St. Johns has made a habit out of winning close games this fall, with its first four victories coming by six points or less.
The Redwings found themselves in the same position on Friday in their Division 3 district opener against Sault Ste. Marie. And once again they found a way.
Senior T.J. Havens scored on a 9-yard run with 9:22 remaining to put the Redwings ahead, and the St. Johns defense stopped a final Sault Ste. Marie drive that had crossed midfield to hold on for a 21-20 win.
“We know that we can get through it. It takes a lot of heart and hard work, but we just keep fighting,” Havens said.
St. Johns (7-3) advances to face Owosso (7-3) in a Division 3 district final next week.
Havens also accounted for the two other St. Johns touchdowns. The senior caught a 16-yard pass from Bryce LaBar for the first score of the game to finish off an 80-yard drive that put the Redwings up 7-0.
After a 1-yard touchdown run by Sault Ste. Marie’s Kyle Root brought the Blue Devils within a point, Havens took the ensuing kickoff 75 yards to the end zone to give the Redwings a 14-6 lead.
“We knew (on the kickoff) they were going to kick it short, so I moved T.J. up from the deep spot and it ended up paying off pretty good. We must have gotten a few blocks to spring him, but he’s just that kind of a heady kid,” St. Johns coach Dave Mariage said of Havens.
Havens finished with 104 yards rushing on 19 carries.
“It was tough sledding in there. They have some very, very physical and fast linebackers and he was a few steps away from breaking a few of them for big plays,” Mariage said.
The Blue Devils scored on a 33-yard run by Michael James to take a 20-14 lead in the third quarter, but the Redwings drove down on their next possession and scored on Havens’ go-ahead run.
Sault Ste. Marie, which had won just three games the past three seasons and made the 260-mile drive south for a district game, outgained St. Johns by more than 100 yards in total offense.
“It’s always fun in the playoffs playing against an unknown. Next week will be fun, too, but it’s the playoffs. It’s neat to experience other teams and other parts of the state,” Mariage said.
Next week’s foe, Owosso, beat Cadillac 27-14 on Friday and will try to avenge a 14-13 loss to the Redwings in a CAAC Red game on Sept. 14.
“We go from not knowing a whole lot about a team to knowing a lot about one because we’ve played the last three or four years against them, so there will be a lot of familiarity, as they will have with us,” Mariage said.