HEWITT -- Shiner St. Paul needed a late stop to win the TAPPS Division IV state championship game against their rivals, the Hallettsville Sacred Heart Indians. With 13 seconds left in the game, St. Paul's Cade Davis pulled up with a leaping interception deep in their own territory, sealing the 20-16 victory, giving the school their fourth football title in five years, their eighth in school history. The win was their second of the year against the Indians, previously beating them during district play 21-14.
"I have all the respect in the world for Sacred Heart," St. Paul head football coach Jake Wachsmuth said of the win. "We just feel fortunate that we came out with a win."
The first half was mainly a defensive struggle as the Cardinals made early mistakes, including allowing a 11-play, 43-yard touchdown drive. After fumbling on the ensuing kickoff, St. Paul was able to stop Sacred Heart from scoring, taking over on their 22-yard line after a missed field goal. The Cardinals answered with a quick five-play, 78-yard touchdown drive that ended with a two-yard rush by Zak Johnson. Johnson ended the night with all three of the team's touchdowns and nearly 100 yards on the ground.
"Zak's a good player," Wachsmuth noted, "but if you look at that line up front, Kai [Giese] made plays, Carson [Reese], just everybody [played well]."
Giese ended the night with 141 yards rushing, picking up key first downs that extended drives.
The Cardinals took control of the ball for the remainder of the game, allowing just three Sacred Heart possessions in the second half. St. Paul ran a 16-play, 77-yard opening offensive drive that used 10:14 of the clock. The drive ended on the Sacred Heart 6-yard line on a failed fourth down conversion.
On the ensuing drive, the St. Paul defense held the Indians to what would have been a three-and-out. However, Sacred Heart punter Derrick Janak took off on what appeared to be a called fake punt rush, but the Cardinals defense was ready for it and stopped him on the 10-yard line, giving the offense an immediate first and goal opportunity. St. Paul answered with a three-play drive, ending with a one-yard rush by Johnson to give the Cardinals the 14-10 lead.
The lead ended up being short-lived as Sacred Heart answered back with a 41-yard pass from Austin Kutac to Lane Leopold to give the Indians a 16-14 lead after their extra point was blocked.
With 7:13 left in the game, St. Paul continued to lean on their running game, eating up over six minutes of game clock on their 11-play, 77-yard touchdown drive, aided by a 30-yard completion from Kai Giese to Atley Pilat on 3rd and 15. Scoring for the third time that night was Johnson from the goal line. St. Paul took the 20-16 lead after falling short on their two-point conversion.
"Each team got a few plays on the offensive side," Wachsmuth said of the game, "but it was good defense."
With just 63 seconds left, Sacred Heart's Kutac's passes fell incomplete three straight times before he found William Harper for a 49-yard completion to get to St. Paul's 34-yard line. Two plays later, Kutac again went deep, but this time it was St. Paul's Cade Davis who came away with the title-clinching interception, giving the Cardinals the ball with 13 seconds left. It was St. Paul's second turnover of the night, the first being the fake punt run that was stopped.
"We needed that turnover," Wachsmuth said. "We have up a bit pass on fourth down, but [that interception] was pretty sweet."
Wachsmuth credited both teams for their efforts in game, stating that TAPPS "got everything they wanted" in a rivalry game to end the state championship weekend.
"You got two small schools, probably everybody in town is here," Wachsmuth said of the support. "It's a special game if it's just in the middle of the year. It's just two small rural communities, two Catholic schools, they teach the right stuff, I think we teach the right stuff. I don't know if you noticed but I don't think there was a lot of jarring during the game. Just a lot of respect for each other and a good, hard-hitting game, the way it should be."
The Cardinals finish the season 10-3 overall. They lose five seniors, Atley Pilat, Carson Reese, Luke Darilek, Matthew Malinovsky and Weston Geiger.
"These seniors have won three, they have been a part of three," Wachsmuth said. "This school has had four out of five. It's a big deal. I'm just so proud of them."