Friday night in enemy territory was not a night that Saint Xavier Football will want to dwell on for too long.
The Tigers lost to district-rival Male by a final line of 30-13. It was raining for most of the night, which made for less-than-desirable conditions on the field. After the game, players were covered with dirt and mud.
This was a tough game. In the first half, both the offense and defense were simply whipped by the Bulldogs. Male led 24-0 at halftime.
St. X Head Coach Will Wolford was adamant during the break that the team could not continue to play the same way. St. X is better than what they showed in that first half, and both Wolford and the players know it.
So, in the second half, the Tigers showed they were better.
“I think part of it was Kyle Oliver,” senior outside linebacker Clark Campbell said of his fellow senior linebacker. “He always gets us motivated every game. He said something that just ticked us off, and we needed that motivation in the second half.”
The Tigers took the second half by storm, as senior quarterback Noah Houk engineered a touchdown drive right out of the gate. His 1-yard sneak into the endzone made it 24-7, and then all momentum completely shifted to St. X’s side.
Senior cornerback Davey Sermersheim blocked a Bulldog field goal attempt on the ensuing Male possession, and Campbell scooped up the ball and returned it into Male territory. Although the Tigers didn’t get any points off of the stop, it reversed field position, which St. X later capitalized on.
After Male running back Ellis Cain fumbled inside his own ten-yard line, senior St. X running back TaiJon Smith cashed in with a 5-yard touchdown tote to make the score 24-13, after a failed PAT.
From there, though, the Tigers could not muster up any more points. Houk threw three fourth quarter interceptions, and the Bulldogs picked up an impressive victory.
But this loss isn’t really anything St. X should worry about. In fact, the Tigers should feel better about their chances of earning the school’s first football State Championship since 2009 after their effort against the top-ranked team in Kentucky.
Male features the most potent offense in the state. Bulldog quarterback Davis Mattingly is special, and he has two elite weapons with him, in Cain and senior wide receiver Keion Wakefield. But St. X intercepted Mattingly once in the first half, and allowed exactly zero points to the Male offense in the second half (Male’s second half touchdown was courtesy of a pick-six in the first quarter. The Bulldogs’ two-point conversion failed.).
The St. X defense played well, but the effort wasn’t up to the players’ standard.
“I definitely think we can play better than that,” said Campbell.
For the St. X offense, we have seen that the one key that supersedes all the rest: turnovers.
When the offense doesn’t turn the ball over, great things happen; the best offensive performance of the season came against Trinity, which just so happened to be a game where the Tigers did not turn the ball over at all.
It does sound oversimplified, but it’s true. Bottom line, when St. X’s offense doesn’t turn the ball over, it’s a great unit. Houk, Smith, the receivers and the line just have to show it against more than one good opponent.
Although nobody can blame the weather conditions for the loss, the Tigers will obviously fare much better when the field is dry.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they have two big games to end the regular season; St. X takes on Manual at home next week, and after a bye week, the Tigers will travel up to Cincinnati to take on Cincy St. X.
I know this offense has the talent to match the defense. It just isn’t quite there yet. If the squad can have two more Trinity-esque performances to end the regular season, St. X will be that team that nobody wants to play in December.