By ERIC VICCARO
On a chilly early November night one year ago, Valle Catholic football players left Father John Dempsey Field with a bitter taste in their mouth.
St. Mary’s (St. Louis) walloped Valle Catholic, 55-22, with the Dragons scoring twice on pick-sixes, two Caron Spann pass TD and a 70-yard kickoff return from Kevin Coleman.
Valle Catholic will have another shot to beat St. Mary’s this Friday in the Missouri State High School Activities Association Class 3 District 2 championship game.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“St. Mary’s is a very good football team,” Valle Catholic head coach Judd Naeger said. “They have done a tremendous job up there. It is certainly going to be a tall task, but we have some good players as well, and our schedule has prepared us for this game better than last year.”
Naeger reached a significant coaching milestone last Friday, earning his 200th career victory at Valle Catholic since taking over the program in 2004.
Scouting St. Mary’s
St. Mary’s won’t be an easy team to face, with the Dragons allowing only 86 points in nine games this season. Their only loss was to Illinois-based Naperville Neuqua Valley, 26-21.
The Dragons’ spread offense has accumulated 378 points, with top-notch skill position players “all over the field,” Naeger reported.
Defensively, look for the Dragons to run four-man fronts, with either two or three linebackers. Ex-St. Louis Ram linebacker Tommy Polley serves as the team’s defensive coordinator.
“Limiting big plays and controlling will be very important,” Naeger noted.
Kevin Coleman has scored 102 points and 17 TD this season, with 813 all-purpose yards overall. Caron Spann has been accurate on 61-of-117 passing for 1,297 yards, 21 TD and just one interception for a 135.41 quarterback rating.
Jamal Roberts is the leading running back with 505 yards and eight TD. The Dragons have used a committee approach with five different rushers gaining 123 yards or more. Coleman is top receiver (504 yards, nine TD) with Cyril Ikeh (seven TD) and Chase Hendricks (363 yards) also generating plenty of worthy statistics.
Kaliel Boyd and Achille Kpeya, Jr., are two players to watch on defense for St. Mary’s. Boyd has 119 tackle points and three quarterback sacks. Kpeya 109 tackle points and five sacks.
Other players have turned in notable defensive numbers: Adrian Atkinson (eight fumble recoveries), De’Shawn Fuller (three interceptions), Gabe Booker (six sacks), Zamier Collins (10 tackles for losses).
Look for Valle Catholic to counter with Bryce Giesler, who needs 57 yards Friday for 2,000 all-purpose yards this season, to go with 29 TD. Grant Fallert, since taking over at quarterback for Chase Fallert in mid-September, has passed for 712 yards and rushed for 302 more. Aiden Heberlie now has 651 receiving yards and 11 TD.
Linebacker Josh Bieser fuels the defense with 123 tackle points, and 19 tackles for loss. Michael Okenfuss has recorded 12 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback hurries. Grant Faller and Isaac Roth both have three interceptions, and Luke McClure 18 pass deflections.
Naeger earns No. 200
Naeger talked about reaching the 200-win plateau in Friday’s game, which has included six of Valle Catholic’s 15 state championships.
“We have always coached collectively,” Naeger said. “We have been blessed with a tremendous staff for many years. This is more of a program achievement than something one person has done.”
Naeger credited defensive coordinator Nathan Gegg and offensive line coach Joe Roth for their roles in the Warriors’ success.
“There are so many coaches that have contributed so much over the years, it’s amazing,” Naeger added.
“It’s a nice achievement (for Naeger),” said Ste. Genevieve head coach Jay Pope, who served as an assistant for Judd for many wins and many years.