Football: No. 1 St. Paul runs over No. 9 Kennedy 54-14
With St. Paul High School's four-year stint at the 2A Classification likely coming to an end this year, the football team entered Friday's game looking at their final opportunity to take a win from their Tri-River rivals in Mount Angel.
The No. 1 Buckaroos (6-0, 2-0 Tri-River) made up for it and then some on senior night at the St. Paul Rodeo Grounds, defeating the No. 9 Kennedy Trojans 54-14 to tighten their grip on the top spot in the conference standings and in the state rankings.
"We've never beaten them since we moved up to 2A, so that was a huge motivation," St. Paul Head Coach Tony Smith said.
Although the Trojans (1-5, 1-1 Tri-River) are experiencing a down year after back-to-back 10-win seasons, Kennedy proved they are still dangerous in the Tri-River Conference after coming off a 42-14 win in their league opener against Central Linn. Add in a 3-0 record against St. Paul since 2014, and the Bucks had no reason to take the visiting Trojans lightly on Friday night.
"They've been one of the finest programs in the state," Smith said.
For Smith's son, senior quarterback Holden Smith, the thought of picking up his first win over Kennedy was enticing, but not as much as simply closing out the week with another victory, regardless of the opponent.
"I can't say I didn't think about it. It would be nice, but honestly I'm just focused on being 1-0 at the every week and try not to think about that kind of stuff," Holden Smith said.
St. Paul finished the game in their usual dominating fashion, picking up their sixth consecutive victory by 30 or more points. Despite the big margin of victory, Kennedy did something to St. Paul that no other team has done this season — score first.
After opening the game by holding the Bucks to a turnover on downs, Kennedy quickly marched down the field behind the strength of sophomore Emorej Lynk. The quarterback-turned-running back carried the ball five times for 61 yards, capped by a 10-yard touchdown run that put the Trojans ahead 7-0 and forced St. Paul to play from behind for the first time this season.
St. Paul responded the way they have all season, with big plays behind a strong offensive line that allow their offensive weapons to work their magic. The Bucks returned the favor on their next drive, scoring on a two-yard dive from junior Justin Herberger to tie the score.
St. Paul went on to score the next 48 straight points to turn a tight contest into another blowout for a team that leads the 2A in scoring.
"They're physical and they do things the right way," Kennedy Head Coach Joe Panuke said. "Our guys played hard, we come out, go down and score. They made some adjustments and we tried to make some, and they executed better than we did tonight."
Following the score, St. Paul was able to bottle Kennedy's offense and rely on big plays from Herberger and sophomore Saul Martinez, who marched down the field to score again on a 12-yard run from Herberger to make it 14-7.
On the ensuing drive, St. Paul held Kennedy to three-and-out to get the ball back near midfield, setting up the play of the game. Following a seven-yard run from Martinez, Holden Smith threw to Jaidyn Jackson on the sideline for a routine out pattern. The junior receiver leapt with outstretched hands to pop the ball up twice before pulling it off his fingertips and tip-toeing the sideline 43 yards for the touchdown, and the rout was on.
"I just try to get him the ball," Holden Smith said. "He's an excellent receiver, so if I get it out there, he'll make a play on it. It's not much work on my part. I can trust him to make an excellent play."
Herberger added touchdown runs of 29 and 46 yards, while Holden Smith connected with tight end Campbell Smith for his second touchdown pass of the night to make it a 41-7 game. The scoring run was capped by a 14-yard touchdown run from Martinez to give St. Paul a 48-7 lead with 2:38 left in the third quarter.
Kennedy's Bryce Vandervoort ended the run with a touchdown of his own, and St. Paul's Spencer Curtis added a five-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to bring the game to its final margin.
"Obviously St. Paul is a good football team," Panuke said after the game. "They do what they do, and they do it well. We gave up some big plays, play action wise and plays over the top that got us down. You know we're not that team that's going to put up a bunch of points on the board in a hurry. We're a grind-it-out football team."
Herberger led all players with 12 carries for 210 yards and four touchdowns, while Martinez added 153 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries as the Buckaroos racked up 634 yards of offense. Holden Smith was 7-of-16 for 116 yards and two touchdowns, finding Jackson three times for 85 yards and a score, and Campbell Smith for three catches and a score.
Defensively, Jackson led the team with two interceptions, while Alex Dela Cerda had a team-high 10 tackles.
For Kennedy, Lynk had 67 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 59 yards on four catches. Vandervoort led the team with 78 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts. Freshman quarterback Dylan Kleinschmit was 7-of-15 for 80 yards.
Moving forward, St. Paul finishes the season with two straight road games, beginning this Friday at No. 10 Central Linn (3-3, 1-1 Tri-River).
"We just have to get better every week and come out next week with the mentality that we're going to win," Holden Smith said.
For Kennedy, the team is still very much in the playoff race despite their record. The Trojans are possess a lofty ranking due to a difficult non-conference slate, and four games against the Tri-River Conference will only add to their strength of schedule.
The Trojans close out the season with three straight home games, beginning with a non-conference game against the 3A Colton Vikings (3-3, 1-2 PacWest) this Friday. After that, it's back-to-back games against No. 6 Santiam and Regis.
"I think those are winnable games for us and we can be right there," Panuke said. "Maybe we're not at the top of the 2A, but I definitely think we're a 2A playoff team and we'll get in there."