Parkston squeaks by St. Thomas More, heads to Dome
By PADRIAC DUFFY
In the world of sports, one of the favorite sayings is that all games are just a matter of inches.
Saturday night’s Class 11B football semifinal between St. Thomas More and Parkston at O’Harra Stadium truly was, as Parkston came up with a huge fourth-down stop late and then saw Brady Reiff make one of the greatest plays in South Dakota high school football playoff history to escape with a 19-16 win and secure a spot in next week’s Class 11B championship game with Canton.
“This one hurts even more than getting to the Dome because we were right there against a great team,” St. Thomas More head coach Wayne Sullivan said.
Were they ever.
The Cavaliers stood toe to toe with the Trojans for 46 minutes, before Reiff made a season-saving catch for Parkston.
Leading 14-13, More converted on a 4th-and-9 by about an inch with 3:48 to play and it looked like the Trojans might be done. The Cavaliers got behind the chains after a first-down penalty, but More’s Riley Scherr peeled off a 10-yard run on 3rd and 12 to set up a 4th and 2 from the Parkston 10-yard line with 2:16 to play.
But More’s Lincoln Feist was stopped less than half a foot from a first down, giving the Trojans the ball on their own 8-yard line with 2:11 left.
That set up a must-throw situation for the Trojans, who had passed just six times until that point, one of which was a 93-yard score from backup quarterback Zach Scott to starting quarterback Wes Dvorak in the first quarter.
With Scott being the better thrower of the two, he came in to take over for the season’s biggest drive after being in for two snaps all night.
“We said never give up, we’re going to go get it and win this game,” Scott said before the Trojan offense ran onto the field. “We wanted the Dome.”
Reiff, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior, ran a flag pattern to the sideline and Scott put the ball up. Reiff caught it, shed the Cavaliers defensive back and raced down the sideline before being caught by More’s Jacob Henderson at the 9-yard line.
“I just knew it was a big situation and that I had to make a big play,” Reiff said. “I just stuck my hand out there and (the ball) stuck. It was a once-in-a-lifetime play right there.”
Two plays after Reiff’s remarkable grab, Dvorak went around the left end to score from 9 yards out and give Parkston its first lead of the game with just over 1 minute to play at 19-14.
Parkston’s Miles Semmler then intercepted More quarterback Matthew Eastmo at the Cavalier 47-yard line to ice the game.
“What do you say?” Parkston head coach Eric Norden said. “A one-handed catch going away when we had to have it … but what do you say about St. Thomas More? They played a great game. They controlled the ball for 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, but that’s playoff football. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t.”
It looked like it was going to go More’s way for much of the game as the Cavaliers jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a perfectly thrown ball from Eastmo to Henderson from 33 yards out in the first quarter. But Parkston bounced back with the big play from Scott to Dvorak before More capitalized on a fourth-down conversion by Eastmo and Caden Skinner to set up a 1-yard plunge by Scherr for a 14-7 lead.
Parkston came back and forced an Eastmo fumble on a sack in the third quarter to set up a short field and a 4-yard scoring run by Mitch Heisinger before the extra point was partially blocked and sent wide left.
That set up the fourth quarter where Parkston got the ball for one possession.
“It’s a game of inches,” Sullivan said. “Hats off to Parkston. They are a very, very, very good football team and we knew that coming in. I couldn’t be any more proud of our team. It just came down to a couple of plays.”
More ends its season at 9-2, while Parkston (10-1) moves on to Friday’s championship game, which is at 2:30 p.m. at the DakotaDome in Vermillion, against a Canton team that it beat 21-14 earlier this season.