Official blog of the Festus Varsity Football Tigers
By The Gridiron Geek
Friday, August 28th
FHS vs Christian High School, O’Fallon Missouri
For the second year in a row, the Black and Gold must rebound from a frustrating Week 1 loss to the Westminster Wildcats.
Last year in Week 2, the Tigers were able to win the line of scrimmage against finesse-oriented Christian High School in a 50-20 romp, righting the ship at 1-1. However, nagging injuries and a still-convalescing lineup have coaches concerned this time around.
While teams approach every game with the goal of winning by 50 points, tonight The Geek would be happy to see the boys prevail by a touchdown or a field goal.
In the language of High School football, a team is “up” when its most talented players are upperclassmen, preferably seniors. If your most promising athletes are physically immature freshmen and sophomores, your team is “down.”
The FHS Varsity is not exactly pit-of-despair “down” in 2015, but in transition, with more juniors than seniors on the roster and several transfers from other programs still finding their roles.
The hosts, meanwhile, are “up” with 20+ homegrown seniors and a talented senior QB, D.T. Christiansen. That means they will probably give the proud Tigers a tough challenge, despite a Class 3 vs. Class 4 enrollment disadvantage.
The weather absolutely could not be more beautiful. Around 70 degrees and a stiff dry breeze. With August still on the calendar, this feels lucky.
Especially since visiting coaches (and slinky writers) are asked to stay outdoors on top of the press box, with the rest of the spare parts.
Classic setting for Missouri handegg – lovely natural grass field and a healthy crowd.
A heart-warming impromptu block party has broken out among students in the parking lot. Hope they put their Frisbees aside in time to find seats in the crowded bleachers.
Last season, The Geek heard several conflicting versions of the hosting squad’s official school name, from O’Fallon Christian to Living Word Christian Academy of O’Fallon Missouri (LWCAOFM).
This year’s pregame announcements add to the confusion. The home field play-by-play man refers alternately to “Christian High School” and “Christian,” while the teal-adorned pep squad chants “C! H! S!” without mention of any other Words, Living or otherwise, in the school name.
The familiar faces of assistant coaches Naucke and Finch in the press box reassure The Geek he has found the correct stadium, but who knows what to call our opponent?
Given how accurate Christiansen just looked on passing drills in the warmup, let’s call them The Blue Lasers.
The Black and Gold receive good opening field position after a kickoff out-of-bounds, but senior QB Jarrett Johnson misses an open receiver on 2nd down, and junior Logan Byerley punts it away.
The Blue Lasers will punt it right back after a long heave-ho pass misses on 3rd-and-19.
Not a bad play call, though. Often, an eager safety will dive to intercept a 3rd or 4th-down bomb thrown 50 or 60 yards downfield, and get up celebrating…having cost his team valuable field position.
A spirited punt return by senior Zach DeRousse and a nifty option-keeper by Jarrett Johnson put the Tigers in position to threaten the end zone.
But a fumbled pitch halts the FHS drive in its tracks. CHS/LWCAOFM recovers on its own 36.
The dangerous hosts roll down the field with Christiansen hitting his next 5 pass attempts. Festus junior Tyler Rystrom makes a big hit on opposing WR Watson in the red zone, but the effort fails to lift the visitors and Christiansen soon bolts in from the 3 yard line.
Lasers lead 6-0.
Such episodes on the point-after try! The hosts take a penalty on a surprise 2-point effort, then try to kick from the 20 yard line.
The kicker, Harding, scrambles to field a snap over the head, and ends up looking very Super Bowl VII. Score remains 6-0.
The Black and Gold offense is lacking confidence. Penalties and incompletions, and a punt against the wind is downed a mere 30 yards from the Tiger end zone.
Killer play on 2nd-and-long by the visitors. Krisna Mays, a junior receiver, takes a short pass from Christiansen and runs 28 yards to the 2 yard line. The talented QB runs it in again, and a 2-point conversion succeeds to make the score 14-0.
For the second week in a row, the early momentum has turned on a fumbled pitch by the Tigers, and it’s not a picnic trying to grab it back. Still early, though.
Junior Seth Perkins mishandles the ensuing kickoff, and Festus begins inside their own 5.
But finally a spark, as the boys roar toward opposing territory with several nice runs, capped by a 22-yard dash by senior Robbie Robinson to end the 1st quarter.
After an exchange of punts, FHS finally gets the offense rolling with Double-J in the shotgun. A great QB run to the 5 yard line and a spirited TD run by Perkins will cap off the scoring drive. Tigers trail 14-7.
It’s funny how trick plays work. They are always easy to spot – right after the crucial second or two in which the defense can be confused, giving the offense all the time they need to execute a razzle-dazzle.
Mays takes a long lateral from Christiansen that looks like a pass, tricking the Black and Gold defenders into coming up to make a tackle. Whoops, the sophomore WR, Soell, is wide open.
78 yard touchdown, and suddenly the deficit is 21-7.
Johnson makes a great dodging run for 29 yards to the Lasers’ 43, but is intercepted on the next play. The boys are still looking tentative and taking undisciplined penalties on offense, not to mention the turnover bug is biting.
