Official blog of the Festus Varsity Football Tigers
by The Gridiron Geek
Volume 5 — Friday September 19th, Hillsboro High School
The first football game I remember witnessing (live or on TV) was played on a sodden field at Hillsboro High in 1983. The Festus Tigers prevailed that day (22-0), but the Hawks won their share of FHS/HHS scrums in that era, including a dramatic squeaker in 1986 that was replayed on good old JCTV (Jefferson College TeleVision) about 200 times over the months following.
Back when Jefferson County schools were all lumped in one conference, Hillsboro was where many a smaller local program’s unbeaten record went to die. Teams now travel hither and yon to play opposition with like enrollments, but the yearly Tigers vs. Hawks rivalry endures.
The Blue and White have had the upper hand recently, save for a 2011 Festus win in (current Army Black Knights freshman) Blake Goddard’s last season as QB. 2013’s result was a 50-36 shootout in favor of the talented Hawks, whose 2014 squad stands 3-1 on the legs of senior running back Chris Walsh.
The Geek does not like making predictions, but with a vastly improved Tiger defense, another output of 30+ points might be enough to extend the 3-game winning streak your Varsity boys are currently riding.
Opposing senior kicker Cole Luby executes several 40-yard field goals during the warmup. Hillsboro coaches of years past have disdained the kicking game in favor of old school prep tactics: squibbing kickoffs, going for it on 4th-and-long near the goalline, trying for 2-point conversions whenever the night sky is black. Perhaps new head coach Lee Freeman has turned over a new leaf, or at least a bag of kicking tees.
Habitual pre-game slinking turns up a delightful stand of persimmon saplings next to the practice field. The fruit is not quite ripe enough to eat, however. (Bite into an unripe persimmon, and you’ll sound like the “mehwage bwings us toogethaa” guy from The Princess Bride for an hour). Hillsboro’s concession stand has been open since 5:30, though, and offers pizza with a variety of toppings. That’s what I call service!
Elsewhere tonight, 4 other cross-town rivalries: Herculaneum vs. St. Pius, Jefferson vs. Crystal City, Fox vs. Seckman, and powerful Park Hills Central visits the Potosi Trojans, who would be well advised to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Biggest crowd of the season to date! Hillsboro’s marching band is a well-organized ruckus, and the FHS pep squad has made the trip in full force. A raucous atmosphere for a game with conference title and postseason implications. Given the circumstances, your humble narrator will try to faithfully document the action without his usual malfeasance.
The Tigers receive and begin by pushing the ball to midfield, then pinning the Hawks on their own 3 yard line with a rolling punt by QB Andrew Hayden.
But Hillsboro QB Sam Mock makes an option fake and runs for 81 yards on the next play, setting up the hosts a mere 16 yards from the Festus endzone.
The drive has immediately stalled. Mock attempts a 4th-and-long pass to WR Jake Madding, but the ball is just off the senior’s fingertips, and the Tigers have dodged a Hawken bullet.
Jarrett Johnson already has 3 carries for 1st downs, but Festus has yet to involve Jaden Reddick on offense. Likewise, star RB Walsh has no touches for Hillsboro. Seems that both coaching staffs do not want to overuse their workhorses early.
The Hawks’ offense has faced tough down and distance a few times, but is finding ways to hang on to the ball. On 3rd-and-11 at midfield, Mock swings a wide lateral to junior RB Trey Terry, who dives across the sideline marker for a 1st down.
A sack by FHS senior Logan Reynolds has put the Hawks in a 4th-and-10, deep in Tiger territory. The hosts try another pass over the top, this time wildly overthrown.
It appears as if those kicking tees are missing after all.
Hillsboro’s offense is advancing the ball but can’t get on the scoreboard. This is either good news or bad news for the Tigers. If the Black and Gold can’t finish their drives, the ‘D could eventually buckle as in Week 1 vs. Westminster. But if the offense can get rolling, they can potentially take the driver’s seat. The Hawks are driving on needles and pins.
With no score 4 minutes into the 2nd quarter, Festus loads up the new shotgun package with Johnson at QB. A fine diving catch by senior receiver Colter Eggemeyer gives the visitors a 1st down on the Hillsboro 42.
Touchdown! 2 more receptions by Eggemeyer and senior Jordan Wilkes, followed by a 14 yard gallop by Jaden Reddick. Festus leads 7-0.
Hillsboro responds with a 45 yard touchdown run by Walsh, on only his 4th carry. The Hawks try for a 2 point conversion, but botch a toss to the RB. The Tigers cling to a 7-6 advantage.
Did we mention old-guard kicking tactics? Luby squibs the ensuing kickoff to Festus junior Zach Derousse, who returns it to the Hillsboro 48.
Jarrett Johnson is shining. Two option carries for 10 yards each will give the Tigers a 1st down on the Hawk 28.
