Spartans reach Final Four
ST. JOSEPH — He has the perfect name for what he does.
That’s Chase Gadau, St. Joseph-Ogden’s quarterback-chaser.
In some places, it’s also known as a blitzing linebacker.
Gadau and his defensive comrades such as Jordan Hartman, Dylan Koss and Wyatt Sage made life miserable for previously unbeaten Williamsville on Saturday evening on the Spartans’ rain-soaked field.
When the Class 3A football quarterfinal game ended, SJ-O had secured a Final Four berth and a semifinal showdown against Greenville by virtue of a 38-26 win.
“All year, people doubted our defense,” said cornerback Brady Depratt, who stripped the ball and captured turnovers on consecutive possessions after second-half Williamsville completions, “but we had confidence in ourselves.”
That confidence is growing, and the defense is glowing.
SJ-O led 17-0 thanks to a defense that didn’t yield a first down until the Bullets’ sixth possession.
Gadau and Sage teamed up on a tackle for loss on the second Williamsville offensive play from scrimmage. On Williamsville’s next possession, a first-down play lost 2 yards, thanks to Sage. The Bullets misfired on their third possession, Jake Pence returning an interception 48 yards for a touchdown for the second time in the playoffs.
And Williamsville’s fourth possession began with Gadau sacking Josh Lindsey for a 10-yard loss. The pattern was repeated on the team’s fifth possession, Hartman making a tackle on Lindsey for a 12-yard, first-down loss.
“Our defensive line got a great push (into the backfield), and I was trying to give it all I had to finish on empty,” Gadau said. “We knew if we got pressure, we could force some passes.”
Considering that the offensive line was one of Williamsville’s strengths, SJ-O coach Dick Duval acknowledged he didn’t expect what he saw.
“I’m a little bit shocked what we did,” Duval said. “Bob Glazier, our defensive coordinator, did a great job dialing up the pressure on the quarterback. I don’t know if they didn’t expect us to blitz, but they weren’t used to that.”
Williamsville’s halftime totals showed minus-11 yards rushing. The Bullets reversed that in the second half, gaining 147 yards on the ground, but by then it was a game of catchup and Orion Ciota made certain that didn’t happen.
The SJ-O junior scored two second-half TDs, the first on the possession after Williamsville (11-1) had pulled within 24-19. Ciota also made 5-of-5 extra-point placements and opened the game’s scoring by booming a 32-yard field goal through the uprights.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Ciota said. “If I could do a backflip, I would. I don’t want to try because I might get hurt.”
Against an opponent that was ranked third in the state’s final Class 3A poll — and which eliminated Unity by 38 points a week earlier — SJ-O still packed a team-full of confidence.
“I had zero doubts,” Ciota said. “I trust my teammates and coaches.”
Ciota rushed for a game-high 155 yards on 28 carries and surged past the 1,000-yard mark (to 1,086) for the season. Quarterback Dalton Walsh — who threw touchdown passes in each half — completed 10 of 22 attempts without an interception. His 18-yard scoring strike to Hunter Hart with 11:43 left in the first half accounted for the offense’s lone TD until he hooked up with Connor Janes on a 10-yard TD toss in the third period.
Janes, a blocking fullback, had 84 yards on five receptions and rushed for 65 yards on six carries. Walsh passed for 155 yards, raising his season total to 1,029.
“We’ve gotten better each week, a little more confident each week, and now we get to play one more week,” Duval said. “I told the kids they need to relish the times they’re here. There’s no guarantee you’ll get back.”
The 10th-ranked Spartans (10-2) play at fifth-rated Greenville (12-0) next Saturday. The game time has not yet been determined.
Greenville, which attempted 87 passes Saturday, survived a 71-70 shootout against Mount Carmel to reach the semifinals.
“There’s no way we’ll ever score 70 points,” Duval said, “so we’ll have to figure out how to stop them.”
An overlooked factor in Saturday’s win was Cole Berry’s punting. Three of his six punts were downed inside the Williamsville 10-yard line. He averaged 41.3 yards per kick.
“He did a tremendous job,” Duval said. “When a team has to go 90 or 95 yards, that’s hard to do in high school football.”
Depratt, one of the seven seniors who start on defense, said SJ-O is doing what has been on the players’ minds for years.
“We’ve dreamed about this since we were 6 years old,” Depratt said. “We talked about it all the time.”