St. Paul begins title chase with blowout
ST. PAUL — The St. Paul football team wasn't always crisp, but in the end they were dominant Saturday in a 46-13 first-round playoff victory over visiting Lost River.
The No. 1 Buckaroos hurt themselves with penalties, turned the ball over twice and struggled to deal with the No. 16 Raiders' power running attack at times in the first half, but still led 27-13 after two quarters.
St. Paul cleaned things up on both sides of the ball in the second half and outscored Lost River 19-0 to roll into the second round of the 2A state playoffs.
"That definitely wasn't our cleanest win," junior Justin Herberger said. "We have to take care of the ball and limit the mistakes, but it's just 1-0. We have to focus on next week now."
After seeing their first drive stall near midfield, the Bucks mixed the run and the pass well on their second possession, which ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Holden Smith to Jaidyn Jackson.
After forcing a three and out, St. Paul kickstarted its second drive with a 40-yard pass to Jackson, but a fumble in the backfield put the Bucks behind the chains deep in Raider territory. Facing fourth down and 16 from the 21-yard line, tight end Campbell Smith connected with Herberger on a reverse pass for 18 yards. T.J. Crawford then went around the right end for three-yard score on the next play to make it 14-0.
Most times this season, St. Paul opponents have withered when falling behind early, but Lost River (3-7) answered on the very next play, catching the Bucks with a play-action pass that went 51 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead in half.
St. Paul was on its way to a third consecutive drive before a fumble gave the Raiders a reprieve at their own 21-yard line.
The Buckaroo defense quickly forced another three and out, however, and St. Paul took advantage of a short field to go up 21-7 on a two-yard Herberger run with 8:36 left in the second quarter.
The two teams then traded punts before Lost River found some success with its running game, as the strength of its team was clearly along their hefty offensive and defensive lines. The Raiders ran on seven out of eight plays amid a 68-yard scoring drive that made it 21-13 with 2:09 remaining before halftime.
"They were a physical team," Herberger said. "They were one of the most physical teams we've seen all year, if not the most physical, and they played a good game."
Returning the favor from earlier, Smith hit Herberger with a pass on the next play and the speedy running back took it the rest of the way for a 77-yard touchdown to make it 27-13, with the extra point failing.
The half ended with the two teams trading interceptions on back-to-back plays, as Jaidyn Jackson nearly broke free for a long return before being pushed out of bounds near midfield after time had expired.
It was all St. Paul in the second half, though, as the Bucks opened the half by forcing a turnover on downs. That set up a 55-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 19-yard Saul Martinez run that saw him break three or four tackles en route to the end zone to make it 33-13.
Lost River did hit a 30-yard pass to drive all the way to the St. Paul 10-yard line on the next possession, but the Bucks forced holding penalties on consecutive plays, ultimately leading to a Raiders punt.
Three plays later, Smith hit Jackson for a 60-yard bomb, though the team's extra point woes continued to make it 39-13 with 16 seconds left in the third.
St. Paul recovered a fumble early in the fourth and drained most of the remaining time off the clock with a 12-play drive scoring drive, as Herberger ran it in from seven yards out to bring the final score to 46-13.
"They're the 16 seed in the playoffs, but they're not the 16th best team in the state," Holden Smith said. "They're as tough as any team we played. They're a good team."
Smith finished 8 for 17 for 266 yards and three touchdowns, with Jackson hauling in five receptions for 150 yards and two scores.
Herberger tallied 148 yards and two scores on the ground and caught two passes for 94 yards and another touchdown as the Bucks racked up 305 yards on the ground and 588 yards of total offense.
"We weren't throwing the ball as well as we'd like early, but the run game always helps out with the pass game when your running backs are running hard and causing guys to step up," Holden Smith said. "It all fell into place for us and we liked how it turned out."
St. Paul (9-0), will play No. 9 Heppner, a 54-20 winner over Neah-Kah-Nie, at 1 p.m. Saturday at the rodeo grounds. The Bucks blanked the Mustangs 40-0 in the opening game of the season, but saw in the opening round that every playoff opponent will find ways to challenge them.
"I'm just glad we got the win," Holden Smith said. "It was a 1-0 effort. There are things that we didn't like, but we're just going to watch the film and get better and get ready for next week."