Flashes have no place to go but up

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 9, 2004

St. Aloysius’ John Robert Burnett chases a Cathedral runner during the season-ending 28-21 loss. (Gary HaygoodThe Vicksburg Post)

[11/9/04]With time ticking down Friday night, Daniel Halinski dropped back to pass and found no one open. He scrambled, tried to get out of bounds to stop the clock, but was stopped well short of the sideline.

It was the final play of St. Aloysius’ 2004 season, and it seemed to sum up the campaign perfectly. It was a longshot to do anything truly memorable and had a disappointing ending brought on by earlier failures.

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The Flashes finished a 3-8 season their worst since 2000 with a 28-21 loss to archrival Natchez Cathedral on Friday. St. Al’s playoff hopes had long been extinguished by a slide in which it lost seven of its first eight games.

The slump was caused by a mixture of injuries and outright poor play, as well as a young roster that will either help the Flashes in the future or hinder it for the next few years.

Halinski, a junior, will return next year, but three of the five linemen assigned to protect him will not. Leading rusher Rob Jones, who went over 1,000 yards for the second straight season, is also a senior.

Fortunately for the Flashes, that’s about all they’ll lose. John Robert Burnett and Chip Donald, the team’s two leading tacklers, will both be back in 2005. So will fullback Alex Halinski, who figures to take the place of Jones as the featured back.

“We’ve got some young guys that played all year long. They’re going to be a year older next year, and that’s a real positive,” St. Al coach Jim Taylor said. “We had five guys that played offense and defense, and other than that we’ve got everybody coming back. So we’ve got a great nucleus to build off of, but we’ve got to start working next week.”

St. Al wasn’t expected to make a lot of noise on the state level this season, but with Jones and most of last year’s offensive line returning, a playoff berth wasn’t out of the question.

A rash of injuries put a stop to that thinking. At one point this season, St. Al had nine of its 32 players out of the lineup. That forced a host of young players onto the field and led to predictable youthful mistakes like missed assignments and poor technique.

St. Al allowed 50 points or more three times in a five-game stretch, and allowed fewer than 30 points only once in its first eight games.

“It just went on and on, having starters out,” Taylor said. “When you’re short on talent and numbers to begin with, and then you have injuries, the two go hand-in-hand.”

Against Cathedral, the secondary was sliced and diced like a Thanksgiving turkey by Green Wave quarterback Patrick McDonough. The sophomore was 6-of-15 passing for 199 yards and a touchdown.

The bulk of Cathedral’s pass plays were simple deep routes where McDonough threw it down the field to streaking receivers. His shortest completion was for 14 yards, and four covered 20 yards or more. Several of his incompletions were poorly thrown balls to open receivers.

“A bunch of young kids messed up,” Jones said. “We played good tonight, we really did. Our secondary killed us. They’re young and inexperienced, and it showed. (Cathedral) knew they were young, and they took advantage of it.”

Donald, a freshman, didn’t back away from Jones’ comments. Standing next to Jones as the upper classman spoke, Donald took the blame for the poor showing of the younger players on Friday.

“One hundred percent,” Donald said emphatically. “We stopped the run … They threw the ball all over us, they scored touchdowns against us, it ticked me off. Yes, I take responsibility for it.”

There were some bright spots for St. Al on Friday, though. Sophomore defensive back Harris Martin squashed two Cathedral drives with interceptions, one in the end zone and the other inside the St. Al 5-yard line.

Halinski also played well, completing 9 of 18 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. His two longest completions were to underclassmen, a 74-yard TD to Burnett and a 40-yarder to Donald in the fourth quarter that nearly led to a game-tying score.

If they can continue to improve, the dismal 2004 season may be the last for a while on Grove Street.

“From the first game of the year until now, they’ve all gotten smarter. They’ve just got to get in the offseason, get bigger, think about what they’re doing and play smart,” Jones said. “They got enough experience this year to be good this year and next.”