2nd quarter surge, late clock-burning drive fuels District semi win

Bennett Durando
Sports Columnist

Senior Chris Johnson prepares to return a kick prior to Webster's season-opening game at Francis Howell. (Photo by Bret Waelterman)
Senior Chris Johnson prepares to return a kick prior to Webster’s season-opening game at Francis Howell. (Photo by Bret Waelterman)

As those who watched Webster’s District semifinal well know, the Statesmen football team sent a clear message on Halloween Night at Moss Field: “Hold on tight; it’s going to be a wild ride.”

On a night that reached a low of 32 in Webster Groves, the Statesmen opened up their postseason with a 42-35 defeat of McCluer North that sure wasn’t without thrills.

Webster used an explosive end to the first half and a time-consuming possession over the last five minutes of the game to pull out the win and advance to play Ladue Horton Watkins next Friday at Moss Field for the District championship.

In this clash of Class Five powers, the weather took its toll. The teams fought with the cold as much as they did with each other, especially for the first quarter and a half. After 18 minutes of scoreless football to start the game, it was a late second quarter burst that proved to be the difference for Webster.

The Stars of McCluer North took the opening drive inside Webster’s 25-yard line, and on a fourth and one, they got the required yardage before fumbling.

Webster drove back down the field and was set up for the opening score with a first and goal at the five, but lost four yards putting the ball on the ground three straight plays. Then a 26-yard field goal attempt went wide left.

With the game still deadlocked and with under six minutes in the half, again Webster had a first and goal. After three more unsuccessful runs, the offense this time stayed on the field, and senior Ron Thompson finally got the chance to throw the ball, converting the fourth down with a five-yard touchdown pass.

On the Stars’ first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, senior Cam Hilton pulled in his seventh interception of the year. In the next series, Thompson converted a third and 25 with a bang, scrambling 31 yards for a 14-0 lead.

McCluer North fumbled the following kickoff, and Webster again jumped right on the mistake, striking with another quick score on senior Nick Delgado’s 18-yard touchdown run. It would be the Statesmens’ only touchdown of the night that Rob Thompson wasn’t associated with.

Though McCluer North finally had an answer, in the form of a 79-yard touchdown pass, Webster continued to pour it on after Delgado converted a third and 23. Junior John Thomas made a spectacular leaping catch downfield for 28 yards, then Thompson hit Thomas again for a 15-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left in the half.

Webster’s outburst featured 21 tie-breaking points in a 2:02 stretch late in the first half. It scored 28 points in the last 5:11 of the half, and all 42 points came within 17 minutes over the middle two quarters.

Perhaps the key moment of the game came in the third quarter though. After the Stars had stopped Webster and cut the score to 28-14, they had Webster set up on a third and 17 and seemed to be seizing the momentum for the first time all game. Thompson came up big once again, though, putting out the fire with a 52-yard connection to Thomas. The drive concluded with Thompson finding Hilton for 32 yards and a 35-14 lead.

The Stars answered again, but then with 12 seconds left in the quarter, Thompson capped Webster’s scoring for the day with a four-yard touchdown run. Thompson finished the day with 279 yards in the air, three touchdown passes to three different receivers and two rushing touchdowns.

That stretch would prove to be just enough. Doubled up 42-21 entering the fourth, McCluer North clawed back with a one-yard touchdown run and a quick stop. With the ball back and facing a fourth and four, quarterback Demonte Morris got off a perfect throw as he was hit, a lob to the back left corner of the end zone pulled in by receiver Harry Ballard.

With the lead cut to seven and 5:31 remaining, Webster pulled out an impressive drive that featured a similar pattern on three straight series: a loss of yardage on first down, followed by a big play on second down to move the chains.

Forced to punt with :44 left though, the Statesmen faked instead of trying to pin the Stars deep in their own territory, and the run went nowhere, giving it to the Stars at their own 32 with just under 40 seconds remaining.

McCluer North moved the ball to midfield, but out of timeouts and with time running out, it had to hurry to the line, taking the final snap as the clock hit triple zeroes. Fans and cheerleaders celebrated as the buzzer sounded, but the Stars completed a pass, and the receiver wrestled all the way to the 20-yard-line before finally being dragged out of bounds by a pair of Statesmen defenders to seal the victory.

Leave a Reply