St. Al eyes playoffs, upset at Mount Olive

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 30, 2008

When the St. Aloysius Flashes assembled for the first day of practice three months ago, they had an eye toward the last two games on the schedule.

If all went well, that would be when this team wrote its legacy. Beat a perennial power like Mount Olive, and they’d not only have a win that would have the entire state talking but also a playoff berth, in all probability. Follow it up with a win over Stringer, and they might get to host a playoff game.

As November approaches, that exact scenario has played out. St. Al makes the long trek to Mount Olive (8-1, 7-1) Friday for a game with huge playoff implications. Win, and the Flashes (7-2, 6-2) are not only in but have a shot to finish second in Region 4-1A and play at home in the first round. Lose, and they’ll have to beat Stringer (6-2, 6-2) next week to avoid being at home for the entire postseason.

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“It’s just like a playoff game. We’ve been telling them since before West Lincoln that we have to play playoff-type football, and these last two are as good as we’ll see in the playoffs,” St. Al coach B.J. Smithhart said. “We would have taken it at the beginning of the year if you said you’re 7-2 and if you win out you’re second in the district. All we wanted was a shot, and we’ve got that.”

The Flashes will not only need a superb effort, however, they’ll need their best.

Mount Olive has lost three games over the last two seasons — all to region frontrunner Puckett, which reached the Class 1A championship game in 2007 and is ranked second this year. Last season, Mount Olive crushed St. Al 47-0 behind the running of Jason McNair, who set a state record for career touchdowns. McNair scored five touchdowns on only seven touches against St. Al.

McNair is gone, but the Pirates have not missed a beat. They’re averaging more than 40 points per game. Tailback Ruben Duckworth — another famous last name in Mount Olive — has more than 1,000 yards and 20 touchdowns combined rushing and receiving. Quarterback Diarran Keller has thrown for 1,689 yards and 22 TDs.

“They’re more than just McNairs,” Smithhart said, before adding with a hint of saracasm, “They’ve got some Ducksworths, too.”

Mount Olive has turned into a passing team with Keller. He’s thrown 121 passes, and the team as a whole has 158 rushing attempts. That may actually help St. Al, which has defended the pass well this season.

“They’re the fastest team we’ll play all year. We’ve got to contain them and not give up the big play,” said St. Al senior tailback and linebacker Chris Lewis, who leads the team with 100 tackles.

Lewis has also developed into a potent weapon at tailback for the Flashes. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his last two games since making the switch from quarterback, and could greatly help the cause with another strong effort this week. One of St. Al’s best defenses against Mount Olive’s explosive offense would be an effective running game.

“The line has been clicking lately. They’ve been opening holes and I’ve been hitting them,” Lewis said, adding that the late-season switch, caused by an injury to junior tailback Ryno Martin-Nez, has given opponents a different look than they saw earlier in the year. “Teams are used to just scouting Ryno. Now they have to look at me, Brendan (Beesley), Regan (Nosser) rolling out. They have a lot to look at.”


Contact Ernest Bowker at