ST. JOSEPH — St. Thomas More had a special player in Kevin Carroll.
On the St. Joseph-Ogden sidelines was a group known as the special teams players.
Edge, Spartans. Barely.
With the special teams scoring two of SJ-O’s four touchdowns, the undefeated Spartans hung on to hand the Sabers a 27-20 Sangamon Valley Conference loss Friday.
Jake Stewart, Austin Hedrick and Josh Poulter were the headliners for the fourth-ranked (Class 3A) Spartans on a night where Carroll caught 191 yards worth of passes and the attention of everyone watching the game.
“He’s got a gift,” STM coach Dan Hennessey said. “Teams can double-cover him, or whatever, but he and Storm (Joop, quarterback) can find a way to get the ball to one another. They were on.”
Stewart was almost off. He’s a kickoff return specialist who is one of the Spartans’ quickest players, but coach Dick Duval didn’t like what he saw.
“The first two times, he was awful,” Duval said. “He was dancing around. He’s not fast if he stands still and dances.”
Duval gave him a third shot.
“I’m slow to pull the trigger,” he said. “I give kids chances. I know they’re trying. Sometimes they need prompting.”
Thirteen seconds after a Joop-to-Cameron Deedrich pass gave the Sabers a 20-14 lead, Stewart took the ensuing kickoff and raced 92 yards for the go-ahead tally.
Jordan Hartman’s third conversion kick lifted SJ-O (6-0) into the lead for good, 21-20.
The Sabers came back throwing, but they weren’t through. With Joop passing for 269 yards on 14-of-24 accuracy (and no interceptions), STM moved to the SJ-O 14 in the game’s final 21/2 minutes. Stewart and Corbin Hesterberg teamed up for a third-down tackle for loss and Hennessey summoned kicker Daniel Shin for a 35-yard field goal try.
Hedrick blocked the kick, Poulter saw the ball on the ground and raced 75 yards for a momemtum-shifting TD.
“For a moment, I was like, ‘Am I supposed to dive on it,’ but we practice the scoop and score part,” Poulter said. “I wasn’t really a part of the play. Hedrick should get the credit. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
STM, which has lost four games in a row, started its final possession at its own 20. Five straight completions by Joop along with his 18-yard run moved the Sabers to the SJ-O 12 with eight seconds left.
The game ended with the Spartans blanketing all the STM receivers and sacking Joop for a 6-yard loss.
“That’s two weeks in a row (for a heartbreaking loss),” said Hennessey, whose team dropped a 27-26 decision a week ago. “We don’t have our backfield (out with injuries), but we sent a message. To play us, you’d better be prepared.”
STM held a 387-194 edge in total yards. Chase Patton led SJ-O with 88 yards rushing. Dalton Walsh passed for 77 yards on 5-of-17 accuracy.