DeSoto stuns St. James to earn playoff spot
By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
St. James stood 17 minutes from its first playoff appearance in school history. The Thunder had the ball and a three touchdown lead on DeSoto then everything went wrong.
The Wildcats got a fumble followed by a quick score and before anyone could believe it a 28-7 lead turned into a 42-28 DeSoto win. The victory kept the Wildcats season alive while St. James finished the year with the best record in school history at 7-2 but they fell to DeSoto for the fifth straight year.
The Wildcats closed out an up and down regular season with the come from behind win and now take a 4-5 record into the Kansas Class 4A playoffs which start Tuesday.
It was a wild win and DeSoto coach Tom Byers said his team was just looking for something to go their way when St. James’ Jake Bade fumbled deep in his own end midway through the third quarter.
“We were like if we could just get a turnover and get some field position and sure enough it happened and the tide started turning,” Byers said. “We felt like we could manage a 14-point deficit and hopefully we could get into the fourth quarter and manage it and hopefully we could get things going our way like in years past.”
That fumble was picked up by Corbin Clark and run down to the Thunder 10-yard line. Clark would then find Austin Gilbert for a 10-yard touchdown run two plays later and the game had suddenly turned. DeSoto had cut into the three score lead and all of the momentum had shifted to the Wildcats.
After the kickoff DeSoto forced a three-and out and then Jason Johnson took the ball 66 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 28-21.
Things were getting tighter but St. James still held a touchdown lead but another DeSoto defensive stop turned into points when a fumbled snap on the punt bounced into the hands of Michael Buffkin who ran it back 10 yards for a touchdown. The game was tied and the St. James crowd sat stunned.
“We were up 28-7 and we thought we had a good lead there with the way the defense was playing and the way we were pounding the ball,” St. James coach Tom Radke said. “We were pretty confident that we could continue and just kind of pound the ball a little bit and play defense and come away with the victory and then things didn’t go our way after that. All the luck we’ve had this year and all of the come from behinds, I guess it wasn’t our turn tonight.”
From there the flood gates opened as DeSoto scored two more times first on a 45-yard punt return by Justin Johnson after the ball hit a DeSoto player, bounced in the air and was grabbed by Johnson. He danced down the sidelines past the St. James defenders to give the Wildcats their first lead of the game.
DeSoto would add on one more score when Clark found Zac Griffiths for an 11-yard touchdown just a few plays later to make it 42-28. The Wildcats had one more chance to score before the end of the game but took a knee on the 1-yard line to end the game.
All of this late-game excitement came after St. James did everything right for almost three quarters. The Thunder used a punishing running game led by Bade to jump out to a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Thunder’s defense was stellar as well. St. James held DeSoto to negative 7 yards rushing in the first half. The Wildcats struggled until a Corbin Clark to Austin Gilbert pass netted 42 yards and set up Jake Price 3-yard run to tie the score at 7-7 with 41 seconds left in the half.
St. James got the ball back and tried to get something going but found themselves with the ball on the DeSoto 45-yard line with :07 left in the half. Jansen Keyes then found Keith Winger on a hail Mary at the goal line for the go-ahead score with no time left on the clock.
The Thunder carried that momentum over to the third quarter when it opened op the half with a five-play 68-yard drive that ended when Keyes found Winger over the middle for a 40-yard catch and run to put St. James up 21-7.
Bade had a big night on the ground finishing with 21 carries, 133 yards and one TD. Clark led DeSoto with an efficient night of passing. Clark finished nine of 10 for 130 yards and two touchdowns. The Wildcats rushing attack was stymied in the first half but recovered in the second led by Jason Johnson who ended the game with 87 yards on five carries.
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