For 24 minutes of football, the Metro Classic Conference leading rusher looked like a mere mortal.
Thanks to a physical front line and quick linebackers flying around the field, St. Joseph senior Jake Gessert was held in check early and often as Burlington Catholic Central controlled the line of scrimmage at Bradford Stadium on a bone-chilling fall Friday night.
Temperatures dipped into the 30s, and it played into the hands of Catholic Central, which notched a tight 21-14 overtime victory to clinch a postseason berth for the first time since 2015.
Though Gessert and company picked up the pace in the second half and took the Hilltoppers to overtime, ultimately the Lancers fell short.
“I’ve been better,” St. Joseph coach Matt Rizzo expressed of his feelings after the game.
“It was a heck of a high school football game. We had five forced fumbles and only (recovered) one. They executed more than we did. It was one of those games where you hate to see one team lose.”
The loss means the Lancers (5-3 overall, 3-3 Metro Classic) must find a way to knock off defending WIAA Division-4 state champion Racine St. Catherine's in Week 9 at Horlick Field in order to qualify for the postseason, at least automatically.
Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers (5-3, 4-2) enjoyed a bus ride back to Burlington filled with hoots and hollers, as a once-dominant program will return to the postseason.
“St. Joe’s is a good ball club, they played really well,” Catholic Central coach Tom Aldrich said.
“We just outlasted them. They are well-coached and play hard. It was a quality opponent, so it’s that much sweeter.”
Aldrich exclaimed he was “extremely happy” about the victory, and the players were all “pretty pumped” after St. Joseph's offensive possession in overtime went awry.
Catholic Central even gave the Lancers a few extra chances with penalties on the game-deciding drive, but Aldrich said his guys were able to hold on.
St. Joseph suffered a tough break on its overtime possession.
After a first down, quarterback Jacob Ashmus was knocked out of the game with a concussion, according to Rizzo, after a helmet-to-helmet hit — no penalty was called — which forced Gessert to take over under center.
St. Joseph benefited from pass interference in the end zone and a facemask, but on fourth-and-1 from the 5-yard line, the Lancers fumbled.
Just like last week, when the Hilltoppers beat Whitefish Bay Dominican in overtime, Brandon Pum scored the game-winner on a short run.
The senior quarterback, who played wide receiver last season, now has two consecutive walk-off touchdowns.
“His confidence is growing,” Aldrich said of Pum. “The veer offense is tough to master.
“Our offense is coming together.”
Gessert’s 5-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 48 seconds to play tied things up at 14-14, and Rizzo was impressed at how the Lancers sucked it up and prevented the Hilltoppers from winning in regulation.
Ashmus added a 1-yard score in the third quarter.
Gessert was held to 57 yards on 22 carries, while Ashmus finished 8-of-11 for 100 yards passing.
The Lancers have a tall task next week with a playoff bid likely on the line against the state-power Angels, but Rizzo obviously isn't backing down.
“I’d go to battle with my guys any day,” he said. “I expect to win that game.”
Shoreland Lutheran 52, St. Thomas More 6
The host Pacers pummeled the Cavaliers in Somers to notch their first Metro Classic Conference win of the season.
Junior quarterback Sawyer Smith went a sparkling 10-of-13 for 163 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to senior Noah Olson (78 receiving yards).
On the ground, meanwhile, junior Konnor Hill racked up 107 yards and three scores on 13 carries, as the Pacers (2-6, 1-5 Metro Classic) accumulated 187 yards rushing and held the Cavaliers to minus-21.
Smith added a touchdown run and 24 yards on seven totes and kicked a 35-yard field goal and five extra points.
Smith's 28-yard touchdown pass to Olson gave Shoreland a 28-0 lead before Thomas More (0-8, 0-6) got its lone score on an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
St. John's NW Military 37, Christian Life 7
St. John's captured what was classified as a non-conference win in a game hosted by the Eagles at Central.
St. John's improved to 5-2, while Christian Life dropped its sixth straight after a 2-0 start to fall to 2-6.
Senior Jacob Shaffer led the Eagles with 55 yards on 15 carries, while junior C.J. McDaniel ran for 45 yards on 13 attempts.
Christian Life's lone touchdown came via junior Logan Houston's 18-yard run with 2:16 left in the game.
Mike Johnson contributed to this report.