Tigers need something good to happen. Christiansen, on fire, completes a 30-yard bomb, then runs to convert a 3rd down to the FHS 2 yard line.
The QB’s 1-yard TD run makes it 27-7. Extra point misses wide left, but small consolation. Not only is there a 3-touchdown deficit, but the score reminds us of last week’s frustration.
Desperate to get FHS back into it, Johnson throws a bomb to unheralded sophomore WR Matt Rosen, who is open. But at the last moment, Lasers defensive back reaches in the path of the ball, and it bounces incomplete.
Byerley, with the wind behind him, rolls a brilliant punt to the 5 yard line, and the 1st half ends with the Tigers still down by 20.
Halftime and a rough walk trying to get through the massed crowd on the bleachers.
Festus coaches will employ the shotgun-spread section of their patented multiple-offense playbook to try to boost the stagnant attack.
A spread, pass-oriented offense can be a double-edged sword against a quality passing team like CHS/LWCAOFM, because their coaches want to maximize the number of possessions in the game to give Christiansen more opportunities to score.
However, down 20 points there doesn’t seem to be a better alternative. “Open up and go,” as The Geek’s father used to say.
TGG: Football tonight. I’m on the road covering a game. It feels so nice out here.
Non-Sports-Enjoying-Girlfriend (NSEG): Not handegg again! What neighborhood are you in?
TGG: O’ Fallon.
NSEG: Did you say O’ Salad?
TGG: I…yes, O’ Salad.
NSEG: No wonder your Facebook posts are so cheesy.
TGG: It needs a little more dressing. I don’t even know what to call the school. It’s either Christian High School, Christian, or Living Word Christian Academy.
NSEG: That sounds annoying. You should ask someone from O’ Salad.
The Blue Lasers field the 2nd half kickoff, and begin driving to attempt to put the boys away. Christiansen throws complete for a 1st down on 3rd-and-5, and Mays makes another terrific run-after-catch for 31 yards.
The possession is time-consuming, and the Black and Gold are in serious trouble.
Christiansen scores on a 2-yard run. Point-after converts. 34-7.
Is it “Katy-bar the door” or “Katie, bar the door?” It’s hard to write down something you’ve only ever heard said out loud, but if there is a Katie among the FHS managers, administrators and fans in attendance, she should definitely bar the door.
The Varsity Tigers have much more to play for at the moment than simple pride. Not only has the program not suffered a losing season since 1997, it has been a long time (at least 5 seasons) since the team was “clocked” by an opponent.
“Clocked” refers to the running game clock used by MSHSAA to speed up the 2nd half when one team enjoys a 5-touchdown or larger lead. The so-far-shaky confidence of this year’s squad could take another blow if FHS is truly blown out.
More bad juju, padawans. Double-J fumbles an exchange and The Blue Lasers recover on the Festus 36.
Three crucial turnovers on the night. Not only are the boys lacking confidence and momentum, but bad luck seems to be hovering. Will we ever recover a fumble again?
Perhaps aware of the history, the Black and Gold defense has looked up at the scoreboard and growled.
The Lasers are forced into 4th-and-8, and after such a sparkling night from the talented QB, Christiansen suddenly looks confused, throwing a rare incompletion and turning the ball over on downs.
Jarrett Johnson has come alive. Exciting runs of 9, 28, and 6 yards before throwing to seniors Keys and Winters for nice gains into the red zone.
Johnson scores on a 5-yard keeper and sophomore Chase Cole converts. 34-14. Little danger of a running clock now.
The hosts put the game to bed with a 79 yard drive, Christiansen (who else?) taking an option carry 48 yards for a score.
The Tigers score again on a nice 23-yard TD pass from Johnson to senior basketball-transplant Carlos Austin.
Onside kick fails, and your final score is Blue Lasers 41, Tigers 20. Long bus ride home and a big gut-check for the boys as they carry a rare 0-2 start into the Mississippi Conference slate.
Scoreboard check: Next week’s opponent Windsor shows signs of life once again, but falls 49-28 to St. Charles. Hillsboro struggles against much lower-enrollment Fredericktown but eventually pulls away 53-28. Park Hills Central beats Jefferson 43-0, and looks well on their way to another potential undefeated regular season.
The Geek is not ready to give up on this Varsity Tigers season, and neither should you be ready to, padawans.
However it may be time to reset our expectations. Could this Black and Gold team make noise in the MSHSAA playoffs? Sure. With a fine QB and talented athletes coming back from injury, the team could conceivably get hot late in the year.
But a more attainable goal for 2015 is to play well in our conference. With wide talent gaps between regions, states, counties and class enrollment, there are very few level playing fields to be found in high school handegg.
The Mississippi Large Schools Conference, though, is made up of 5 teams with similar locations, demographics, and enrollment numbers. It is as close to a level playing field as we see in this crazy tradition.
Show up on Friday, cubs! The home game against Windsor begins a 4 week conference slate. If the Tigers are going to repeat as Mississippi champs, it has to begin with a win over the Owls.
Tune in next week for more of The Mane, Black and Gold fans. Meanwhile, visit the Black & Gold Bulletin on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fhsblackandgold