Psssst. You may or may not have heard this, but there’s going to be a slugfest Friday night down in the city. In the shadow of the Saint Louis Science Center, the De Smet and St. Louis University High football teams are going to step on to the artificial turf and knock the slobber out of one another.
It’s going to be gorgeous: The last time these two Metro Catholic Conference rivals hooked up was a double-overtime thriller. SLUH (8-3) rallied back from a 28-14 deficit to win 37-31 at De Smet (8-3) in the second week of district play. It was the first time in four years the Junior Billikens managed to beat the Spartans.
Now, in the quarterfinal round of the Class 6 playoffs, we are once again able to bear witness to these two powerhouses putting the hurt on one another in what we would expect to be a knock-down, drag-out, hide-your-eyes kind of affair. “I don’t know if it can get more interesting than last time,” SLUH coach Gary Kornfeld says. “We just feel blessed and fortunate to be where we are.”
This game is guaranteed to be thrilling. SLUH’s Stefan Sansone and De Smet’s Durron Neal are so electric they can light up the night. Both players are one move, one cut, one shake away from turning the ordinary into extraordinary. But while those two are human highlight reels (no really, check YouTube), there are plenty of other playmakers who will have an impact on this game.
SLUH has a pair of standout running backs in Terek Hawkins and Cameron Stubbs. They have combined for 25 touchdowns. Hawkins is a monster on the ground as he’s rushed for 1,222 yards on 154 carries. That means he’s averaging about eight yards per rush. Mitch Klugg doesn’t have the ‘shake ’n bake’ quality of Sansone, but he’s one of the top wide receivers in the area, hands down. He leads the Junior Billikens with 49 receptions and 883 yards. De Smet thought so much of Klugg in their previous meeting that they stuck Neal on him to try and bottle him up.
Neal gets the lauds and applause, but you can’t watch De Smet and not be impressed by the tireless work of KeVonn Maybon. Like Neal, he’s all over the place as a wide receiver and a running back. He’s tied for second on the team with seven touchdowns and also is an outstanding cover corner.
Quarterback Conner Harrison has found ways to get the ball where it needs to go more often than not. He did some of his best work this season last week at Eureka. He completed 17 of his 21 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns.
This game could come down to who stays healthy longer. Last week at Eureka, the Spartans had to finish up without fullback James Placht or top running back Latif Adams. They’ll get tight end Lucas Nikolaisen and Jake Gruensfelder back after they missed time with concussions. Coach Pat Mahoney says after a physical night with Eureka, he’s pretty happy with his roster heading into tonight’s game. “Considering how physical a game it was we got out of there pretty well,” Mahoney says.
In the previous meeting, SLUH was able to take advantage of some holes in the De Smet defense. Mahoney thinks De Smet has to make some adjustments in order to not let that happen again. “I give them credit. They did a good job of putting the ball where we weren’t,” he says. “I don’t think we adjusted. We kind of lulled ourselves into a sense of security.”
SLUH will once again try to find and exploit the gaps in that terrific and terrorizing De Smet defense. “You have to take what the defense gives you,” Kornfeld says. “You have to be able to go a different route.”