Revamped offensive line leads St. Mary’s surge in regular season finale win

A swarm of St. Mary’s defenders swallowed up a Northwood-Lena ballcarrier Thursday as the Tigers stormed to a 61-8 win in the regular-season finale. (Photo by ELIZABETH YOPP, St. Mary’s School)

By MATT VINES, Journal Sports

LENA – Drake Griffin is no stranger to the end zone as St. Mary’s bruising tailback.

But Griffin found the end zone in a different way Thursday as part of a first-quarter monsoon in a 61-8 win against Northwood-Lena.

Griffin, who shifted to the offensive line after the St. Mary’s offense struggled to block district champion Logansport this past week, jumped on a blocked punt near the end of the first quarter. Peyton Mitchell blocked the punt upon which Griffin pounced.

That score put the Tigers up 28-0 as a revived offensive line rejuvenated a St. Mary’s offense that mustered a season-high 61 points.

The Tigers (7-2, 3-1 District 3-1A) rebounded from the Logansport loss on a short week, and coach Aaron York wanted to see his offense bounce back in a big way.

“Offensively, we made some tweaks in our scheme and thought our kids adapted well,” York said. “We will continue to improve on what we installed.

“Drake helped us out in a major way, he’s such a team player, and he gives us a major boost up front.”

Receiver Ben Bienvenu has also assumed more of a blocking role as he’ll line up as a tight end at times.

St. Mary’s continued the offensive onslaught in the first half as they added two second-quarter touchdowns to lead 42-0.

“We have a lot of skill guys, and guys like Ethan Busby and John Paul Thibodaux give us depth at running back that allows us to shift guys like Drake up front,” York said. “And our defense had another great outing. We’ll ride our defense to the playoffs as they continue to play well each week.”

The defense more than played its part Thursday, not allowing a Northwood-Lena (1-9, 0-4) first down (not gained by penalty) until the middle of the second quarter.

The Gators secured a late touchdown against St. Mary’s backups that prevented a Tigers shutout, which would have been their third of the season.

St. Mary’s locked in a first-round bye in the Division IV Select playoffs even before the trip to Northwood-Lena, and York wanted his squad to feel good about itself heading into a 15-day break before its second-round playoff contest.

The Tigers entered Week 10 in the top spot in Division IV Select, holding nearly a one-point edge that won’t wane with Thursday’s victory.

“It is a long time, but it’s good that we’ve had a bye week this season,” York said. “We wanted to establish a running game and win the battle from tackle to tackle, and we did that tonight.

“I wanted to see our guys up front complete play after play because those are the games in which we’ve been at our best.”

The Gators (1-9, 0-4) end the season on a five-game losing streak and will miss the playoffs.