St. John’s (8-1, 5-1 SPC) finished in a three-way tie with Kinkaid (7-2, 5-1 SPC) and Episcopal (7-2, 5-1 SPC) in the SPC
South. Based on point differential, the Mavericks were ranked second behind Episcopal in the regular season SPC South standings. With a relative smaller enrollment than Episcopal and Kinkaid, St. John’s automatically qualified for the Small School semi-finals and hosted the Cistercian Hawks (6-3, 4-3 SPC) on Saturday, November 3, 2012 at Skip Lee Field.
On the line was a chance for St. John’s to win more games than any varsity football team in the school’s 66-year history, go back to the SPC Championship game for the second year in a row, and win their first playoff game in the newly modified SPC Football playoffs. For the seniors it would be their last football game on Skip Lee Field. Kickoff was at 4 pm under cloudy skies in front of full bleachers on both sides of the field.
After quarterback Ben Griffin ’13 scored on a 31-yard run, the Mavericks took a 7-3 lead over the Cistercian Hawks late in the first quarter. The Maverick defense forced the Hawks to punt and the St. John’s trident rushing attack started to take shape when running back Logan Smith ’13 scored on a 19-yard td run with 8:54 to go in the first half. Andre Gras ’13 converted his second PAT, and St. John’s looked ready to roll over Cistercian, but the Hawks continued to hover on Skip Lee Field. Nine plays and 86 yards later, the Hawks scored on a pass play and trailed the Mavericks 14-10.
The tried and true St. John’s running game put it in gear once again moving to the Cistercian 10, but two Maverick fumbles to Cistercian’s one, left scoring opportunities on the turf as rain began to drizzle on Skip Lee Field.
Maverick defense held the Hawks to three and out on Cistercian’s opening drive in the second half, but it was all for naught as St. John’s turned the ball over deep into their own territory. Two plays later the Hawks scored on a 19-yard pass play to regain the lead 17-14.
Having traded licks all day, St. John’s put together a 14-play 91-yard drive to go up 21-17 on fullback Nathan Avery’s ’13 one yard touchdown plunge. The ten-minute plus drive milked most of the third and the beginning of the fourth period, and looked to be the final story of the day when Wain Wanguri ’14 intercepted a Hawk’s pass at the St. John’s four yard line, denying Cistercian a chance for a comeback.
The Mavericks picked up three first downs and 44 yards before Jonathan Newar’s ’13 punt put the Hawks back on their own 22 with 5:28 to go. Cistercian put together their longest march of the day going 78 yards in 13 plays to go ahead 24-21, answering the Mavericks’ 14-play scoring sequence.
With 2:01 left to play, St. John’s huddled up for some serious soul searching. For the seniors this would be their last chance to leave it all on Skip Lee Field.
“In my mind I did not want to end our season when we could have one more week,” said Smith. “Ben got us in the huddle and told us to ‘get it in your minds right now that we are going to win this game.’”
With 60 yards to go and having not thrown a pass all day, St. John’s did what it does best: run the veer. Griffin rushed for three yards followed by Smith’s two-yard carry before St. John’s called a timeout with 1:34 to go. On third down and five, Griffin picked up the first down and put the Mavericks into Hawk territory 2 plays later.
“I was trusting coach (Gleaves), and knew he would make the right calls,” said Griffin.
Smith took over from there, rushing twice for 27 yards to spot the Mavericks at the Cistercian four and on the doorstep of an all-time record nine-win season and trip to the SPC Championship game for the second time in as many years. With 26 seconds to go, Avery, the third wheel of the trident attack, got his second score on his second call of the drive, punching it in from the one. Gras converted the PAT for a 28-24 lead and the defense denied another comeback to preserve the win.
“The outside veer was there,” said Avery. “It was my job to get the short yardage, and the line did their part. It was fun!”
“Everybody kept their concentration,” said Head Coach Steve Gleaves. “They didn't lose their will to win, and when it came down to the last drive, they looked at themselves and said: ‘OK! let’s go do it.’”
“There was extra incentive to win because it was the seniors’ last game on Skip Lee, and it was a playoff,” said Jonathan Newar.
St. John’s is rewarded with one more week of practice, another playoff game, and an opportunity to make history once again.
St. John’s (9-1, 6-1 SPC) squares off against Fort Worth All Saints’
(10-0, 8-0 SPC) in the SPC Small School Championship on Saturday, November 10 (12 noon) at Pennington Field in Bedford, Texas.
Sam Chambers- Athletic News