So close, so far! A third down pass goes off a Trojan receiver’s hands late in the third quarter.
ST. IGNACE—The big bell at McCann Field here tolled for Forest Park on Nov. 11, counting out their season after a 27-14 loss to St. Ignace in a Division 8 regional championship game.
On that night, the football angels seemed to be working for the Saints: St. Ignace won the turnover battle and made most of the big plays, especially late in the game.
St. Ignace, still undefeated at 12-0, will face Fowler (10-2) in Traverse City Nov. 19 in a Division 8 semifinal game. Meanwhile, the Trojans end their 2011 season with a 9-2 record.
“Things did not go the way we had expected them or had prepared,” Coach Bill Santilli said as the bell rang behind him. “The Saints capitalized on a lot of our mistakes. They pinned us deep. We put the ball on the ground way too many times tonight.
“They played a good game tonight. We needed to play at the top of our game, and unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
The teams played to a 7-7 tie in the first half, and the Trojans were lucky to still be level. In the first quarter, the ball barely left the Trojan end--bad field position on both offense and defense gave Forest Park little room for error.
Two plays into the game, Jacob Siler fumbled, and the Saints took the ball at the Trojan 34. John Eby’s pass to Parker Simmons earned a first down at the Trojan 10—but a false start pushed them back, and they never got any closer. A 32-yard field goal try was no good.
Soon, the Saints’ Curtis St. Louis returned a punt 23 yards to the Trojan 32. Four plays later, Eby passed to Simmons down the right side for a 21-yard touchdown. Cody Therrian’s kick put St. Ignace ahead 7-0.
Late in the first, Trojans QB Michael Smithson passed up the middle to Derek Aberly for 24 yards—but the ball came loose when he was hit, and the Saints recovered near midfield.
Turnabout is fair play: Early in the second quarter, Matthew Sawyer recovered a Saints fumble at the St. Ignace 48, giving the Trojans their best field position so far.
FP’s offense, which had done very little to that point, got in gear. Siler ran for two first downs, and Smithson’s pass to Alex Takala led to 3rd and 3 at the Saints 13. Siler burst through the left side for the score, and Jeff Johnson’s kick tied the game at 7-7.
Late in the half, Zach Painter ran back a punt 20 yards to the Saints 35, and Jed Mongar took the first down handoff 26 yards to the St. Ignace 9. First and goal! A go-ahead score just before halftime? No! The Saints defense stopped four Trojan running plays—Johnson, Siler twice and a pitch to Mongar—to keep it tied 7-7.
Early in the second half, the Trojan offense got rolling again, with Siler and Dennis Mongar taking it to the Saints 35. But a bad handoff hit the ground, and the Saints Dylan Leveille recovered at their 34.
Forest Park lost three fumbles during the game, but Santilli said this one hurt the most. “We came out, we were moving the ball and picked up a first down. Instead of two-yard and three-yard runs, we had an eight, a nine, a 14, a five. It seemed like we had things going our way.
“And then we gave it back to them.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, St. Ignace capitalized on the second play: Eby passed down the left side to Simmons. Cole Noblet was covering him but slipped and fell, leaving Simmons all alone for a 66-yard touchdown. The kick put St. Ignace ahead 13-7.
“Talk about two plays that will stay in my mind for a long time!” said Santilli. “There were many of them, but those two right there were huge momentum swings.”
FP’s offense got back to work. Dennis Mongar gained 31 yards to the Saints 47. Another Mongar carry got a first down at the 34, but St. Ignace’s run defense didn’t let the Trojans inside their 29, and Smithson’s fourth down pass to Aberly fell incomplete.
Siler’s interception at the FP 42 gave the Trojans another chance, but two more penalties ended it. Austin Snell’s 40-yard punt buried the Saints deep in their end at the 18—but on first down, St. Louis took the ball around the right side and down the sideline 73 yards to the Trojan 9. Two plays later, St. Louis ran a counter around right end for a seven-yard TD. The kick missed, but the Saints now led 19-7 with 10:09 left.
Starting from their 22, FP got its ground game going, with Siler and Dennis Mongar getting most of the handoffs. Mongar gained 32 to the Saints 22. Three plays later, on 2nd and 8 at the 10, Smithson passed to Tyler Lovato for the score. Johnson’s kick cut St. Ignace’s lead to 19-14 with 6:21 left.
The Trojans tried to get the ball back with an onside kick--sort of. Cody McGregor’s high, looping kick bounced off a Saints lineman back towards the Trojans. “We had three guys who were around it,” said Santilli, “but we just didn’t get on the ball.” The ball bounced past the onrushing Trojans, and a Saints blocker covered it at their 33.
“It was just another of those breaks that just didn’t happen.”
Instead, FP’s defense intensified the pressure. A penalty and FP’s Zach Painter tackle for a six-yard loss led to 3rd and 17 at the Saints 26—but Eby’s screen pass to Joe Ostman earned 36 yards and a first down at the Trojans 38.
Forest Park again forced 3rd and 9—only to see Eby pass down the right side to St. Louis at the 5. Richard Bentley scored on the next play, and a two-point pass made it 27-14; a two-possession game with 2:11 left. The Trojans turned the ball over on downs, and then it was time to line up for handshakes.
“They made the big plays when they had to,” said Santilli. “Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Forest Park had a slight edge in total yards, with 311 (49 for 258 rushing) to St. Ignace’s 300 (31 for 115 rushing) and a 12-9 lead in first downs.
Siler ran 27 times for 119 yards, Dennis Mongar was 13 for 102, and Jed Mongar ran 7 for 34. Smithson completed 4 of 10 passes for 53 yards—Aberly, Lovato, Alex Takala and Siler had one catch each.
For St. Ignace, Simmons had three catches for 117 yards and two scores. St. Louis led the ground game with 9 for 96.
On defense, Siler had five tackles and two assists, Lee Graff was 5-1, Zach Painter, 4-2, and Sawyer was 3-1. Siler had an interception, Sawyer recovered the fumble, John Takala had a sack, and Painter had two tackles for losses.
The most important statistic, though, were the fumbles. Forest Park fumbled the ball four times and lost three. St. Ignace fumbled three times, lost just one—and gained yardage on the other two. Those football angels at work for the Saints, again.
“They didn’t surprise us with what they did,” said Santilli. “They just executed very well and created their own momentum.”
This will be the first year since 2003 when Forest Park will not reach the state semifinals. By the impossibly high standard the Trojans have set for themselves over the last decade, what would be a dream season for any other team is disappointing to Forest Park. The players felt that heartbreak—many of them were in tears after the final horn.
“Yes, we had another great year,” said Santilli. “I thought we really made a lot of improvement after the Hurley loss.”
But it also continues a long pattern of the Trojans not being able to put together complete performances in consecutive playoff games. The Trojans, he said, had played so well and with such confidence against North Dickinson the week before, dominating the game—but made mistake after mistake at St. Ignace.
“The effort was there, but the results weren’t there. I wish I had an answer for some of those things.”
Trojans 0 7 0 7 -- 14
Saints 7 0 6 14 -- 27