Sluggish start sinks Spartans
WILMINGTON — The St. Joseph-Ogden football team picked the wrong night to have a bad first half.
Not much went right for the Spartans in their second-round Class 3A playoff game Saturday night, especially in the first two quarters.
SJ-O fell behind early and could not recover, with the Wildcats cruising to a 48-8 victory at Becker Field.
“In an emotional game like this, you’ve got to get off to a good start,” SJ-O coach Dick Duval said. “We obviously didn’t. We’ve had horrible first halves all year, and this is probably the worst.”
The Wildcats (9-2) scored on their first four possessions and added a seventh touchdown five seconds before halftime to go up 41-0 and prompt a running clock for the second half.
“I’m very surprised by the outcome, to be honest,” Wilmington coach Jeff Reents said. “That’s as good as we’ve played all year. It really is. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Wilmington had 422 yards of total offense compared with 4 yards for the Spartans (9-2) in the opening 24 minutes. Wildcats senior running back Mike Wolfe repeatedly gashed SJ-O’s defense and had 167 yards on 14 carries, including four touchdown runs, by halftime. Wolfe and the rest of the Wilmington starters did not play in the second half.
“They were much better than us all the way around,” Duval said. “They were better coached. Their kids played better. They beat us in all phases.”
Wilmington sacked SJ-O junior quarterback Dalton Walsh three times in the first half, with the last one knocking Walsh out of the game less than four minutes before halftime with a left elbow injury. SJ-O sophomore backup quarterback Cole Berry played the rest of the game and did not complete any of his three pass attempts.
The Spartans’ offense could never get on track against an aggressive Wilmington defense. SJ-O’s longest offensive play in the first two quarters came on an 11-yard completion from Walsh to senior wide receiver Louis Acklin, Walsh’s only completion on eight pass attempts.
SJ-O senior running back Chase Patton and junior running back Austin Hedrick had a hard time finding room. Wilmington limited Patton to 23 yards on 10 carries, while Hedrick had 15 yards on five carries. Sophomore Orion Ciota led the Spartans with 38 rushing yards on six carries, including a 28-yard touchdown run for SJ-O’s only score with 37.3 seconds left.
Wilmington outgained SJ-O 471-96 in terms of total offense and forced three SJ-O turnovers.
“We knew we were going to struggle running the ball a little bit just because of how aggressive they are up front,” Duval said. “They did a good job of covering our receivers. There’s no doubt about it.”
Saturday’s game was the fourth time the two schools have met in the playoffs in the last six years, and Wilmington has won the last three.
“I want to give Coach Duval and St. Joe a lot of credit,” Reents said. “They’re a class program, and we beat a very fine team.”