A St. Philip team that had only trailed in one game all season looked to be in big trouble in the first half of Friday night’s opening round MHSAA playoff game against the visiting Portland St. Patrick Shamrocks at C.W. Post Field.
The Shamrocks’ scored on a 74-yard pick six, as well as an 18-yard run by lead running back Brady Lehman in the first quarter, which put Portland St. Patrick ahead 12-7 – a spot that St. Philip isn’t accustom to.
Fortunately for the No. 2-ranked Fighting Tigers, they figured things out late in the first half on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Brendan Gausselin to Brayden Darr, which gave St. Philip a 14-12 halftime advantage.
St. Philip looked much more like the St. Philip that everyone is used to seeing in the second half, surging to a 55-18 victory and a date with Lawrence next Friday night.
“We didn’t make too many changes (at halftime), except that up front our lineman needed to close their gaps down because they were shooting the gaps and they were getting to our quarterback,” St. Philip coach David Downey said. “I just think our focus and intensity was better the second half. I don’t know if we were looking past them towards Lawrence, but St. Pat is a heckuva football team, and I told their coach, ‘I’m glad we don’t have to play you again this year’. Their line is the best I’ve seen this year.”
Early in the third quarter, Gausselin connected with Drew Lantinga for a 27-yard score, but the game looked as if it might still go back-and-forth as the Shamrocks’ Lehman broke free for a 74-yard touchdown to make it 21-18 in favor of St. Philip.
From there, the Tigers’ defense drastically improved and did not give up another point the entire game.
With 8:02 remaining in the game, Darr scored his third touchdown of the night, this time on a 32-yard run to put St. Philip ahead by double digits, 28-18. Darr finished the night with three touchdown catches along with his rushing score.
“Brayden [Darr] is our go-to back,” said Downey of his star running back, who racked up 248 all-purpose yards with 140 receiving and 108 rushing. “He had a heck of a game. He ran the ball hard and he caught the ball well.”
Gausselin, who was 20-for-35 passing, throwing for 284 yards and four touchdowns on the night, also contributed a running score on a 14-yard quarterback draw late in the third to put his team ahead 35-18 heading in to the final quarter of play.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, Gausselin threw a short pass to Darr, who broke a tackle and cruised 49 yards in the end zone, making it 41-18.
“We talked about coming out in the second half and playing with some intensity, and you could see that, both offensively and defensively,” Downey said. “I think the difference in the second half was the defense – they scored two touchdowns.”
Those two touchdowns for St. Philip came via the pick-six.
First, defensive lineman Omar Gaona snagged a pass virtually out the quarterback’s hands and raced 36-yards to pay dirt. Then, with only a minute left to play and Portland St. Patrick close to scoring, Downey intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 102-yards to the house, capping off the 55-18 victory.
Also on the defensive side of the ball, Lantinga led the team with 18 tackles and a sack, while Trevor Searls recorded 14 tackles, a sack, and a tackle for a loss, and Evan Hanna contributed 12 tackles.
Up next for St. Philip is a rematch with Lawrence next Friday night at 7 p.m. at C.W. Post Field.
Travis Tekiele can be reached at email@example.com or 269-966-0677. Follow him on Twitter: @travis_tekiele