Huston, The Riders Are Back. St. Marys Hangs On

St. Marys’ Hunter Fraley sacks Kenton quarterback Blaine Huston in the third quarter of a during a Western Buckeye League football game against the Wildcats on Friday at Robinson Field.
Sports Editor

If there was any doubt that this team is for real, Friday extinguished any of those doubts.

In a must-win road game against a state-ranked team, St. Marys overcame obstacle after obstacle — from a fourth-quarter deficit to being mere yards from losing the game — these Roughriders stepped up. These Roughriders are the real deal.

Like he had done all night, Kenton quarterback Blaine Huston marched the Wildcats down the field to set up a game-winning touchdown drive with fewer than 30 seconds left, but on third-and-7, Huston moved up in the pocket, shifting slightly to his right, then slung the ball to the endzone where Ty Howell snatched the pass with his interception putting a dagger in the hearts of Kenton fans.

“You just have to read the receivers and I had seen him look inside so I knew it was coming,” the senior defensive back said after the game. “I had that feeling, I trusted myself and it was there.”

For a team who has and continues to deal with moving parts on its roster and a team that has seen younger players shine, the senior Howell shined on Friday to give the Roughriders their biggest upset in years and put an exclamation point on a 39-34 Western Buckeye League victory against No. 16 ranked Kenton.

“This win was big, big, big. We needed this win to get back on track,” Howell said in excitement.

Indeed it did.

The win puts St. Marys in prime position in the Division III, Region 12 computer rankings. At midnight Saturday, the Roughriders were elevated from eighth place in the beginning of Friday’s game to fourth place as the team looks to control its own destiny in the final four games of the season.

But to get this win on Friday, the Riders needed all of their might.

St. Marys overcame Huston’s 650 passing yards and five touchdowns and the team picked themselves up after losing a 12-point lead in fewer than four minutes to trail by one midway through the fourth quarter.

“There have been a lot of obstacles that we have had with injuries, the road trips early in the year and the changes in personnel, but I am really proud of our kids tonight and how they reacted to all of the tough situations,” Roughriders coach Doug Frye said. “They kept playing the game and that is all I ask of our young men.

“Rather it went well or it didn’t go well the previous play, just come back and play the next one.”

Frye said he was proud of how his team persevered and the way the team adapted to situations. 

“I saw a lot of good teamwork tonight and in the end, that is really what this game is all about,” he added.

St. Marys (4-2, 3-2 WBL) led 33-21 after Dylan Trogdlon hit Howell on a 14-yard halfback pass with 10:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, but it only took Huston and company 41 seconds to begin to erase that deficit when Jacob Eversole caught a bubble pass out to the flats and scampered 64 yards up the field for the score with 9:47 remaining. After a three-and-out by St. Marys, Huston engineered a 66-yard, 9-play drive that yielded Huston’s fifth touchdown pass of the night on a 3-yard out pass to Jayden Cornell with 2:27 remaining. The extra point was good to give Kenton a 34-33 lead.

But a key decision by Frye put the Roughriders in great field position to open their final scoring drive. 

Kenton’s kick was squibbed out of bounds, meaning the ball would be placed at the St. Marys 35-yard line, but Frye declined the penalty and had the Wildcats re-kick. That penalty turned into a difference of 33 yards when Howell grabbed the re-kick and took the ball up to Kenton’s 42 yard line. 

“You play the odds in this game and you go with your gut,” Frye explained. “I was hoping on the kickoff on the return there that we would make them re-kick it and get a good return there. We made some personnel changes and moved more of an athlete up to the front and I thought we that we could get some better field position out of it.

“You are not always going to come up lucky like that, but I thought I would play the odds on that.”

With great field position and plenty of time to kill, the Roughriders offense went to work.

Behind junior halfback Ethan Wedding, the Roughriders gained 38 of their 42-yard scoring drive from Wedding — who was slid over from halfback to fullback beginning on that drive.

“We made a lot of adjustments and changed personnel in the background,” Frye said. “We moved Wedding late in the game over to fullback and we played a number of different halfbacks with Trogdlon and [Carson] Fischbach in the backfield so it was a little reminiscent of what we have done in the past where we put a lot of people in the backfield. The thinking was trying to get the right people the ball at that time.”

Wedding scored the go-ahead touchdown when he leaped over a tackler from four yards out despite coming a yard short of connecting on a two-point try.

With 2:27 remaining, Huston trotted back onto the field to do what he has been doing all night, carve up the St. Marys defense, but while he was going to do that, he was going to pay the price.

“No, no,” Howell proclaimed when asked if the defense was beginning to lose its confidence on that final drive. “Our team stayed up and we stayed active. Communication was good and that is the key.”

And there was a reason for the defense remaining confident because of the pressure it could put on the QB.

“Before that last drive, I told Coach [Nick] Yahl to come after him,” Frye said. “So we were not going to sit back, like maybe we have at times in the past, and play a conservative brand of football. We were going to make them go down the field and if they did, well then the win should have gone to them.”

That philosophy worked before when Huston was pressured into heaving a desperation pass that was picked off in the second quarter by Howell and a rush on the edge from Trey Fisher allowed the senior to tip a Huston pass in the third quarter that was intercepted by Lukas Walter to kill a promising scoring drive inside the 10. Frye made sure Huston felt the pressure with the last play pushing Huston off his mark and up in the pocket, allowing Howell to read the quarterback’s eyes before catching the game-ending interception. 

“Ty Howell made a nice play at the end of the ball game but the pressure on the quarterback was phenomenal,” Frye added. “I thought we were a team tonight and I thought we were becoming a team in the last few weeks. We are starting to gel together, some players are beginning to step up and there have been a lot of situations where we have played a lot of different guys in different positions.

“I thought our quarterback was very composed tonight, he played a great game, I thought Dylan Trogdlon delivered a great ball on that halfback pass and I thought there were a lot of guys who responded to pressure tonight.”