Ste. Gen falls a game short of trip to the Dome

STE. GENEVIEVE -- The Ste. Genevieve Dragons saw their season come to a gut-wrenching conclusion Saturday as they fell to Salem 34-28 at Dragon Field in a Class 3 semi-final contest.

"It's hard to talk after these things." an obviously disappointed Ste. Genevieve Head Coach Bob Stolzer said after the game. "It was very hard to talk to the kids. They played their hearts out. They do everything you ask them to do and still come up on the short end of the stick. That's the way life is, no matter how much effort you put into something, a lot of times you will not have the success you wanted."

Salem advanced to the Class 3 state championship game on Saturday to take on defending champ Platte County in a rematch of the 2000 title game.

In typical fashion, the Dragons jumped out on top at the outset.

On its opening possession, Ste. Gen (11-2) marched 68 yards with quarterback Brad Arnold connecting with Aaron Browne on a five-yard touchdown pass. The two-point attempt failed and the score remained 6-0 with 8:49 remaining in the first quarter.

The Dragon defense forced Salem (11-2) to punt on its opening possession.

Ste. Gen would move the ball again into Tiger territory. But, on fourth down, Matt Bader faked a punt and completed a pass to Adam Schwent, however it was about two yards shy of the first down.

Salem took over and marched 65 yards with fullback Joe Harris scoring and then kicking the extra point to put the visitors ahead 7-6 with 1:42 left in the opening quarter. The big play on the drive was a 54-yard run from quarterback Tyler Dillon.

The Dragons re-took the lead in a matter of seconds as Derrick Wolk ran the first play of the ensuing drive 55 yards for a touchdown. The two-point conversion put the Dragons up 14-7 after the first quarter.

The Tigers answered back in the first minute of the second quarter as Dillon raced into the end zone from 50 yards out. The PAT tied the game at 14-14 with 11:22 left in the first half.

Ste. Gen would come right back and grab the lead again as Browne scored on a one yard run to cap a 66-yard drive. The two-point conversion put the Dragons up 22-14 with 7:35 left in the second quarter.

But, as it did all afternoon, Salem had the answer. Halfback Josh Kotschedoff scored on a 17-yard run to complete a 78 yard drive on 13 plays. The two-point attempt failed and the score was 22-20 with 2:31 to go in the half.

The Dragons scored again right before halftime -- their final score of the game as it turned out. Arnold threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Schwent. The two-point conversion was no good and Ste. Gen went into the half up 28-20.

But, there was a sense the constant pounding by the Salem offense had taken a little bit out of Ste. Gen.

"It was fatiguing on them (defense)." Stolzer admitted. "At halftime, the kids didn't have a lot of juice. It literally seemed like they were fatigued. It takes a toll on you."

"We kind of traded punches in the first half," said Stolzer. "I thought this thing is going to end up being 40-38 or something like that. They took a long time. When we had our hands on the ball, we moved the ball up and down the field and not necessarily taking a lot of time off the clock."

The third quarter was scoreless.

But, Salem began its comeback early in the fourth quarter as Harris scored from a yard out with 10:02 left in the game to complete a 70 yard drive in 14 plays. The two-point attempt to tie the game failed and the Dragons clung to a 28-26 lead.

After forcing the Dragon offense to punt on the ensuing possession, the Tigers started their game winning drive way back at their own 15.

But, 13 plays later, it was Harris scoring again from nine yards out with just 58 seconds left. The two-point conversion put Salem ahead 34-28.

Ste. Gen's Kyle Palmer gave his team some hope as he returned the ensuing kickoff to the Salem 45.

After converting some critical third downs and even a fourth down play, the Dragons were at the Salem six yard line with five seconds remaining. Arnold went back to pass and threw for his favorite receiver this season in Bader, but Salem's Tyler Dillon intercepted the pass, sending the Tigers to the Edward Jones Dome.

"I'm not going to say they were the better team on the field." Stolzer replied. "It was one of those games to where whoever had their hands on the ball last or whenever time ran out, who was on top was going to win. If we had maybe 30 more seconds, we might be the ones who are jubilant."

"There was not a kid on the field that did not try and play as hard as they can." a satisfied Stolzer commented. "I can take getting beat everyday as long as your kids play that hard."

Salem's punishing rushing attack gained 445 yards in the game and controlled the clock. Dillon finished with 210 yards on the ground in just 18 carries and a touchdown. Harris carried the ball 33 times for 155 yards and three touchdowns. The Tigers' seldom used passing attack was 1-4 for just 13 yards. Salem finished with 458 yards of total offense.

"Looking back, they say hindsight is 20-20, I don't think we would've done anything differently," said Stolzer. "Heck, we had ten people up in the box there, if you can't stop somebody with ten people in the box, one of two things is happening, and that's either the defense is pretty bad or the offense is pretty good. Our defense is not that bad. I have to take my hat off to them. I don't care what we tried, we just couldn't get away from that 2nd and 5 or 3rd and 1. We couldn't stop them. They're just that good."

Ste. Gen had another fairly balanced offensive attack - although far below its usual numbers. The Dragons mustered 158 yards rushing and 127 yards passing for 285 total. Arnold was 9-18 for 117 yards through the air.

"It was a tremendous season," Stolzer emphasized. "We won our district. We won our conference, made it to the semi-finals. Some of the kids received post-season awards, hopefully some of them will be named to the All-State team when it's selected next weekend."

The most amazing statistic of the second half was that Ste. Gen was held to just 46 yards of total offense after putting up 239 in the first half.

"We have to got to stop and turnaround and look and see what we've done here the past year and even the past three or four weeks," said Stolzer. "There were four Class 3 teams left in the state -- Ste. Genevieve High School was one of those four left. To come out in the top four is certainly a big accomplishment. We've been there before and I'm tired of these semi-final trophies. But, whether we wanted it or not -- I'm very proud of it and I hope the kids are too."

Amen.

Congratulations to the 2002 Ste. Genevieve Dragon football team for a season to remember!