Making a statement

By Ryan Wallace PrepsKC Senior Writer
Posted: September 30, 2017 - 1:03 AM

By the time Blue Valley needed a stop on St. James running back Jack Petz, it was too late. Running for four touchdowns in a season defining 35-28 victory over the Tigers, the senior was the best player on the field Friday and he knew it.

“Probably the strongest performance I’ve ever had,” Petz said after the win. “I’m just out here trying to get the team a win, so, that’s all you can really do.”

All the visiting Tigers could do early on was watch in frustration as the Thunder sprinted out to a 21-0 lead by halftime, silenced if only for a moment by an Eric Olson touchdown to cut it to 21-7 with 2:36 left in the half. Carried by the powerful motor of Petz and senior quarterback Luke Heller’s magic on at least two key conversions that kept drives alive, the St. James offense flexed its muscle in this one.

“They’re very good at what they do,” Blue Valley head coach Allen Terrell said in the loss, dropping the Tigers to 3-2 on the year. “We knew they were going to be a physical group - we’ve seen it on film. I mean, they came to our Lineman Challenge over the summer and won it going away with their big boys. So, we knew it was going to be a challenge and, man, that back (Petz) is a stud.”

Credit the Tigers for bouncing back big in the second installment. From Blake Brown’s tip-toe grab against the sideline that set up a short Alex Totta score, to a red zone connection between quarterback Luke Bernard and receiver Cameron Green, Blue Valley clawed back to find themselves on the verge of spoiling Homecoming weekend for St. James entering the fourth quarter down just seven.

Even after a defensive lapse allowed Heller to find sophomore Michael Tujague on a 45-yard pass to the 1-yard line, eventually putting the Thunder back up 35-21, it was Terrell’s squad who responded with a roar of their own. Punting on the next offensive possession, it was Blue Valley’s defense who found a late spark by recovering a fumble midway through the final quarter. By the time Bernard found Green again on a 37-point score with 7:40 left, St. James was beginning to worry about a case of déjà vu after they escaped a near comeback at the hands of Blue Valley Northwest.

But just as Petz bailed out the offense throughout the game by churning for extra yards after contact, the Thunder defense rose to the occasion themselves when the pressure was on by relentlessly attacking Blue Valley’s assault with terrific team speed.

“Well, we mixed up our coverages,” began head coach Tom Radke when asked how his defense shut down a Blue Valley team that poured 49-points on Mill Valley last Friday. “Our linebackers did a real nice job of disrupting things also in the passing game, so yeah, guys just making plays back there.”

Twice St. James created interceptions thanks to the vision and route jumping of senior linebacker Cole Barrett and senior free safety Jackson Diel, and four other times the Thunder forced the Tigers to punt. No stand was bigger than the last from the home unit though, as with Blue Valley starting what could’ve been a game-tying drive on its own 29-yard line, senior Joe Boone’s first-down pressure ended with Bernard on the ground on a detrimental quarterback sack to sour the black and gold hopes. Three plays later, Barrett and senior defensive back Zack Rodina swatted away the hopes of a comeback, sealing a 5-0 start and sole possession of second place in the EKL.

“Beat Mill Valley to start the year, beat Blue Valley – those are program wins,” finished Radke. “We’re establishing ourselves as an EKL player in the race and that’s just fun for the community.”