The 2022 season will continue after the Festus Tigers upset the second-seeded North County Raiders 28-15 on Friday night in St. Louis. The defense bottled up a vicious Raiders running attack and the offense took to the skies, dominating North County through the air. The win extends the season and sends the Tigers across town to face their bitter rivals, the Hillsboro Hawks, in the District Finals.
The Tigers got things going early in this one when QB Jeremiah Cunningham connected with Will Reese on a 63-yard bomb at 10:20 of the first quarter. The extra point missed, but the Tigers had a 6-0 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish.
On their next possession the arial attack was in full force once again, but this time it was Co-QB Essien Smith who got it done. He hooked up with top Wideout Arhmad Branch for 55 yards and Festus had a 12-0 lead after he streaked into the endzone. Branch wasn’t done yet in what could very likely have been the game of his life. Smith found him for the two-point conversion and extended the lead to 14-0 to close out the scoring in the frame.
The second quarter featured more of the same…big plays by Branch. About midway through the quarter Branch caught a pass from Cunningham and booked it 90 yards into the endzone for the longest offensive play of the day. That made the score 20-0, but these wild final six minutes of the half weren’t over yet.
On the ensuing possession North County finally got on the board by feeding their best player, Running Back Jobe Smith, and they marched down to the one yard line. Smith then punched it in to make it 20-7 and the Raiders were on their way to mounting a comeback.
But the Tigers put a stop to that. Working the two-minute offense with E. Smith at QB and just 15 seconds remaining in the half, he found who else but Branch. This time from 36 yards out and Branch found pay dirt for the third time in the game. He was responsible for the two-point conversion yet again and the Tigers found themselves with a 28-7 lead as the half time clock ticked down to zeros.
The defense was on point in the first half and Mason Schirmer was a man possessed, taking down multiple Raiders on seemingly every play. Big interceptions by Landen Yates and Trey Lacey kept North County at bay and allowed the Tigers to build a huge lead.
That half was the beneficiary of all the Tiger points in the game, and although they didn’t score in the second, the defense kept the Raiders at bay. The only third quarter points were from a North County safety, but the Tigers held them on the resulting kickoff. The Raiders managed another touchdown by J. Smith in the fourth, but it was too little too late as Festus hung on for the 28-15 upset victory.
The defense was paramount in this one, accounting for eight sacks and an incredible four interceptions (two in each half). The Tigers doubled their season total for INTs in this game alone, so the ball-hawking skills are certainly developing as the season progresses. They pushed the blitz hard in this one, and it payed off as they were able to get to Raiders QB Jack Moore over and over, upsetting his rhythm all game.
Brady Nolen had a pair of crucial second half interceptions and amassed six total tackles on top of that, acting as a true leader on defense. Eli Ortmann was an absolute beast and led the team with 11 total tackles. In short, everyone has stepped up on defense and this Tigers squad has really elevated their game in the past few weeks. This adds a new wrinkle for their opponents during the playoff run.
Offensively, Branch was the statistical hero in this one with his three touchdowns, two 2-pt conversions and 181 yards through the air. If there was a big play to be made in this one he was on the receiving end of it. The only other players to catch a pass were Reese (63-yd TD) and Yates, who caught three for 29 yards.
The running game was essentially non-existent because of the extreme success of the passing attack, but E. Smith did lead the charge with 51 yards. As for the Quarterback play, both young men were efficient and deadly. E. Smith had 117 yards and a pair of TDs, while Cunningham had 156 yards and two scores of his own against one interception. Together they completed 7-of-15 passes.
This was truly a complete game by Festus on both sides of the ball, and Head Coach AJ Ofodile has to be thrilled with the effort. Now they have a week to prepare for the game that will be for all the marbles, the District Championship. If they want to collect that hardware though, they’ll have to go through the top-seeded Hawks, who have lost just one game this season.
These two storied rivals locking horns is always a special scene, but with a championship on the line it should be even more intense. Kickoff is next Friday at 6pm in Hillsboro.