Six days after making the 357 mile trip to Faith, the Cardinals had to travel 264 miles to Kadoka for a semifinal match-up with the Kadoka Area Kougars. The only thing similar between the quarterfinals and the semifinals was being on the same side of the state.
Instead of the Cardinals getting out to a quick start, the Kougars set the tone in the first half. With a little help from a penalty early in their opening drive, Kodoka scored with 1:15 in the first quarter on a 35-yard touchdown run by Gaven Sudbeck. After an interception early in the second quarter, the Kougars struck again with 9:23 to play in the first half when TJ Hamar threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Sudbeck. The Kougars scored for a third time on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Hamar to Dawson Reckling with 3:48 to play in the first half.
Kadoka Area led 20-0 at halftime after dominating the game in every area. The Kougars had a total of 192 yards of offense and held the Cardinals to 127 yards and forced two turnovers. St Mary took full advantage of halftime to stop the momentum Kadoka had built and make the necessary adjustments.
The Cardinals began their comeback at the very start of the third quarter. The defense held Kadoka to just three yards on three plays and forced a punt. St Mary scored on their opening drive of the third quarter. CJ Smith connected with Ashaun Roach-Valandra for a 19-yard touchdown on fourth down with 8:09 to play in the third quarter to cut the lead to 20-6.
St Mary forced the Kougars to punt on their next two drives, and the Cardinals scored again on the very first play of the fourth quarter. Smith and Roach-Valandra connected again, this time from 10 yards away. They also made the two-point conversion, and with 11:51 to go in the game, St Mary trailed 20-14. The Cardinal defense did not budge again and forced another punt. The momentum had certainly shifted to St Mary, and the offense put another score on the board. Connor Libis scored on a seven-yard run with 8:54 on the clock. Roach-Valandra ran the ball into the endzone for the two-point conversion to give St Mary a 22-20 lead.
The Kougars didn’t go away quietly. Again aided by a penalty on fourth down, Kadoka took advantage as Sudbeck scored on a five-yard run with 4:43 to play. The two point conversion was good, and the Kougars went back in front 28-22.
St Mary magic was still in the air. On the next Cardinal drive, Smith found Roach-Valandra again on fourth down for a 26-yard gain to keep the drive alive. Libis followed with a 21-yard run a few plays later to give St Mary a first and goal. Libis ended the drive with another seven-yard touchdown run to tie the game 28-28 with 1:15 to go. Smith wisely tucked the ball and ran through a huge hole on the two-point conversion to give the Cardinals the lead again at 30-28. The final drive by Kadoka ended with an interception by Libis at the Cardinal 34 yard line with :45 on the clock. St Mary was able to run out the clock to win the game.
It was a tale of two halves for St Mary. After allowing 192 yards in the first half, the Cardinal defense allowed just 38 yards in the second half. The offense for St Mary had 232 yards in the second half for a total of 359 yards and scored 24 of their 30 second half points in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals also finished the game 4-for-7 on fourth down attempts.
Libis finished the game with 35 carries for 252 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two catches for 19 yards. Noah Olund had five carries for 20 yards, and Nic Gaspar had two carries for 10 yards. Smith finished 5-8 passing for 74 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Roach-Valandra had three catches for 55 yards and two touchdowns.
The defense was led by Max Herber with 11 tackles, one of those being a sack. John Pica had 10 tackles. Samuel Lack finished with eight tackles, and Roach-Valandra had six tackles.
The Cardinals (7-2) will play Wolsey-Wessington for the 9B championship on Thursday, November 12th at 3:00 p.m. at the Dakota Dome in Vermillion.