Battle of District Tigers results in homecoming victory

#1 Mixon Bankston strips the ball from the LaSalle running back

Saint Mary’s returned home Friday night to open district play against rival LaSalle. The home Tigers were coming off a devastating loss to Grant 35 – 7. The Tigers got the early lead but committed costly penalties (12 for 140 yards) and ultimately could not stop the Cougars. A cool front with associated thunderstorms moved through the area preceding the game. The rain could not dampen Homecoming festivities for Saint Mary’s. LaSalle opened with the ball and drove well on a mix of counter runs and QB bootlegs. They progressed to the St. Mary’s 38 before turning over on downs and giving the ball to the home Tigers. Two plays are all it would take for Adam Parker to connect with Dane Files on the quick slant and he goes 56 yards to the end zone. Payne Williams tacks on the PAT and St. Mary’s leads over LaSalle 7-0.

#11 Ethan Busby shows great sportmanship helping up the opposing play after making a tackle.

On the ensuing offensive series for LaSalle, QB Brady Hough’s pass is high and intercepted by Ethan Busby and run back to the LaSalle 5. The play is backed up by a blindside block penalty, but St. Mary’s has the ball in LaSalle territory on the 40 yard-line. Another strike from Parker to Ethan Busby who eludes a tackle and runs 44 yards to the end zone for another homecoming score. Williams adds the PAT and St. Mary’s leads 14-0 with only half of the first quarter clock expired. After the kickoff, La Salle is accosted by the St. Mary’s defense and forced to punt.

Patrick Vienne is all up in the LaSalle backfield causing havoc. Saint Mary’s continues with success on offense going 60+ yards culminating with a 13-yard pass from Parker to Busby five yards deep in the end-zone as time expires in the quarter. The score is followed by another Williams PAT. St. Mary’s 21, LaSalle 0. LaSalle starts the second quarter with the ball but has limited success and punts. The kick takes a favorable roll for LaSalle and is downed on the SMH 2.

St. Mary’s returns the ball on three and out with a stellar punt by Vienne. LaSalle takes the punt and uses only five plays to score. Hough hits Cole Derr on the jump ball and he runs 44 yards to score. The two-point conversion is successful, SMH 21, La Salle 8. Four minutes and change are on the clock before the half. Saint Mary’s receives the kick and drives before punting to LaSalle who returns the favor to close out the half. Third quarter action starts with St. Mary’s receiving the kick. Both teams trade punts and then turn over on downs and punts again.

#7 Graeme Fidelak looks back at the QB as he gets open on an out route

The majority of the third quarter is a stalemate in scoring until just under the 2-minute mark. Parker scrambles to try and find an open receiver and gets sacked from behind and loses the ball. Wyatt Johnson scoops up the fumble and is unimpeded for 22 yards to the end zone. St. Mary’s 21, LaSalle 14. The two-point conversion attempt fails and things are getting close now. Too close! The fourth quarter starts with Saint Mary’s being unable to move the ball and punting to LaSalle. The visiting Tigers have found a way to move the ball. The St. Mary’s defense is unable to get off the field after having LaSalle facing a third and 13 that gets converted on a pass play.

Two plays later, the LaSalle QB gets stripped of the ball while running. Mixon Bankston comes up with it after the heads-up play. The exuberance is short lived, Parker throws a pass to Busby, but Blake Rogers jumps the route for the interception and goes the short 32 yards on the pick six. LaSalle has scored 20 unanswered points 14 on turnovers, a fumble return and pick six. The extra point try is no good, SMH 21, LaSalle 20. The score is tight, and momentum has seemingly shifted to LaSalle. There are 7 minutes remaining, plenty of time.

After the kick return, St. Mary’s has trouble moving the ball and Parker takes a couple of sacks. Vienne is called on again to punt. LaSalle has the ball and time at their own 36. A high snap over the quarterback’s head has him scrambling for the ball. It rolls into the endzone and St. Mary’s tackles him there for the two-point safety. A phenomenal homecoming gift, Saint Mary’s leads 23-20 and will receive the ball with 2:46 to play. A first down will seal the deal on a victory.

#1 Mixon Bankston celebrates with #3 Dane Files and #38 Jeffrey Townson after he strips the ball and recovers it
Photos by LeRon Massey, Freelance Photographer, sports photos exclusive to the Times

They face a fourth and four at midfield and it looks dicey. A hard count draws LaSalle offsides and now after a collective deep breath, Saint Mary’s is guaranteed the win with a running clock and LaSalle out of time outs. A homecoming victory and a record of 2 wins and 2 losses as district play starts. Next up on the calendar for the Saint Mary’s Tigers is Northwood Lena.

The Gators lost their first district game to Montgomery 38-20. Only eight penalties this week for St. Mary’s but they still need to clean things up. Parker is having success but is still young. He has run the offense well but has taken a few too many sacks.

Graeme Fidelak has emerged as the go to running back and receivers Busby and Files are a formidable receiving tandem.