MRH Overcomes Loss of QB, Headed to State Semifinals
Despite the unexpected loss of sophomore quarterback Kahlid Hagens to appendix surgery, Maplewood Richmond Heights won at Caruthersville, 27-13.
CARUTHERSVILLE – Maplewood Richmond Heights' football team knew that making the 200-mile trek south to face Caruthersville in a battle of unbeatens would be no easy task, even at full strength.
When the team learned it would be without sophomore starting quarterback Kahlid Hagens due to an emergency appendectomy on Friday, the Blue Devils really had their hands full entering Tiger country Saturday afternoon.
However, the MRH defense made a major statement early, while the offense made enough big plays to keep the season alive, as the Blue Devils notched an impressive 27-13 road victory in the Class 2 state quarterfinals.
"I definitely think we made a big statement here today," MRH head coach Brandon Gregory said. "Kahlid is a big part of our offense. To find out he wasn't going to play today … and have another sophomore who hasn't really played that many reps and come out victorious, I think that says a lot about our program."
The Blue Devils' defense held the Tigers to 291 total yards, with 236 coming through the air via quarterback Perry Middleton. The senior completed 14 of 24 passes with one touchdown, but the MRH defense picked off two passes and sacked Middleton six times. Marcus Taylor had three of those sacks, with Devin Clark adding two and one by Antar Thompson.
Caruthersville never got on track offensively with its running game, gaining only 55 yards. Elbie Fonda was held in check with 34 yards on 18 carries and Vohland Fonda added 38 yards on four rushes.
Despite dominating time of possession in the first half, the Tigers punted the ball twice, turned the ball over on downs twice and threw an interception.
Caruthersville (12-1) did strike first, though, when Vohland Fonda broke a few tackles at the line of scrimmage and raced 30 yards for a touchdown with 2:58 left in the opening half. Tony King blocked the extra point, leaving the score at 6-0.
After the kickoff went out of bounds, MRH quickly answered as Cortez Cooper started the next drive with a 31-yard run. On third-and-9, sophomore backup quarterback Wes Williams hooked up with King for 15 yards. Then Terron Dale capped the drive with a 7-yard run followed by a 3-yard plunge into the end zone; Clayton Burge kicked the extra point for a 7-6 MRH lead at the 1:30 mark.
Caruthersville threatened to score before halftime thanks to a 44-yard completion from Middleton to Peter Lloyd, but Middleton was picked off near the end zone by Randell Stokes to send MRH into the locker room with a one-point lead.
The Blue Devils opened the second half with an eight-play, 56-yard drive after another short kickoff by the Tigers. Williams connected with King for a key 19-yard completion on third-and-13 before Austyn Ford ripped off a 17-yard run. Dale punctuated the possession with a tough, 16-yard touchdown run as he carried a few Caruthersville defenders over the goal line. The extra point was blocked, making it a 13-6 lead midway through the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Lloyd broke free and looked to be on his way for a touchdown until Marcus Taylor chased him out of bounds at the two-yard line. That set the stage for MRH's defense to stuff three straight running attempts at the goal line before Middleton's pitch to Vohland Fonda was fumbled on fourth-and goal. Stokes scooped it up and raced all the way to the Tigers' 14. A personal foul penalty moved the ball to the 7.
"Our defense is really the heart of our team," Dale said. "They showed it once again at the goal line. They believe that nobody should score on them and keep showing up every game."
Stokes ran up the middle for 5 yards followed by two straight quarterback sneaks from Williams, the latter going for a touchdown and a 19-6 advantage with 4:40 to play in the third quarter.
It remained that way until late in the fourth quarter, when Caruthersville made a final charge. Middleton found Lloyd for a 43-yard completion and then hit Lennon Smith in stride for a 35-yard touchdown pass. Fonda's point-after made it 19-13 with 4:06 to play.
Caruthersville's onside kick attempt went out of bounds, giving MRH the ball just 44 yards away from a potential clinching score. And the Blue Devils did exactly that, running the ball eight consecutive times highlighted by Ford's 12-yard jaunt. The drive included four rushes for 17 yards by Stokes. Ford sealed the victory with a 2-yard touchdown dive while Cooper ran in the 2-point conversion to provide the final margin of 27-13.
MRH totaled just 235 offensive yards without its starting quarterback, but Williams managed the game well in his first career varsity start. Williams completed 5 of 11 passes for 50 yards and scored a rushing touchdown.
"We made a real big statement today," Williams said. "We had people step up and make plays with Kahlid out. We always preach defense first, and our defense was excellent."
The Blue Devils rushed for 185 yards, and were led by Stokes, Ford and Dale. Stokes rolled up 79 yards on nine carries, Ford added 31 yards and one touchdown on seven totes and Dale chipped in 40 yards on 16 rushes, including two TDs. MRH did have trouble holding onto the football, fumbling five times, but losing only two.
MRH (13-0) now stands two wins away from realizing its dream of a Class 2 state championship inside the Edward Jones Dome, but the Blue Devils have to first get past Lamar (10-3) in the semi-final round. Lamar ousted Liberty Mountain View, 21-20, Saturday. (Story update: the semifinal game will be at Hixson Middle School in Webster Groves)
"Actually I told them we have two more games to win," Gregory said. "We've been talking a lot about getting to the Dome, but I just want to get their minds set on winning it all and not just getting there. We don't want to go through all of this and not win because the state championship is our goal."