Down by 16 in the second half, St. Mary's never blinked as they rallied for the 37-23 win on the road at Smithville to advance to next week's Class 4 State Championship at Faurot Field against St. Dominic.
The Dragons didn't hold a lead until the fourth quarter, a stretch that saw them score 30 of their 37 points.
"We saw some things we could do during the week, just like they (Smithville) saw some things," Dragons’ head coach Ken Turner said. "This was two heckuva football teams. To be honest with you, this was a state championship level football game right here. We were just unfortunate to be on the same side of the bracket. They were tougher than us in the first half, and we came back a little tougher in the second half."
Smithville controlled the first quarter as their defense pitched the shutout and the offense scored the only touchdown.
At 2:11 of the first, Andrew Hedgecorth took it in from four yards out to put the Warriors up 7-0.
St. Marys looked to draw closer at the start of the second, but a 31-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Conversely, Smithville converted on a 26-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 6:48 to play in the half.
St. Mary’s finally got on the board at the 4:17 mark of the second with a 9-yard TD run by senior Jamal Roberts to cut the lead to three.
But a Smithville rushing score from Ayden Ambroson in the final minute of the half made it a two-score game (16-7).
It was more of the same as the third quarter began.
On the first snap of the third, Smithville senior Caleb Donnell took a screen pass for 58 yards down to the St. Mary’s 4-yard line.
A couple plays later, Donnell found the end zone and it was 23-7 Warriors.
There wasn't one play Turner pointed to, but St. Mary's stayed the course and began to find success and shift the momentum midway through the quarter.
"We felt like what we were doing in the first half was good enough, but we weren't sustaining our blocks and weren't tackling well on defense," Turner said. "We just tried to step it up a little bit, see if we could turn it up a notch, and our guys did."
A QB draw by David Leonard on 4th-and-goal cut the lead to 10 (23-13).
The Dragons were successful on a two-point conversion and trailed 23-15 at the end of the third.
St. Mary’s closed to within two (23-21) on a rushing score by receiver Chase Hendricks, while the two-point try was good again to tie the game at 10:15 of the fourth.
St. Mary's kept the pressure on with another rushing touchdown by Leonard with less than three minutes to play. This score gave the Dragons their first lead of the game (30-23), and they put it away on the next possession.
Dragons’ linebacker John Roberts Jr., snagged the interception at 2:03 of the fourth to seal the win, setting up another Dragons rushing TD in the final minute.
St. Mary's (12-2) will now face St. Dominic, a 42-14 winner over West Plains, in the Class 4 Championship on Dec. 2 at 11 a.m.
"To shut that team (Smithville) that's so well coached, down in the second half, it's a tribute to how good our guys are," Turner said. "They've been tough all year, and we've got one more game to go."
Smith ends its season with a 12-2 record.