St. James tops Lansing to move on

By Kyle Palmer PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 28, 2017 - 1:25 AM

For two injury-plagued seasons, St. James Academy’s Mason Dunsmore endured six surgeries and plenty of internal doubts about whether he’d ever step on a football field again. 

The payoff came Friday, as the senior wide receiver nabbed his first two career touchdown receptions in the Thunder’s 48-7 win over Lansing in the first round of the Kansas Class 5A playoffs at Bishop Miege High School.

“It’s surreal,” Dunsmore said after the game, tears in his eyes. “I was kind of in a hopeless state for a while, thinking I’d never play again. But I have to thank God for answering my prayers, my teammates for always having my back, and my coaches for believing in me.”

To watch his play Friday – displaying nimbleness on a tidy fade route for his first touchdown, and speed on a quick slant pattern for his second – one might not believe Dunsmore has undergone two surgeries on both knees and two more operations on his shoulder.

All that’s now in the past. Thunder coaches hope Dunsmore can now play a key role for a Thunder team hoping to make a deep playoff run.

“We got him back. He’s a full-go now,” said St. James coach Tom Radke. “He’s a special, special player.”

The Thunder, seeded fourth in the Class 5A East bracket, started slowly versus an energized Lansing. The teams traded scores early and played to a 7-7 draw after one quarter.

The Lions took advantage of a short field after St. James failed to convert an early fourth down try. Junior quarterback Jahleal Sweet connected with junior wide receiver Tre’Matt Pledger for an equalizing score with under two minutes to play in the opening frame.

After that, it was all St. James, as the Thunder rattled off 41 unanswered points.

“Our kids did come out and battle. We just are a little slow to react to some things, and that gave them the upper hand on some of their [first half] drives,” Lansing coach John McCall said. “If we have to play catch up, we start taking some risks. And that sometimes doesn’t work out for us.”

Early, St. James relied on tried-and-true workhorse Jack Petz. The senior running back came into the game with over 1,000 yards rushing during the regular season. He gamely pounded out 84 more yards before the half. He scored the Thunder’s first touchdown on St. James’ opening drive, a three-yard drive. And he added a second three-yard score early in the second quarter.

“I trucked a few guys early,” Petz said. “I think that gave me some energy. That’s usually how I get my ferocity going.”

He finished with 117 yards on the ground. He and most of the other offensive starters were subbed out by the middle of the third quarter.

Spelling Petz, senior running back Connor Weltmer scored two touchdowns on 25 yards rushing.

But the highlights of the night belonged to Dunsmore.

His first score came on a 22-yard fade route, where he made an agile turn back to quarterback Luke Heller, swiped the ball out of the air, and tapped his toes just inside the pylon in the front corner of the end zone.

“I like the fades. I like just going up for jump balls. That’s my favorite,” Dunsmore said.

That touchdown made it 21-7 St. James with just under three minutes to play in the first half.

His second score came on the Thunder’s first drive of the second half, a 22-yard slant route where he caught Heller’s quick strike and gracefully sped to pay dirt. That put St. James up 35-7.

“It was amazing to see that guy out there again,” Petz said of his teammate, the pair making a seemingly dynamic offensive coupling that other 5A teams will now have to game plan for.

At least, that seems to be Thunder coach Radke’s hope.

“We kept running Jack all year. We haven’t unleashed everything yet,” he said.

Good news for St. James but a potentially scary prospect for the rest of the field.

St. James (7-2) hosts Shawnee Heights next week in the Regional round of the playoffs. Lansing season ends at 2-7.