Solid defensive play can carry a football team a long way in the postseason.
On Saturday, the St. Mary’s Saints rode a solid defensive effort to a Class AA playoff victory and the beginning of what they hope will be a long postseason run.
The Saints kept a potent Kindred offense off the scoreboard in their 42-0 quarterfinal win at Smrekar Field. St. Mary’s, 6-3 overall, held the visiting Vikings to 137 total yards, forced four turnovers and sacked the quarterback four times. Plus, the defense accounted for one of the five touchdowns the Saints scored on the day.
“People always say it … defense wins championships, and our defense came ready to play today,” said St. Mary’s senior Connor Puetz, a linebacker who scored touchdowns on both sides of the ball on Saturday. “Our coaches did a great job all week preparing us, and we played downhill and physical this whole game. It’s playoff time and we know our defense has to step up if we expect to go far. We’re off to a great start.”
The defense came up with three takeaways in the first half, and the offense converted two of them into 14 points. With St. Mary’s leading 7-0 late in the first quarter, Thomas Jackson intercepted a pass from Kindred quarterback Kadin Olson and returned it to the Saints’ 45. Six plays later, Puetz scored from five yards out with 11:54 remaining in the second quarter.
Three plays after the ensuing kickoff, Puetz stripped the ball away from Olson and lineman Dreyson Owens made the recovery on the Kindred 19. Running back Cullen Curl scored on a 19-yard run on second down, and quarterback Drew Dosch added the 2-point conversion to extend St. Mary’s lead to 21-0. Earlier, Dosch broke loose for a 39-yard scoring run to finish off a 61-yard drive.
The Vikings had some scoring chances in the first half, but couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone. After the Saints took a 7-0 lead, Kindred started its second possession of the game on the St. Mary’s 43 following a 40-yard kickoff return by Gunnar Braaten. However, the Vikings netted a minus-4 yards before St. Mary’s linebacker Brit Senftner intercepted Olson.
Late in the first half, Kindred had a first down on the St. Mary’s 3, but the drive stalled on the 4.
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“We had a very good first half and one of the biggest reasons was our defense,” said St. Mary’s coach Dan Smrekar. “They set up our offense with some turnovers, and when (the Vikings) got close, they pushed them back. That stop we made late in the half was huge. If (the Vikings) had scored, that could have been a momentum-changer.”
It stayed 21-0 before the Saints pulled away with three touchdowns in the final 10:12. After Kindred gambled and lost on a fourth-down play deep in its own territory, Curl capped a 6-play, 21-yard drive with a 1-yard run.
Moments later, Puetz picked off an Olson pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.
Reserve running back Joel Huber closed the scoring with a 55-yard run.
The St. Mary’s offense racked up 250 yards rushing. Curl led the way with 107 on 20 carries.
“Overall it was a very good start to the postseason. We came out fresh, excited and ready to play playoff football,” Smrekar said. “This time of year is when you hope to play your best football.”
The Saints will travel to Hillsboro on Saturday to take on No. 1-ranked and unbeaten Hillsboro-Central Valley in a semifinal game. The two teams met on Sept. 13, with the Burros winning 20-7.
“Our kids are looking forward to the rematch. They felt they could have played much better than they did the first time,” Smrekar said. “Hillsboro is a good team and they really controlled us up front. The defense has to step up and make stops. We can’t let them control the line of scrimmage again.”