St. Al must reload after successful year

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Michael Engle of St. Aloysius sprints down the field in the Flashes’ rivalry win over Natchez Cathedral on Nov. 8. St. Al finished the season 9-3, made the playoffs and came within a point of beating division-power Mize. The Flashes fell in the first round of the playoffs, however, to Puckett, 14-0. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[11/20/02]Just inches short, a clich often used in the sporting world, could have summed up the end of St. Aloysius’ season.

The Flashes, after giving up an early third quarter touchdown to Puckett in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs, tried to grab the momentum with both hands on the following possession by going for a first down on fourth-and-1 from their own 37-yard line.

Just inches short.

“That one play was not going to make a ballgame. Us not getting it kept the momentum where it was and (Puckett) went on to score again,” Flashes coach Jim Taylor said.

“As it is, it didn’t make any difference. I think it would have made a difference if we could have got the first down, it might have motivated us, giving us something to rally after.”

As it is, the Flashes have provided their football program with something to rally behind a 9-2 regular-season finish and their first playoff berth since 1996.

“Everybody played a key role in our success this season,” senior lineman Kelly Sadler said. “We lost three, but to win nine is great.

“To have this winning season is a good thing.”

With success comes change, and the Flashes will be experiencing their fair share of change with the departure of 11 seniors.

Unfortunately for the Flashes, junior Michael Head, who ran for 916 yards and 11 touchdowns on 137 carries, will not return to the gridiron next season after suffering a concussion to the spinal cord against Cathedral.

The Flashes will also lose the entire starting offensive line, running back Greg Smith, who provided 1,163 yards and 18 TDs, wide receivers Cass Dodgen and Michael Engle and quarterback Chad Cox.

“We’re going to lose the nucleus of the ballclub,” Taylor said. “You always hate to see your seniors go, but you expect the other kids to grow up and fill in.”

A Flashes’ defense Sadler said was “dominating” will lose six starters, most notably Walker Hengst, who totaled more than 100 tackles on the season with a dozen coming against Puckett, combined with two sacks and a fumble recovery in the closing minutes of the game.

“Probably the best thing about the season is we had 11 seniors that held the bulk of our work and did a great job as leaders,” Taylor said. “Certainly we are going to miss those guys next year.”

The loss of so many seniors after such a successful season may sound crushing to St. Al fans, but Taylor is quick to assure them that the Flashes have “a good nucleus coming back next year.”

“We went from 4-5 in the (region) to 7-2, so you can do a lot in one year,” Taylor said.

With reloading imminent, the Flashes should have plenty of weapons at their disposal to wreak havoc in Region 4-1A play.

“I think more people will come out and play because of what we did this year,” Sadler said. “The freshman and sophomore class is slim now, but I think they’ll start to come out, and the junior class has 13 or 14 with a bunch of good leaders.

“I plan on seeing them be a strong team.”

The Flashes will turn to a running-by-committee approach with Rob Jones, Corey Fuller and 240-pound back Russ Nelson.

The wall they run behind will be formed by linemen Nelson, David Weiland and Robert Biedenharn, a group Taylor anticipates to be the leaders of the new generation.

“Their work habits will be one of their greatest contributing factors for next year,” Taylor said.

The Flashes will also feature a new twist to a team noted for their 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach to football.

“I’ve already started making plans to change a little bit as far as our running game,” Taylor said. “I think as far as using the personnel we got, I’m going to try to incorporate a little more power-sized running game, plus being flexible to the pass.

“We’re going to change a little bit, but it’s more because of personnel, not because of worrying about what other people will be doing.”

With success comes change, and for the Flashes, that may be the tonic they need to push them further in the playoffs which is exactly where they intend to be this time next year.

“People used to think of St. Aloysius football as just another game,” Smith said. “We went out this year and gained respect.

“We made it where opponents will look at St. Aloysius football different.”