Indians prepare for No. 1 challenge

Monday, November 13, 2006

By Jeremy Joffray

Southeast Missourian

The St. Vincent football team has faced some challenges this season, but few compare to the one that awaits the Indians tonight.

St. Vincent (7-4) will travel to Marionville to take on the state's top-ranked team in a Class 1 quarterfinal at 7 p.m.

Unbeaten, Marionville -- one of the premiere programs in Class 1 in recent years -- has been ranked atop the state poll for much of this season. The Comets have made the state semifinals each of the past three years, and they have played in the Class 1 championship game two of the past three years. Marionville lost in the state championship game last year but brought home a state title in 2003.

"They're a good ballclub, a very good ballclub," St. Vincent coach Keith Winkler said. "They got that state ranking because of it."

Each of the past three years, Marionville has also made the state title game in basketball. The Comets defeated St. Vincent in the championship game in Class 2 in 2005. The basketball title served as revenge for Marionville's loss to St. Vincent in the football semifinals the previous fall.

"They've got some very good athletes," Winkler said. "We got to see one of them two years ago in the [Kelby] Parks kid. He's started since he was a freshman and plays guard and middle linebacker. He's a load. You hear a lot about Lee Flood, but they have a lot of good athletes to go around."

Marionville has averaged 39.8 points per game while cruising to an 11-0 record. For the 11th win, the Comets posted a 41-6 sectional drubbing of Joplin McAuley Catholic, a team that narrowly defeated St. Vincent in the season opener.

Marionville has had just one game decided by less than 10 points, and allows just 11.2 points a game.

Flood averaged 263 yards per game rushing for Marionville during the regular season. McAuley was able to limit him to 182 yards in the sectional round.

"They get him the ball a lot," Winkler said. "He's a good runner. He sees the holes. If the hole is not there, he can cut it back, and if you're not disciplined, he'll break one."

Sophomore quarterback Brandon Verfuth gives the Comets another weapon. Verfuth completed his first 11 passes in the sectional win, and finished 14-of-17 passing for 149 yards and two scores. Junior receiver Jake Grubbs, a starter for the runner-up basketball team last year, caught seven balls and a touchdown for the Comets against McAuley.

"He does a real good job of running the offense," Winkler said of Verfuth. "He throws the ball real well."

So how do you stop such a juggernaut?

"Score more points than they do," Winkler said with a laugh. "Once again, it's maintaining our discipline. The kids did a good job the last few weeks of playing where they need to be, doing their jobs and flying to the football. If you do your job, the rest will take care of itself."

When it comes to tradition, St. Vincent is no slouch. Its most recent playoff run ended in a state title in 2004. The Indians went to three straight final fours in football from 1998 to 2000, finishing runner-up in 1998 and 2000.

The Indians will try to add to their tradition, putting a five-game winning streak on the line. They knocked off state-ranked Hayti in Week 10 to win the district and then beat Valle for the second time this season to win the sectional. This time, the gap was a more decisive 10 points.

Greg Finger has rushed for 746 yards since moving to the backfield, Lucas Robinson has picked up 623 yards and quarterback Tim Guilliams has passed for 605 yards.

"A lot of people wrote us off when we started out, but the kids kept battling back," Winkler said. "That's a credit to their mental toughness and their intestinal fortitude."

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