Friday.