What a way to pull even with a team in the standings.
With the St. Joe’s Marauders having a 1-4 record heading into Saturday’s game against the 2-3 St. Francis Red Raiders, it was a prime opportunity for the team to improve in the standings and tie their archrival.
By winning 43-41 in a game that felt more akin to a prizefight boxing match, the Marauders made sure not to blow that chance.
The Marauders received the opening kickoff, but fumbled on the return, leading to a recovery by St. Francis and great field position for the Red Raiders. Unfortunately for coach Jerry Smith’s squad, they couldn’t take advantage, and the Marauders took over deep within their own territory.
It was the beginning of a recurring theme for the Red Raiders, as Smith lamented the opportunities that his team let get away.
“You can’t make as many mistakes as we did in a two-point ballgame,” Smith said. “We needed some guys to step up and execute a lot better, and we didn’t. Granted, they have a pretty good team over there, but we can’t leave as many plays as we did on the field.
“We still have to play better than we did. We gave up too much yardage on penalties and blown assignments, and you really can’t do that in this league.”
After a punt, the Red Raiders got on the board when an 11-yard run by Xavier Janczylik reached the end zone. The Marauders answered back, however, when Micah Brown returned the ensuing kickoff to the St. Francis 25-yard line – leading to a 13-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Greg Poland.
On the next drive, Red Raiders quarterback Jake Ritts suffered an injury and was removed from the game for the rest of the half. Dawson Tyger stepped in for him, and performed admirably, according to Smith.
“(Tyger) played well,” Smith said. “The kids rallied around him and he did everything he had to do. We have that ‘next guy in’ mentality, and it showed.”
Shortly thereafter, Jimmy Scott blocked a punt and returned it 44 yards to paydirt. The Red Raiders countered again on their next drive on a 29-yard scoring run by Tyger.
Two missed chances again struck the Red Raiders’ defense on the next drive. A pick-six was nullified due to a penalty, and a 35-yard field goal before the end of the second quarter missed wide right. But they did get some good news, as Ritts came back for the second half.
Ritts then promptly drove his team down the field for a touchdown to Dom Thomas, giving St. Francis the lead. Yet the Marauders just wouldn’t go away. David Morgan cashed in with a five-yard TD run and, following a Ritts fumble, scored again after the recovery – giving the Marauders a 29-20 lead.
Back and forth the two teams went. The Red Raiders retaliated when Ritts threw a 10-yard strike to Janczylik in the end zone, but the Marauders responded yet again when Morgan got his third rushing touchdown of the day from 36 yards out.
When Ritts and company got the ball back, they attempted to make the most of it, but ultimately failed when an errant pass was intercepted at the two-yard line by Sam Murphy. A stop by the Red Raider defense stopped the bleeding though, and led to Janczylik crossing the goal line again.
With a 36-34 lead, and neither defense consistently making stops, the Marauders then made a gutsy call. On fourth-and-nine near midfield, a fake punt saw Keyon Howard take the snap and rumble down to the St. Francis 29. According to Smith, it was a well-timed gamble.
“It was a great call on their part,” Smith said. “But we knew it was coming. We should have been there for it, and we just didn’t execute well on it.”
After that bit of trickery, Scott put seven points on the board again with a 29-yard run, keeping the Marauder lead at nine. Janczylik and Ritts tried in vain to keep up, connecting on the former’s fourth touchdown of the game, but an awry onside kick was recovered by St. Joe’s – sealing the win for the Marauders.
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