You’ll have to forgive players from the St. Mary football team for being late to school on Friday.
Thursday was a very, very long day.
The Cardinals are looking to get back to the Dakota Dome for the Class 9B football championship game for the first time since 2009. After a forfeit win in the opening round of this year’s postseason on Oct. 22, St. Mary’s next hurdle was a game in Faith, located in northwest South Dakota, in the state quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Thursday started normally for the Cardinals, for about 10 minutes. Players were dismissed from school at 8:35 a.m. and headed to a charter bus that awaited them to make the trek west river.
An overnight stay wasn’t an option, so the Cardinals were looking at a six-hour bus trip to Faith, with a playoff football game sandwiched between the six-hour trip back to Dell Rapids.
The giddy traveling party was set to begin the trip, but center Jon Bares was on the receiving end of the team singing “Happy Birthday.” Moments later, Father Shane Stevens blessed the team before the bus left the school grounds at 9 a.m.
NEVER BEEN WEST RIVER
For many on the team, the trip to Faith was the first time they’d been west of the Missouri River in South Dakota, and it was their first time through Chamberlain to see the majestic scenery that greets passengers heading into the Mountain time zone.
The team stopped at the Dignity statue in Chamberlain. They took in the sculpture and the Lewis and Clark lookout. During their walking tour of the area, running back Connor Libis said the team took a keen interest in a “Beware of Poisonous snakes” sign.
After pulling up stakes in Chamberlain, the Cardinals continued west. Members of the team figured out how to work the volume and surround sound on the bus, and the movie “Facing the Giants” played. A stop in Philip at 1:45 for snacks and fuel brought another eye-opener for the team.
This time, however, it wasn’t poisonous snakes. It was a coyote. With some extra time, several team members walked down Philip’s main street where they noticed a “Coyote Calling Contest” sign on a bulletin board. Libis said a local convenience store worker was able to explain what that meant.
After a brief chuckle, the Cardinals re-boarded the bus with Faith in their crosshairs.
ARRIVING IN FAITH
About one hour out from Faith, the vibe in the bus reached a new level. Libis said it was his favorite part of the trip as he said he could feel the intensity and excitement rise and the bus lag disappear.
The team arrived in Faith at 3:45 p.m. and after a quick snack, they had a brief walk-through in the Faith gymnasium. Faith was in the same gymnasium, which made for a few awkward moments during the walk-through.
At 5:45, St. Mary was on the field warming up, and at 6:30, the quarterfinal match was underway.
CARDINALS OPEN BIG LEAD, ONTO SEMIS
St. Mary was in control from the start against Faith and built the lead to 34-8 in the second half. It was an impressive start for the Cardinals who’ve played just one game in 41 days due to COVID-19 cancellations.
The Longhorns cut it to 34-22 in the fourth quarter, but a Libis touchdown run with just over five minutes to play made it 40-22.
“We knew we would be a little rusty here and there, and we were,” said head coach Ross Flemmer, who in his 21 years at St. Mary had never coached a game west river. “We weren’t too panicked, we were more along the lines of ‘let’s get our focus back.’ They had a good team, but we missed out on some opportunities to put that game out of reach early.”
After the 40-22 win, the Cardinals met with the large contingent of fans on the field that made the trip from Dell Rapids.
“There were a lot of people that I did not think would be at that game,” Libis said. “They were there, so that’s pretty cool.”
Libis finished with three rushing touchdowns while Noah Olund and C.J. Smith had one each. Libis said his knees felt the punishment of so many carries, and he’s…
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