Staley stunned by Vianney

By Bill Knust PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: November 19, 2016 - 1:15 AM

With Staley’s postseason hopes hanging by a thread and four seconds left, Mother Nature forced Phil Lite to go for it all.

The Falcons came up just short, having a last-second pass into the end zone intercepted, and fell in the Class 5 state semifinals 34-31 to Vianney.

“It all had to do with the wind,” Staley coach Phil Lite said. “As soon as I ran (field goal kicker Landon Rupp) out there the wind picked up, the leaves were blowing all over the place, and I wasn’t going to do that to him. I couldn’t ask him to kick that. The wind would have just knocked it straight down.

“So, we went to a play we had just missed on twice earlier in the game.”

After moving the ball all the way to the Vianney 20-yard line, the Falcons looked like they were going to let Rupp try and force overtime with a 37-yard field goal into the wind. Rupp had converted easily from 35 yards earlier in the game, although that was with the wind.

Vianney called timeout to freeze Rupp, but when the Falcons came back on the field, it was their offense looking for the win, not Rupp kicking for the tie.

Staley had started its last-ditch drive with 1 minute, 18 seconds remaining on the clock and from its own 1-yard line. A defensive stand kept alive the possibility of going 99 yards for the win or the chance to kick a field goal to force overtime.

“I had a premonition, and I told our coaches all week that I felt like it was coming down to a two-minute drive,” Lite said. “So we worked the two-minute drive several times this week in practice.”

A 22-yard reception from quarterback John Raybourn to running back Julian Ross got the Falcons out of the shadow of their own goalposts. A late hit to Raybourn after a 9-yard scramble put them at midfield.

A play later it looked like a Vianney interception had dashed the Falcons’ hopes, but a roughing the passer penalty instead moved the ball to the Griffons’ 34-yard line.

Raybourn found Rod Criss II for eight yards on the next play, putting the ball at the Vianney 26-yard line with 20 seconds remaining. Two incomplete passes made it 4th and 2, and Staley used its last time out.

On the ensuing play, Raybourn found Criss II again for six yards and a first down. After Raybourn spiked the ball to stop the clock, Rupp trotted out to try and tie the game with 4 seconds remaining, setting up the wild last sequence.

The Golden Griffons came into districts with a 4-5 record, but they have now won four straight games to make the state championship for just the second time in school history. And, it took a furious second-half rally to do it.

Vianney grabbed their first, and only, lead of the game with 9:26 remaining when receiver Cam Coleman took a direct snap in the backfield on 4th and 2 and scampered 46 yards for the score. The extra point was blocked, making the score 34-31.

Trailing 31-14 at the half, Vianney took the opening kick off down the field in 11 plays to cut the lead to 31-21.

One of the many key plays in the game happened on Staley’s second series of the third quarter. The Falcons, looking to capitalize on a turnover in the Griffons red zone, were intercepted when Raybourn’s pass was batted into the air. From there, Vianney went 91 yards in 10 plays, getting the final 36 on a fourth-and-one conversion from wide receiver-turned-running back for the night, Kyren Williams. That made the score 31-28, and Vianney had all the momentum – and it never relinquished it.

Williams finished the game with 14 carries for 85 yards and two scores and another touchdown receiving. Coleman also scored twice on direct snaps.

After holding the Griffons to 168 yards of offense in the first half, the Staley defense found itself on the field the majority of the second half. Vianney rushed for 192 yards in the final two quarters and threw for 98 more.

Staley got a dream start. They took the opening kickoff and marched 66 yards in five plays, with Ross capping the drive on a 13-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0. The Falcons then surprised Vianney with an onside kick, and two plays later Raybourn found tight end Zach Elam over the middle. Elam went 35 yards to make it 14-0 with about two minutes gone in the game.

Vianney tied it up before the first half was over when quarterback Tionne Harris found Williams on a 6-yard pass. Then on the ensuing kickoff, the Falcons turned it over on the 1-yard line, and Coleman sored on the next play.

The Falcons responded, though. On the next drive, they drove 80 yards in 16 plays, converting two 3rd and 8s, a 3rd and 13, a 3rd and 12 and a 3rd and 5. Ross capped the drive with another score, rushing in from five yards out.

It looked like the Falcons’ offense was in cruise control over the remaining parts of the first half. Linebacker Quinten Arello’s second interception set them up with excellent field position at the Vianney 19-yard line, and Ross scored his third touchdown of the game five plays later. A Rupp field goal on their next drive made it 31-14.

Raybourn was exceptional in the first half, completing 12 of his 16 passes for 216 yards and a score. Although Ross had three touchdowns, he never got going on the ground. He had 19 carries for 67 yards with a long gain of 13 yards on the first possession of the game.

“Defensively they made the biggest adjustments (in the second half),” Lite said. “They packed the box. They got as many guys as they could in the box, and not many teams have been able to put nine guys in the box and still stop us. It became man-to-man on the edge, and we missed a couple passes that would have flipped the field position or even had a chance to go for a score.”

Criss II also had nine catches for 131 yards, and Raybourn finished 19-for-36 with 287 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

“It’s like I told the kids – and I tell our coaches all the time – we just want the ball in our hands with the opportunity to win,” Lite said. “And, that’s what we got. We just fell short.”