Second-half surge lifts St. Mary’s to stirring win at Menard

The “Bishop’s Bowl” trophy will spend the next year in East Natchitoches thanks to a stellar second-half performance Friday night by the St. Mary’s Tigers football team.

On the road at Holy Savior Menard in Alexandria, the Tigers roared with the game on the line. Their defense shut down the Eagles in the final two periods while the offense ran off 17 unanswered points as SMHS secured a 31-17 triumph.

Menard won the physical battle in the first half, and broke a 14-all tie two seconds before halftime with a 37-yard field goal.

But it was only a field goal. The Tigers’ defense answered the challenge when the Eagles partially blocked a punt and took over at the St. Mary’s 19. Menard was unable to get near the end zone, and although the Eagles took the lead, the Tigers began to take control.

Defensive coordinator Steven Wren added some new wrinkles at intermission that caused problems for Menard, and the Tigers turned the tables on their hosts up front.

“We made some adjustments at halftime and our kids played lights out in the second half. We just physically wore them out in the fourth quarter,” said St. Mary’s coach Aaron York. “The kids battled, and played hard. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

An unsung and unlikely hero: backup left offensive tackle Ethan McGuffey.

“We lost our starter to an injury, and Ethan had never really played football before,” said York. “He went out and looked like he belonged. We didn’t struggle. We ran it right down their throats. That’s the kind of fight these kids have.”

Menard’s potent offense was stymied. The Eagles managed only 132 total yards, 73 rushing, 59 passing.

The Tigers’ defense was spearheaded by Mixon Bankston (three tackles and an interception), Ben Bienvenu (six tackles), Ethan Busby (4.5 stops), Payne Williams (five tackles) and Drake Griffin (four stops, and a key fumble recovery).

Williams tied the game midway through the third period on a 39-yard field goal.

Meanwhile, St. Mary’s passing attack clicked, and it opened room for the running game to flourish. Junior quarterback Adam Parker went 21 of 33 for 235 yards, throwing an opening 30-yard scoring strike to Bienvenu and clinching the outcome with 4:11 remaining on a 27-yard TD scamper. Parker led SMHS with 66 rushing yards on 10 tries.

“We finally got the game I knew Adam could produce. He played very well, and we ran the ball fairly well,” said York. “Drake Griffin was tough to tackle in the fourth quarter, especially.”

Griffin’s 12-yard touchdown with 6:18 left to play broke the 17-all tie. The fullback notched 61 yards on nine totes as the Tigers ran for 144 of their 379 total yards.

Fidelak snagged seven passes for 81 yards, and ran four yards to score for an early 14-7 Tiger lead. Bienvenu notched 57 yards receiving and Ethan Busby had 49, both on five catches.

Rekindling the St. Mary’s-Menard rivalry was good for both schools, and enjoyable for the visitors.

“Our kids fed off the great atmosphere. Our fans traveled well and made their presence known,” said York. “It was fun.”

The Tigers rose to 2-1 with their third straight game against an upper-class opponent, with two more to go. Menard dipped to 0-3.

“These first five games are meant to test us, to be difficult, but it’s only going to prepare us well for

district and for the playoffs,” said York.

St. Mary’s goes to Oakdale next Friday, then is home to meet DeQuincy before district play starts.