By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
ORRICK - The Bishop LeBlond football team scored the game's first points, overcame an early 10-point deficit and scored 14 unanswered in the second half to knock off previously unbeaten Orrick, 50-38, in the Missouri 8-man District 3 championship on Simmons Field at Orrick High School Friday night.
It's the first 8-man district title for LeBlond in school history, and the school's first district title in football since 1993.
"It's a huge testament to these guys," LeBlond coach Chuck Davis said on KFEQ Radio after. "The seniors I have this year, when they were in eighth grade, we won zero games. Their freshman year, we won two. To go to back-to-back district championships, it's fitting and deserving that we got one and those guys steered the ship."
LeBlond went on offense to start the game, and scored on just seven plays. Faced with an early fourth down in the red zone, senior quarterback Landon Gardner found sophomore receiver Jacob Winkelbauer in the end zone on a jump ball from 11-yards out to give the Eagles a 6-0 advantage with 10:08 left in the first quarter.
Orrick (11-1) scored touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, and converted each of their first two-point tries to go up 16-6 with 1:37 left in the first. LeBlond went three-and-out on its second series, which helped aid the Bearcats' fast start.
LeBlond (9-3) started their third possession on their own 33-yard line and proceeded to score touchdowns on each of their next six drives.
Down 16-6 late in the first, it took the Eagles just one play to get back to within single digits. Gardner fired a deep pass down the sideline to an open Jake Korell, who went 57 yards to the house to make it a 16-12 game at the end of one quarter.
That was just for starters.
Friday's district title had two ties and six total lead changes. Orrick made its first major mistake early in the second when junior running back Jaxon Miller went back to pass and threw an interception deep down the field.
The ball was picked off by Gardner, and he and the LeBlond offense engineered a 7-play, 57-yard drive after that. That drive was ended by a 12-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Korell. The two-point try was good, and LeBlond took the lead at 20-16 with 7:53 left in the second quarter.
LeBlond led again 28-24 with 1:28 left until halftime after a three-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Carson Staggs, but Orrick had one final drive in them before the break. As time expired in the second quarter, Miller ran a counter play to the left and scored on a rushing touchdown from two yards away.
The ensuing two-point try failed, but Orrick went into the locker room up 30-28.
The Bearcats got the ball to start the second half and drove into the LeBlond red zone, but a lost fumble by Nolan Werle was recovered by LeBlond's Max Bachali.
The Eagles turned the second Bearcat turnover into points. A 5-play, 87-yard march, sparked by a 36-yard reception from Korell, was capped off by Staggs' second rushing touchdown of the game, this one from two yards away, and that gave LeBlond a 36-30 lead with 7:27 left in the third.
Staggs finished the game with nine carries for 46 yards and two touchdowns.
Orrick had fight left in them. The Bearcats drove 65 yards on six plays on the next possession, as Miller scored his fourth touchdown of the game from 23 yards out on a fourth down run to put Orrick back in front 38-36 with 3:02 left in the third.
LeBlond had the answer in just two plays. After a solid kick return by Jackson Sigrist set LeBlond up at their own 39, Gardner found Korell for yet another deep ball, this one from 29 yards out, and Korell came down with it in the end zone.
The successful two-point conversion gave LeBlond a 44-38 lead entering the fourth.
Orrick began the fourth quarter with the ball and pieced together what was a 15-play drive that bled nearly seven minutes of clock. But, on a fourth-and-goal from the 10, Orrick quarterback Zander Stevinson threw a ball toward the end zone that was tipped away by the Eagles, allowing LeBlond to take over on downs.
The Eagles salted the game away with a seven-play, 70-yard drive. On a third-and-short, Gardner ran the ball into the end zone from five yards out, making it 50-38 with 2:37 to play.
Orrick had one final drive, and they made it inside the LeBlond 10-yard line. In the final seconds, the Bearcats tried for one last rushing score, but Miller was stood up at the goal line, and LeBlond walked off the field in celebration.
"It's been awhile since we've had to play with our backs against the wall," Davis said. "I thought our guys did a fantastic job of stepping up tonight."
Gardner led the LeBlond offensive attack, completing 8-of-14 passes for 203 yards and four touchdowns. Korell was his top target, as he finished with five receptions for 144 yards and three scores.
"We had a lot of momentum," Korell said. "We had a lot of guys on defense who were being really physical and getting stops and beating on them. We just tried to put it to them on offense and it worked out."
Gardner also carried the ball 14 times for 116 yards and the late touchdown.
Miller was a work horse for Orrick. Coming into Friday's game with over 2,100 rushing yards on the season, Miller ended his junior season with 39 carries for 213 yards and four touchdowns.
Stevinson, who had missed at least one series in the first half with an injury, completed 7-of-10 passes for 86 yards. He also had 10 carries for 40 yards and a score.
LeBlond will now play at Sweet Springs (8-4) for a state semifinal on Saturday, November 26 at 1 p.m.
Either way, in just its fourth season as an 8-man program, the Eagles are one win away from playing for a state championship at Faurot Field in Columbia on Dec. 1. Korell credits the other senior leaders and coaches for making the opportunity possible.
"They give it their all to make sure we're prepared," he said. "It's awesome that we're one of the top four teams in the state and hopefully we can keep it going."
You can follow Tommy on Twitter @TommyKFEQ and St. Joseph Post @StJosephPost.