By MATT KING
COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the rare instance of being perceived as an underdog, the Valle Catholic football team immediately assumed the role of aggressor on Saturday.
Showing no signs of intimidation, the Warriors jolted Lamar with three passing touchdowns over their first four possessions at the MSHSAA Class 2 Show Me Bowl.
A 16th state championship for the storied Valle Catholic program seemed well within reach. But with any significant mistake, the powerhouse Tigers were determined to capitalize.
Lamar stormed back from a 21-0 deficit as persistent light drizzle soaked the turf at chilly Faurot Field, and needed just one play in overtime to secure its first and only lead.
Junior quarterback Alex Wilkerson scored the go-ahead touchdown from 25 yards out, and the Tigers followed with a defensive stop to prevail 35-28 for their ninth all-time state title.
“They jumped right on top of us. That’s a great program. They’ve been doing it a long time,” Lamar head coach Jared Beshore said while holding his newborn son. “I’m Just so proud of our kids for fighting back. They never gave up, and that is a poetic justice. That couldn’t encompass our season, our team and these seniors better than being down 21-0 and having to fight back.”
Wilkerson rushed 25 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns, and fired two long scoring strikes to senior Chase Querry while completing 8-of-15 overall for 217 yards.
Lamar (13-1) regained supremacy in Class 2 after finishing runner-up to Blair Oaks and Lutheran (St. Charles) over the past two years, but not without a massive scare from the motivated Warriors.
Valle Catholic (12-2) began its overtime possession with an 8-yard run by senior quarterback Grant Fallert, but lineman Mario Delepena lightly deflected a second-down pass.
Riddick Gordon stopped Alex Viox for a 1-yard loss, and Isaac Viox slipped down while trying to catch a short pass in the flat after Fallert eluded a blitzing defender on fourth-and-3 from the 18.
“The game kind of got away from us there. We certainly played a very good football team. Our kids have a lot to be extremely proud of,” Valle Catholic head coach Judd Naeger said. “I don’t think a lot of people gave us a chance Obviously, it would have been nice to continue to extend the lead.”
Fallert was 11-of-24 through the air for 264 yards, and capped a stellar season with 32 touchdown passes after notching four more in defeat.
His fourth interception this fall and second of the game was nabbed by Wilkerson at the Lamar 39 with 55 seconds remaining in regulation. But the Tigers could not approach potential field-goal range.
Lamar emerged with statistical edges in total yards (474-376) and first downs (17-15) while forcing the only two turnovers of the game. Both teams committed seven penalties.
“They have a very good line, probably one of the best we’ve played,” Valle senior interior lineman Jacob Elbert said. “I’m proud to play with the guys next to me. I thought we did good with what we had to do, and they were good at what they had to do.”
The Warriors were perhaps inches away from executing a double pass for crucial points on the final snap of the first half, but the knee of Rylan Fallert was ruled down as he received the initial lateral.
Valle Catholic would eventually regain momentum with a 6-play, 86-yard drive after the Tigers went three-and-out to begin the third quarter,
Grant Fallert found a seam to pick up 29 yards on a keeper, then lobbed a deep ball toward the left sideline. Colin Henderson skied above single coverage for a bobbling catch, then dodged another man for a 37-yard touchdown and 28-14 advantage.
“It was really good football between two schools that do everything the right way. I think, hopefully, that’s the reason we’re here,” Naeger said. “I know they have outstanding kids, an outstanding community and outstanding coaches who work really hard, in season and out of season. I hope that folks think that about us.
“We’ve come a long way as a program, because of things that were outside of our control, and we gave a really good football team everything they wanted for the entire game, all four quarters.”
Lamar yielded just three more first downs to the Warriors. The eventual comeback was delayed when an 11-play march — exclusively on the ground — stalled at the Valle 13 as a bad snap on fourth-and-1 caused leading rusher Logan Kish to be stuffed in the backfield.
The ensuing series turned disastrous for Valle Catholic as the fourth quarter commenced. Punter Isaac Basler calmly gathered a high snap near the back of the end zone, but chose to scramble instead of either kicking the ball while on the run or conceding two points on a safety.
Several Tigers converged to meet Basler, who was flagged for spiking the ball in frustration. Wilkinson scored on a 3-yard keeper two plays later, and the margin shrunk to 28-21 with 10:18 remaining.
The Warriors quickly moved the chains on runs by Alex Viox and Grant Fallert, but an illegal forward pass was ruled on a surprise throw back to the QB, thus negating a 41-yard gain.
Grant Fallert directed a resulting punt to the Lamar 7, but Querry beat the corner on a fly route and tied the contest at 28-28 as Wilkerson delivered an excellent throw for a 91-yard dagger.
The increasing urgency of the closing minutes brought the best out of both defensive lines, as each quarterback faced their greatest sustained pressure.
Fallert stood tall in the pocket, and connected with Kellen Tucker for 25 yards on third-and-9. The clutch reception was only the fifth this season by the junior back-up receiver.
Trace Wooldridge retaliated for Lamar with a crucial 10-yard sack, but effective hurries by Valle linemen Carter Viox and Zach Naeger created back-to-back penalties on the Tigers’ next drive.