Johnson scores! The hot hand takes a direct snap and rumbles 28 yards on “student body right,” a play where everyone including the cheerleaders block around right end. FHS 14, HHS 6.
The half ends on a weird snafu. Hayden lobs a home run ball for Colter Eggemeyer in the left corner of the end zone. Eggemeyer and Hawk linebacker Clayton Vassalii appear to simultaneously catch the pass, which by rule would amount to a Festus touchdown as tie goes to the intended receiver. But officials seem confused. The signal comes up as an interception, then a TD, then again an interception.
Coaches are stalking out to scream at the zebras. A riot of both cheering sections also seems imminent, except for grownups who do not feel like running around.
In any case, the score at halftime: 14-6 for the Tigers.
The visitors’ frustration is salved almost immediately to start the 3rd quarter. Sophomore safety Elijah Richeson forces a fumble, recovered by senior handyman Alex Keathley at midfield.
The Tigers have driven to the Hillsboro 1 yard line, where they face a 4th-and-goal. Tiger HC Russ Schmidt has made a cautious but potentially wise decision to attempt a short field goal.
At home, facing a lonely underdog, Schmitt would likely call for a run up the middle, banking on either a touchdown or at least sticking the opponent with poor field position. However, vs. a dangerous Hillsboro side and a hostile crowd, a field goal extends the lead to 2 scores and does not give the Hawks a chance to make a momentum-changing play.
All-purpose man Hayden connects from 19 yards. Festus leads 17-6.
Hillsboro kick returner Terry attempts to field the ensuing kickoff at his 5 yard line, but muffs the catch. With the Tigers closing in, Terry is forced to cover the ball at his own 1 yard line.
The decision to kick a field goal is looking pretty good already.
The Hawks punt out of their own endzone. With excellent field position and an 11 point lead, it feels like time to give it to the big man at fullback. Jaden Reddick carries the ball for gains of 10, 8, 3, and 5 yards, then bursts in from the 1 yard line to start the 4th quarter. Tigers lead 24-6.
Festus junior Rob Robinson has intercepted a Sam Mock pass attempt and returned it to the Hillsboro 3. Guess who — Reddick plunges ahead for the score on 3rd down, and the boys have a commanding 31-6 advantage.
Mock is now 0-for-9 passing, with an interception and 4 sacks-against.
There is a scant 9 minutes on the clock, but the Hillsboro Hawks are a proud program, and proud programs do not give up. Senior Hawk RB Seth Casselman scores from 45 yards out, followed by a 2-point conversation from Walsh to make it 31-14.
Robinson fumbles a carry at the Hillsboro 47, followed by a late change-of-possession signal from the head referee. In the resulting confusion, Mock finds Walsh behind a disjointed Tiger secondary for a 53 yard score on the hosts’ 1st pass completion of the night.
The expected 2-point conversion try goes nowhere, but what looked like a breezy win is now a crisis for the Black and Gold. The lead is down to 11 with 7 minutes to go.
The home crowd is roaring for a comeback, but the Hawks find themselves outplayed on special teams yet again. A seemingly successful on-sides kick attempt is called back on an offsides penalty, and the next effort squirts too far downfield, recovered by Festus senior Jordan Wilkes.
Won’t this game ever end? With 3 minutes left, a desperate Hillsboro pass attempt ends with a fumble by Chris Walsh at midfield, recovered by a johnny-on-the-spot Keathley.
The Tigers face a 4th-and-1 at the opposing 40 yard line, with 2 minutes left.
St. Louis Cardinals football historians might recall the dark day in 1973 when Head Coach Don Coryell, leading the Philadelphia Eagles by a touchdown with :59 remaining, made the dubious decision to go for it on 4th down and short, leading to an embarassing loss. For this and other reasons, The Geek is of the opinion that punting the Hawks deep is the best choice.
Then again, the ’73 Cardinals weren’t averaging 300+ rushing yards a game. Reddick plunges straight ahead for a 1st down, and that’s all she wrote. Final score: Tigers 31, Hawks 20.
Jarrett Johnson finishes with 146 yards on 20 carries, and Jaden Reddick is now top-15 in St. Louis area scoring, with 10 touchdowns on the young season.
Scoreboard check: Jefferson struggles but gets past Crystal City 21-14, Fox defeats Seckman 21-14, St. Pius edges a resurgent Herky squad 28-20. Are the handegg gods tired of lopsided scores? Maybe, maybe not — Park Hills Central crushes Potosi, 36 to 3.
Slinking around the locker room, The Geek overhears a pair of triumphant Tigers in conversation.
One complains about being hungry, leading his teammate to retort, “Dude. We just beat Hillsboro, gnomesayin!”
Yup, kids. We just beat Hillsboro, gnomesayin?
The 4-1 Festus Varsity Tigers will next host North County on Homecoming Friday, and a win clinches the Mississippi Red Large Schools conference championship! Come to the gala, but also check back on Monday 9/29 for another installment of The Mane.