Nov. 24, 2018
WARDSVILLE, Mo. --- It's like having a crush, you keep asking her out, and the answer is always the same.
When she finally says yes, oh my, what a feeling.
The difference in this case is this --- the Blair Oaks Falcons took care of the situation themselves, they didn't rely on someone else's answer, there was no other answer possible.
After being denied in the postseason the last three years --- once in the quarterfinals, twice in the semifinals --- Blair Oaks busted down the door with a convincing 48-21 win over highly-touted Lutheran North in the Class 2 semifinals Saturday at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
How sweet it is.
"We (the seniors) were telling everyone before the game: 'We're not losing this game,' because that feeling of losing in the Final Four is just terrible," senior Ben Thomas said. "I'm just really glad we made it.
"I really don't have anything to say ... there are no words to describe this feeling."
The Falcons had felt the agony of defeat but now, they're basking in that unmatched thrill and glow of victory.
"This feels amazing," said Brayden Pritchett, another of the team's talented seniors. "We could never get over the hump and this year we did, and now we're going to bring it in the state championship game."
The championship game is set for 3 p.m. Friday at Faurot Field, when top-ranked Blair Oaks (14-0) meets third-ranked Lathrop (14-0), which finally became the team to unseat seven-time defending state champion Lamar 28-21 in the other semifinal.
But for the moment, let's enjoy this one, shall we? Well, Ted LePage threw a bit of cold water on that notion.
"It's not satisfying at all, to be honest," the Falcons head coach said. "I'm not trying to be mean, but we've got one more in us --- we didn't come here to win in the semis, we came here to win the whole dang thing.
"So we're going to get back to work, starting (Saturday night), and we're going to go up there next week and give it a fight."
But then, LePage softened, he's too nice a guy not to. Like everyone else in Green, he was truly enjoying the moment.
"They (Lutheran North) had every Division I player you could ever want," he said. "What I said all week to our players is that the greatest weapon in the history of man is the heart. And these guys just have more heart, they've been playing their hearts out together since they were in fifth grade.
"They've played their hearts out for four years in high school and they've earned this. I'm very proud of our team."
AS FOR THE GAME, WE'LL BEGIN near the end.
The Falcons were seemingly in the comfort zone from the opening kick, but the fourth-ranked Crusaders (10-4) created some discomfort in the fourth quarter.
Blair Oaks was in charge at 34-13, but lost a fumble that was scooped and returned 15 yards to the Falcons' 11 by D'Vion Harris. Two plays later, Isaac Glenn scored on a one-yard surge and Glenn's two point run made it 34-21 with more than eight minutes left.
Wait a minute, 13-point game, eight minutes left ... this wasn't over.
Starting at their 20, the Falcons needed a long, time-consuming drive to re-assume control. Well, they didn't get it --- they scored less than two minutes later on a 68-yard strike from Nolan Hair to Pritchett and the lead was bumped back to 42-21.
Likewise, the game was bumped back into the comfort zone.
"He's an awesome player, an awesome kid," Lutheran North coach Carl Reed said of Hair, who lit up the Crusaders just as he's lit up every other team he's played this season.
"Blair Oaks played a helluva football game today, they came out and played physical, they executed on offense and defense, and they deserved to win and go to the state championship."
Back to Hair, my goodness --- the senior finished 16-of-20 for 387 yards and six touchdowns. In other words, another day at the office.
What if you had told Mr. Hair (do they call him Air Hair? They should.) before the season that he'd have 46 touchdown passes and ZERO interceptions as Blair Oaks headed to the state championship game?
"No way," he said with a smile. "No way."
He's right, there's no way you can do that. And he's making it look as easy as a fall Brees ... as in, the New Orleans Saints' Drew Brees, who never seems to throw an off-target pass.
"The game plan we have, it's putting people in the right spots," Hair said. "It's not just me, it's the wide receivers and mostly, it's my linemen.
"I give all the credit to them."
LePage is not surprised Hair deflected the credit.
"He's such a humble young man, that's his biggest attribute," LePage said. "He's wanted to learn more and more since Day One."
The celebration basically started after it became 42-21. But then, Pritchett put the Green icing on the cake when he intercepted a short pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown with three minutes left.
On the play, Jordan Smith's pass floated through the air like it had Pritchett's name on it, his eye balls got bigger than footballs.
To put it another way ...
"That ball was as big as a watermelon," he said with a big smile. "But I didn't think I was going to score, because I just had a long one before that and I kind of ran out of gas at the end."
Blair Oaks --- which is back in the title game for the first time since 2012 and is seeking the school's third football crown championship, it's first since 2006 --- never trailed after taking the opening kickoff and dashing 85 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead.
The drive ended with a bang, a 60-yard pass from Hair to Thomas on a crossing pattern with 9:16 left in the first quarter.
Second scoring verse, same as the first. And the scoring third verse. And the fourth.
Because after the Crusaders had cut the lead to 7-6, three straight touchdown passes from Hair to Thomas helped open the lead to 28-6 early in the third quarter.
The second was a 26-yarder that capped a nine-play, 69-yard drive early in the second quarter; the third was one of the game's defining moments, a 28-yarder with just 2 seconds left in the first half.
"Ben Thomas called that play, he told me they weren't covering it," LePage said. "I said, 'Let's do it then.'"
What did Thomas see?
"They were playing outside man (coverage) and it was just a simple post pattern," he said. "Get behind the defense."
Thomas caught seven passes for a whopping 241 yards and in the process, he became the school's single-season record-holder for reception yards, breaking the mark of 1,419 yards set by C.J. Closser in 2015.
"I've been working my tail off since sixth grade and all through high school," Thomas said. "C.J. was actually here today, he said he wanted to be at the game when I broke his record. So that's pretty cool."
The lightning-quick Crusaders, who had outscored their last five opponents by a silly 293-8, were hardly out of it at halftime.
They got it to start the second half and facing a 4th-and-2, they tried a fake punt. But it was foiled on a solid tackle by Sam Luebbering, setting the Falcons up at the Crusaders' 45.
Two plays later, Thomas turned a simple swing pass from Hair into a scintillating 45-yard touchdown sprint and it was 28-6 with 9:38 left in the third.
After the Crusaders scored to make it 28-13, the Falcons --- just three plays later --- made it 35-13 on Hair's 27-yard pass to Marcus Edler, a play that was set up on a 49-yard pass from Hair to Thomas.
Lutheran North had no answer for this offense ... nor the Blair Oaks defense, for that matter. The defensive line, especially 6-4, 265-pound senior Nolan Atnip, was a disruptive force the entire afternoon, as they dominated this highly-acclaimed offensive line that average 285 pounds a man.
"Everybody was saying everything about the other team, but they always forget about our big man," Hair said of Atnip.
The Falcons --- who had no less than nine home wins this season --- finished with a 477-285 edge in total yards.
"For the most part," LePage said, "we really played great defense. It was just a great team effort, I thought. I've never seen a group of 44 dudes come in every day and laugh, have fun and play their hearts out like this group.
"I can't wait 'til next week."
See you in Columbia.
Clash of two
Class 2 Titans
Lutheran North quarterback just gets the pass off as he's slammed by Sam Luebbering of Blair Oaks during the fourth quarter of Saturday's Class 2 semifinal game at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
Blair Oaks set to host
Lutheran N. in semis
Falcons break through, crush
Crusaders to move to title game