Alex Viox and Josh Fallert each made 11 tackles, and Carter Viox added seven to pace the Warriors, who could not maximize more than nine minutes of possession time in the fourth quarter.
“We made some adjustments. They were doing a lot of good things with personnel and formations, trying to get matchups,” Beshore said. “And our guys ended up just winning the one-on-one battles there at the end. The D line played extremely well, getting pressure on the QB, and we were able to sew up some coverage on the back end that we botched in the first half.”
Valle Catholic opened the game with an exciting 48-yard kickoff return by Henderson. Rylan Fallert reeled in a 37-yard dart from Grant Fallert for a 7-0 lead on their third play.
Lamar ended its first possession with a dropped pass after reaching the Valle 37, and struggled to contain the opposing receivers again.
Henderson followed a 15-yard catch by Tyler Gegg with a 16-yard reception, and Rylan Fallert got loose along the left side on a screen for a 24-yard gain.
Tyler Gegg caught a quick 4-yard slant at the goal line for a 14-0 cushion, and became the top target for the Warriors with 98 yards on four catches.
The Tigers wasted an interception by Querry as Valle generated another red-zone denial. Defensive end Cohen Gibbs dropped sweeping receiver Ian Ngugi for a loss on fourth-and-3 from the 20.
Gegg tracked down a Fallert throw on the next play over the middle, and maintained his balance for a 75-yard touchdown that whipped the vocal Big Blue support base into a frenzy.
“I was just taking the keys that were there for me,” Grant Fallert said. “The line gave me a lot of time, and I just made the throws.”
Wil Kuehn managed to convert the extra point as the dropped snap settled flat on the surface, and everything was going right for the Warriors at 21-0 with 8;19 remaining until halftime.
Lamar altered its running scheme with a heavy dose of cutting behind the right tackle, and pushed back with two pivotal scoring drives before the break. Querry stretched the secondary for 166 yards on three catches, and netted 69 on his first touchdown.
Kish ended with 68 yards on nine carries, five of which occurred within a single possession. A 32-yard scamper set up his touchdown run from the 2, and Jose Juarez booted the PAT to pull within 21-14.
Cooper Haun chipped in 49 rushing yards, and Khiler Nance had a team-high eight tackles for Lamar, which took home seven consecutive state championships from 2011-17.
“A big thing for us is talking to each other and making sure we get lined up. They like to out-formation us a lot,” Nance said. “We get an extra DB out there when their tight ends come off the field. We get an extra lineman on when they come on the field. It’s just great coaching, relying on each other., and not getting down on ourselves.”
Valle Catholic made its first Show Me Bowl appearance since winning the Class 1 crown in 2019, A subsequent change in official enrollment policy by MSHSAA bumped the small private school two class sizes higher over the next three years, based on previous postseason success.
The Warriors embraced the move by joining the tougher MAFC White Division and adding heftier non-conference opponents. They had won 12 straight since falling to Class 6 Seckman in week 1.
“We were almost turbo clocked in the first half of our first game of the season,” Isaac Viox said. “New quarterback. Almost a whole new O line. Bringing in all of those guys. Bringing in Alex. We have Rylan, who never really started… Everyone just takes over a role, and makes a name for themselves to get here. No one thought we would be there. At first, we didn’t think we would be here.
Grant Fallert had 68 rushing yards on 16 carries, and Alex Viox was limited to 44 yards on 11 attempts. They were among 13 Valle Catholic seniors who stamped their varsity careers.
On a weekend where multiple showcase contests at the home stadium of Mizzou were plagued by animosity or ended in controversy, the Warriors and Tigers expressed only mutual respect before gathering at the midfield logo for a unified postgame prayer.
Naeger, who has guided his alma mater to six titles over 20 seasons, briefly addressed both teams before sharing an impassioned message with the media.
“We think sportsmanship is important,” he said. “If you’re not learning sportsmanship in the sport of football, then why are we playing? Why are we playing sports? Why are we playing a violent contact game if we’re not learning anything along the way?
“People ask me all the time. ‘Are you going to let your kids play?’ Heck yeah, I’m going to let my kids play, if it’s done right. I want them to have hard things in their lives. I want them to have to work hard. I want them to have to be disappointed at times. I want them to have to turn to God at times when things aren’t fun. And sportsmanship needs to come back in this world. It needs to come back in every level of play.”
Valle Catholic and Lamar met twice before in recent years when both programs were reigning champs. Beshore was an assistant for the Tigers.
“With this program, the success and hard work started before me,” Beshore said. “Coach [Scott] Bailey and his staff, when they came here, a lot of the guys on our sideline were there when that happened. He’s built this thing up, and we didn’t start doing the prayer thing after the games until 2016 when we scheduled Valle Catholic in a regular-season game.
“Coach Judd prayed with our guys, and obviously, they’re a private school, so faith is a very important thing to them. He stood there and talked to our kids, and showed them how to pray after the game. That kind of opened the door for us to continue doing that. It’s something we’ve done with our program ever since. It’s something we hold a lot of pride in. Our kids understand that life is bigger than football, and we have to make sure we have our priorities straight.”