The St. Thomas More Cavaliers know they are in a must-win situation, sitting in ninth place as they look to make the eight-team Class A playoff field.
After a slow start against Hot springs Friday night at Dutton Field, the Cavaliers took care of business, scoring 28 points in the second quarter and stopping the Bison 37-7.
Now it is a matter of winning their final two games and getting a little help. If they do that, the Cavs will be playing postseason football once again.
“We have our focus going for us for the very next game; we can’t look forward to the playoffs because we haven’t made it there yet,” STM senior defensive lineman Christian Simunek said. “We have to keep our focus on the very next game and we’ll get there.”
It was an interesting start as Hot Springs, 2-5, gave the Cavaliers, 5-2, all they could handle through the first eight minutes of play. The only score of the first quarter came on a 32-yard field goal by STM’s Joe Poepel.
But St. Thomas More, behind the strong pitch-and-catch combination between sophomore quarterback Ryder Kirsch and senior wide receiver Thomas Rafferty, began to open things up.
Midway through the second quarter, Kirsch connected with Rafferty on an 18-yard touchdown pass, followed by a beautifully executed 66-yard TD reception to Rafferty just two minutes later.
The scores were set up by two straight three-and-outs by the STM defense.
“After the first quarter we just kind of kicked it in gear,” Kirsch said. “Our defense started getting stops and we just found a way to start scoring on offense.”
Kirsch was 9-of-17 passing for 127 yards overall, with much of the damage done in the second quarter. He also scored on a 2-yard keeper and hit sophomore Grant Huber on a 34-yard touchdown pass with a minute remaining until halftime.
In the second quarter, Kirsch was 7-of-10 passing for 102 yards and three scores.
“Our line did really good and our wide receivers got open,” Kirsch said. “It was pretty easy for me to make the open pass when I have that much time.”
Kirsch, who moved into the starting lineup at quarterback in the fourth game this season, is getting more reps now, which has him more comfortable.
“The team believes in me, so I go off and that helps me each game,” Kirsch said.
After no scoring in the third quarter, STM ran out to a 37-0 lead early in the fourth on a 17-yard TD run by Larson, who finished with 108 yards rushing on 15 carries.
The Bison’s lone offensive highlight came on an impressive 58-yard touchdown run by junior Morgan Harkless, who played most of the game at quarterback, before switching to tailback. Harkless led Hot Springs with 101 yards on 13 carries.
St. Thomas More coach Wayne Sullivan said he was pleased with how his team responded in the second quarter.
“I told them all that Hot Springs was going to come and give us their best game, and they played well in that first quarter. They shut us down,” Sullivan said. “We had to go to some of our ground game to try to get things going and get the juices flowing. Then in the second quarter we opened it up a little bit. We were seeing something that we knew we could go to and Ryder hit some good passes with Thomas Rafferty, and that got everybody fired up.”
Sullivan said they have been seeing good things from the team in the last few weeks after the slow 1-2 start.
“Our team energy, our chemistry, has really come together; they are playing as a unit now and knowing their roles and that is huge in football. We discussed that coming out,” he said. “We have great individual players, but until you come together as a team, we’re not going to know how good we are. We saw that in the second quarter.”
Hot Springs coach Ben Kramer said you can’t give STM an inch because the Cavaliers will capitalize on mistakes.
“That is what they are good at, that’s what they always have been good at,” Kramer said. “Our problem is we make a lot of mistakes.”
Kramer said they see flashes from his young team. But he also sees too many mistakes as they try to compensate for their youth.
“They act like they are figuring it out and we will drive a little bit or make a big stop, and then we’ll make a mistake,” he said. “It’s not 11 guys playing together. We have guys trying to make up for some of our youth or something like that. We have too many guys trying to do too many things, instead of just doing their job. It’s an overused cliché, but if anything, the quote makes sense. In football, you have to do your job.”
STM finished with 295 yards of total offense, holding the Bison to 207 yards. Hot Springs had just 42 yards in the first half, with a bulk of their yardage in the fourth quarter.
“We’re a nasty defense,” Simunek said. “If we keep our heads all together, we will work together as one unit. We keep it strong up front and our defensive backs, we rely on them. If we stop them up front, it is going to be hard to beat us.”
St. Thomas More returns to action Friday at Belle Fourche, while Hot Springs hosts Douglas.