St. James rallies to top Blue Valley West
By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
The St. James football team’s motto is “Finish.” And that’s just what the Thunder did Friday, wrapping up their first season in the Eastern Kansas League with a come-from-behind 36-30 win over Blue Valley West at Dixon Doll Stadium on the campus of Bishop Miege.
“It’s kind of hypocritical if we don’t finish,” senior Clay Lautt said. “So that’s what we were preaching in the huddle on that last drive.”
Spurred by a critical blocked punt with a little less than five minutes to go, the Thunder rallied for the game’s final 15 points. Lautt’s diving 1-yard touchdown with less than 26 seconds capped the comeback. It was one of three scores the senior had after halftime, a career high.
“It’s special to get my best game on Senior Night,” Lautt said. “I’m not really an offensive player, but our top two running backs are out and I needed to step up.”
It was a game of streaks and wild swings of momentum. Blue Valley West jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The Jaguars put together two long drives, finishing one off with a three-yard touchdown run by junior running back Adam Davis and bookending another with a 22-yard field goal by Cooper Wilson.
“I like the way we came out,” West coach Josh Koerkenmeier said. “We had a high level of physicality. Our offense is really starting to come around.”
Indeed, West came in averaging only 7 points per game. This would be their most prolific night of the season.
St. James got on the board on the first play of the second quarter, when senior quarterback Sammy Wheeler found senior tight end Will Crabtree for a circus catch in the end zone.
Then, St. James jumped ahead after linebacker Dominic Stean intercepted a pass from the Jags’ Keaton Goodale and ran it back to the West eight. Two plays later Wheeler gave backup tight end Travis Pickert a jump ball in the back of the end zone.
Just like that, the Thunder were up 14-10.
But the game swung back West’s way late in the first half when Aaron Davis picked off Wheeler and rumbled 51 yards to set up a go-ahead score just before the half. It turned out to be another short run by Adam Davis, one of four trips to the end zone for the junior to go with his 128 yards rushing.
West led 16-14 at the break. Lautt said he knew his quarterback Wheeler would bounce back from the interception.
“He just sticks with it,” he said. “He’s battled through adversity all season. He’s used to it. It shows he’s mentally tough.”
What Lautt might not have predicted was just how dominant he would be in the second half.
After another Davis score put West up 23-14, St. James came back for a dominating 12-play drive that took more than 5:30. Lautt rumbled in from three yards out for his first score and St. James trailed 23-21.
“It’s next man up mentality,” Lautt said. “Our top two running backs have been hurt and I needed to step up.”
Again, West started to pull away. Davis’ fourth touchdown of the night made it 30-21early in the fourth. Then, when St. James turned it over on downs, the Jags appeared to really be in the driver’s seat. Koerkenmeier says his team may have let up a bit.
“We didn’t get that big third down, and the blocked punt killed us.”
That’s the play that truly flipped the game on its head. Stean, who had the big interception in the first half, broke through to block Jake Kidd’s punt with a little less than five minutes to play. St. James recovered at the West 34. Two plays later Wheeler found Lautt on an out route and he danced into the end zone.
Wheeler finished 9-of-24 for 109 yards through the air and the three touchdowns. He also ran for 61 yards.
After Lautt’s second score, the best was still yet to come for St. James.
After holding West on their ensuing possession (and after a great punt this time from Kidd), the Thunder took over at their own 6-yard line with 2:07 to play. What followed was an electrifying 10-play drive, the highlight of which was a 51-yard halfback pass from Luke Heller to Crabtree.
“We’ve been working on that for four weeks. Our offensive coordinator did a great job calling it,” Radke said. “Sammy set up Luke well and Luke let it fly.”
After that play shocked the partisan St. James crowd to their feet, it was the Clay Lautt show. He carried the ball three more times, including the game winner from one yard out. Lautt finished with 64 yards rushing and 38 receiving to go with the three scores.
“We weathered some ups and downs this year,” Radke said. “We survived the EKL.”
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