ALEXANDRIA — For the first time ever, the St. Clair County Saints and head coach Alan Lee have defeated the Alexandria Valley Cubs. And the win could not have come at a more opportune time.
After seven unsuccessful tries, the Saints were victorious Friday 44-36 in the first round of the AHSAA Class 4A state playoffs.
Next up for St. Clair is a second round game against J. O. Johnson, and the Saints have the home-field advantage.
Lee said it was just a great win for the players on a very exciting night.
“To see what our kids have gone through this year, and now advance to the second round of the state playoffs is simply amazing,” Lee said.
The star of Friday night was the Saints’ ground game.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to St. Clair,” said Alexandria head coach Frank Tucker said after the game. “They had a really good running game, and we just couldn’t stop them.”
“Couldn’t stop them” would be an understatement. The Valley Cubs were unable to stop Carr. The senior running back had 32 carries for 302 yards and four touchdowns. He is now the SCCHS career rushing leader, with 2,368 yards — that broke the record of 2,200, set by Patrick Williamson in 1992, when the Saints went 15-0 and won the Class 2A state crown.
Carr also caught two passes for 70 yards, finishing the night with 372 all-purpose yards.
Another player the Valley Cubs had trouble stopping was quarterback Matt Hicks. He was 6-12 passing for 172 yards, and rushed for another 70 yards and scored two touchdowns.
The game against Alexandria went back and forth like a teeter-totter throughout the first half, but even with St. Clair ahead in the second, it was never out of reach.
Justice Owens accounted for the first touchdown, to give the Valley Cubs a 7-0 lead.
Carr then scored on a 70-yard run, and with a failed two-point conversion, the Saints trailed 7-6.
The Saints scored their next possession less than a minute into the second quarter. Once again, they attempted and failed at a two-point conversion, but held a 12-7 lead over the Cubs.
And the back-and-forth began.
While Alexandria used nine rushes on its next drive, it was a 14-yard pass from Tanner Wells to William Owens that put the Cubs ahead 14-12.
St. Clair charged back on the ensuing drive with a Justin Phillips touchdown. Again, the two-point conversion attempt was no good, but the Saints were up 18-14.
But again, not for long.
Owens scored from 53 yards out on the first play of the drive. The extra point gave Alexandria a 21-18 edge with 5:39 remaining in the first half.
Carr ended the first half with a touchdown for the Saints with 44 seconds left on the clock, giving St. Clair a 24-21 lead. It would be a lead they retained for the entire second half.
The Saints continued to build their lead with the opening drive of the second half. They converted on fourth-and-1 with a fake field goal, and then scored on the next play. Again, they tried and failed at a two-point conversion, to make it 30-21.
Alexandria was stopped on fourth-and-inches on its next drive by a wall of Saints. Owens made amends in only two minutes, adding another touchdown. The point after attempt was good, putting the Cubs behind the Saints by only two points at 30-28.
On the third play of St. Clair’s next drive, Hicks scored on a quarterback keeper. This time the two-point conversion was successful and critical, making it a two-score game at 38-28.
St. Clair scored one more touchdown with four and a half minutes left, and Alexandria scored the final touchdown of the night, and their season, two minutes later making the final score 44-36.
“Our fans were great Friday night,” Lee said. “We’re glad to be playing at home, and I’m looking for a huge crowd.
“The town is excited, as well as our school. We are excited about being here. I’m excited because I know how hard these guys have worked.”
Lee said J.O. Johnson is going to be a huge challenge for his team. They come in 10-1 and the defense has given up only75 points all season, best in Class 4A.
“They have been in Class 5A for a number of years, and this is their first year in Class 4A,” Lee said. “They have a lot of speed and they are big. They have 300-pound linemen across the front.
“But I know my guys, and they will be up for the challenge.”
— St. Clair Times associate editor Gary Hanner contributed to this story.