St. Al seeks answers following opening loss

Published 11:19 am Monday, August 20, 2012

If Friday’s season opener had been a video game, St. Al coach B.J. Smithhart might have been tempted to hit the reset button midway through the second quarter.

His Flashes gave up just under 400 rushing yards in the game — including 283 in the first half — and 27 points in the second quarter of a 41-7 loss to Madison-St. Joe. It was a rough beginning to a season St. Al still hopes will be better than last year’s 2-9 campaign.

St. Al will start its home schedule this Friday against Greenville-St. Joe, which opened with a 28-0 rout of Riverside.

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“We’ve got a big challenge in front of us. We’ve got another good team,” St. Al coach B.J. Smithhart said. “We’ve got to go. I know everybody’s schedule is tough, but we’ve got to get tougher. Hopefully we’ll grow and come along. We’ve got to correct a lot of things.”

St. Al struggled in all three phases of the game against Madison-St. Joe.

Its defensive line was dominated by the Bruins’ beefy offensive front, to the point that most of St. Joe’s backs were getting two or three yards up the field before they were hit.

St. Joe’s starting offense averaged 18.9 yards per carry in the first half and had nine runs of nine yards or more.

“We’ve got to find some defensive linemen that want to play,” Smithhart said.

Offensively, St. Al totaled 162 yards, committed two turnovers and went three-and-out six times in 15 possessions. Another drive ended with the Flashes facing fourth-and-short as time ran out in the second quarter.

Worse, though, was St. Al’s failure to take advantage of a couple early opportunities. St. Joe committed two turnovers in the first quarter, then the Flashes turned it back over on the ensuing drive both times.

The second of those turnovers led into St. Joe’s second-quarter surge. Following Will Pierce’s interception near midfield, St. Al faced a third-and-9 at the St. Joe 34. Sophomore quarterback Connor Smith, making his first varsity start, lofted a fade toward the goal line for Pierce that was intercepted by St. Joe’s Dylan Culberson.

Josiah Paulding ripped off a 46-yard run on the next play from scrimmage — with 15 yards tacked on for a horse collar tackle — and two plays after that, Brett Burgess scored on a 7-yard run to give St. Joe a 13-0 lead.

One bright spot for St. Al was its special teams. Kick returner DeMichael Harris averaged a respectable 18.8 yards on four kick returns, including a 25-yarder in the first quarter. Sage Lewis blocked an extra point, and the Flashes recovered a muffed punt in the fourth quarter.

Like other areas, however, a few mistakes undid any positive gains the Flashes netted.

In the second quarter, a punt hit the turf and bounced slightly away from St. Al’s coverage team. While they surrounded the ball to down it, St. Joe’s Nick Beasley swooped in and scooped it up on a dead sprint. He zipped past the initial wave of defenders, then weaved through the rest of the coverage for a 65-yard touchdown return that gave the Bruins a 27-0 lead.

“No one’s in shape. That’s what it comes down to,” Lewis said. “I think we just need to run. The more we get in shape, the better we’re going to play.”