Training for the 2013 high school football season started around the holidays.
The first game was played in the punishing heat of summer, the Friday before Labor Day. Heat indexes of 110 degrees pushed back kickoffs to later in the evening; Jefferson City's afternoon game at McCluer North was called because of heat early in the second half.
Not really football weather.
The semifinals were played Saturday, five days before Thanksgiving, with wind chills in the 20s.
Not really football weather, either. This was basketball weather. Or wrestling weather. Or something-inside weather.
Still, what a long, fun trip it's been.
Here's a big-time shout-out to our four area teams who took their shots at going to the Dome this weekend. Two won, two lost. But all four deserve our praise, congratulations and a hardy pat on the back.
And an extra piece of pie this Thursday.
Well played, gentlemen.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
At Adkins Stadium, the Helias Crusaders punched their ticket to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis for the second straight year with a 26-14 win. But not before they took a few punches from Liberty North.
The Eagles (9-5), whose previous four losses were to Class 5 schools, have no less than 118 players on the roster and figure to move up to Class 5 next season.
While quality eventually prevailed over quality, the Eagles took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on an 8-yard run by Nick Hess --- an offensive tackle who lined up in the backfield and carried the ball for the first time this season.
The Crusaders (12-2) tied it on a deflected 22-yard pass from Wyatt Porter to Trent Dudenhoeffer in the opening minute of the second quarter, which was the start of big days by both seniors in their final career game in the friendly confines.
Porter completed 15-of-20 passes for 241 yards and two scores, including a 5-yard strike to Michael Tannehill with 1:12 left in the half to give Helias the lead for good at 14-7. Then just 2 1/2 minutes into the second half, Dudenhoeffer intercepted a pass and weaved his way to a 65-yard touchdown return as the lead grew to 20-7.
Liberty North got within 20-14 and had the ball with a chance to take the lead after a Helias three-and-out, but nothing doing. A 38-yard run by Garrett Buschjost, who gained 101 yards on 20 carries, finished the scoring in the fourth.
The Crusaders, who held a 320-261 edge in total yards, will play from the Class 4 state title at 1 p.m. Friday. Who will they play?
Take a guess.
Webb City (13-1) is the three-time defending state champion, is 58-1 in its last 59 games overall, 99-1 in its last 100 games in the regular season, and has won 21 straight in the playoffs. Wow.
The Cardinals have ended the Crusaders' season four of the last five years, twice in the state championship game --- 49-14 last year and 41-34 in 2008.
Webb City will be looking for its 12th state championship, building on its own state record. But then, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised the Cardinals feel so at home in St. Louis.
Rest assured, however, the Crusaders will show up.
The most unlikely result came Friday night in Columbia.
Second-ranked Hazelwood Central --- which was 15-0 all-time in semifinals games --- entered the bout at 12-0. Running back Kevin Batt ran crazy against the Bruins, rushing for a staggering 357 yards. Rock Bridge quarterback Logan Twehous threw six interceptions, four in the first half.
And Rock Bridge won, 36-33.
Despite of his six picks, Twehous threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns, and the game ended when Batt fumbled into the end zone with 56 seconds left when the Hawks seemed poised to score the go-ahead/game-winning touchdown.
Rock Bridge (8-5), which was 4-5 entering district play, advances to the state championship game for the first time in 20 years. That's the good news. The bad? Their reward is a date with defending Class 6 state champ and top-ranked Blue Springs (13-0) at 7:30 Friday in St. Louis.
It's tough to say good-bye, but grand seasons for the Blair Oaks Falcons and California Pintos came to an end Saturday.
In Wardsville, the Lawson Cardinals (12-2) scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to open up a 21-0 lead on their way to a 28-16 win over the Falcons.
Besides the final score, the only other number you need to know is 11 --- that was total yards rushing by the Falcons (12-2), who lost for the first time since their season opener. The Blair Oaks touchdowns came in the fourth quarter on a 9-yard pass from Jordan Hair and a 1-yard plunge by Caleb Bischoff --- a score set up on a 63-yard pass from Hair to Lock.
But with a roster that featured just a handful of seniors, this was a surprisingly great season for the young, smallish team. Brad Drehle, the coaching staff and these players should be proud and, to say the least, the future looks bright.
In all likelihood, these teams were playing for second place, anyway. Lawson has the pleasure of playing top-ranked Lamar (13-1) for the Class 2 state title at 4:15 p.m. Friday.
Lamar is the defending state champion. In last year's title game, they rushed for ... get this ... 523 YARDS in a crazy 69-41 win over Blair Oaks.
This year, they may be even better. They have scored ... get this ... a state-record (for any class) 851 POINTS, including the 70-spot they hung on Lutheran North in Saturday's 63-point semifinal laugher.
Lamar's one loss this season was to Class 4 Carl Junction, 50-46. Carl Junction lost twice this season, both times to Webb City (see above.)
Good luck, Lawson.
In California, the Pintos (12-2) ran into their own buzzsaw, the defending Class 3 state champions Maryville Spoofhounds (14-0), who have now won 29 straight after a 22-13 victory.
This was a rematch of last year's semifinal game in Maryville, which turned out to be an easy 42-7 win for the Spoofhounds. This one, however, was anything but easy.
After Maryville took a 14-0 lead late in the first half, Walker Borghardt returned a kickoff 63 yards for a touchdown to get California within 14-7 at the break.
The Pintos then made two valiant goal line stands in the third quarter, twice stopping the Spoofhounds inside the 5. After Maryville scored to make it 22-7 (they never kick the PAT, they always go for two), California got within 22-13 on a 57-yard run by Jaden Barr in the fourth.
The Pintos opted to go for two and didn't make it, but recovered an onside kick. But that drive ended on a blocked 28-yard field goal attempt with less than six minutes left, which basically ended the California dream.
These were tough ends to great seasons for the Falcons and Pintos. But never forget the journey and the great memories created along the way --- and the same goes for the Southern Boone soccer team, which had a fabulous season end with a third-place finish in the Class 1 Final Four.
You should all be proud.
For the players returning next season, preparation for the 2014 starts soon. We'll see you in August.
For the Crusaders and Bruins, we'll meet you in St. Louis.