The Festus Tigers did not kick off the season the way they intended. Taking on the Ste. Genevieve Dragons on Friday night, the Tiger defense struggled to contain the explosive offense of the Dragons, and despite mounting a valiant comeback attempt, their efforts still fell short. Ste. Gen ultimately prevailed in a 50-35 barn-burner, handing Festus their first loss of the season.
The game started out like wildfire with Ste. Gen striking first for a 7-0 lead with barely over aminute off the clock. Festus answered the bell with a quick seven of their own as Landen Bradshaw pounded one in from two yards out to knot the game at 7-7. The Dragons took the lead again with another quick score, but the Tigers came right back as new QB Essien Smith hooked up with last year’s WR standout Arhmad Branch for a 33-yard strike.
And just like that we were locked at 14 all. But the Dragons weren’t done in the first, as they had one more chance to retake the lead. A 20-yard pass play put the Tigers behind the eight ball yet again and the Dragons ended a wild first quarter with a 21-13 lead.
Festus rallied though in the second with a 20-yard TD with newcomer runningback Hayden Bates steam rolling over the Dragons defense to trim the lead to 21-19, but the tie eluded the Tigers after the two-point conversion failed. Sadly, the Dragons tacked on another score on a 29-yard pass play to close out the scoring for the half and would send the Tigers to the locker room trailing 28-19.
When the second half kicked off, the scoring seemed to die out for a stretch. The third quarter featured just one score, and unfortunately it was by the Dragons once again, allowing them to stretch their lead to 36-19. This put Festus in a run-and-gun position where they would have to really turn it on in the fourth quarter.
The offense did just that, striking quickly with Branch’s second TD of the game on a 20-yard play from co-quarterback Jeremiah Cunningham. Employing the two-QB system, the Tigers found a way to give their offense a creative boost in the wake of Cole Rickermann‘s departure, but the defense just couldn’t handle the Dragon’s high-flying attack in this one.
Ste. Gen scored again before Festus found the end zone for the last time to make it a one-score game, after Smith hooked up with Landen Yates for a 22-yard catch and run. But the 43-35 margin was as close as the Tigers would get, as the Dragons returned the ensuing kickoff for a 48-yard TD to put the nail in coffin and hand Festus their walking papers.
Despite the loss and the defensive struggles, the Tigers had a fine offensive day. The QB combo of Smith and Cunningham performed well, with the former going 4-of-9 for 76 yards and two TDs (adding 11 carries for 76 yards on the ground), and the latter throwing for two scores as well with an 81-yard effort on 7-of-13 attempts. He also contributed to the ground game with 13 rushes for 67 yards, which stands to reason that Festus will likely employ this two-QB system for the foreseeable future.
As far as non signal callers went, Bates was the big force on the ground with 14 carries for 116 yards and a TD, while Branch was the main man through the air thanks to his four catches for 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Yates was the only other player to record a touchdown.
Certainly not what the Tigers were hoping for in terms of the end result, but there are still some positives to take away from this game. The offensive looked solid and had some creative wrinkles in it, which could pose potential problems for opposing defenses as the season progresses. They just need to shore up the D and keep their competition off the board at a consistent clip.
They have their next shot to prove just that on Friday, September 2nd against perennial powerhouse Valle Catholic.