There was confusion before St. John the Baptist's first play from scrimmage in a CHSFL AA semifinal matchup against Kellenberg Saturday afternoon at USMMA.
But a quick timeout helped St. John the Baptist figure everything out. Home run threat Christian Turri took a pitch and sprinted around left end, finding the end zone 65 yards later. After that, sixth-seeded St. John the Baptist (9-1) used a rushing attack by committee to upend No. 4 Kellenberg, 34-18, and advance to the CHSFL AA final against Xavier (9-1) on Sunday at Mitchel Athletic Complex.
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St. John the Baptist's Jonathan Wiswall rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, Kevin De Maille had 62 yards on 13 carries and Ryan McCann gained 82 yards on 11 carries to complement Turri.
"One of our team mottos is 'next man in' and we all are there to step up for somebody if something happens," De Maille said. "We're a team."
Penalties and turnovers were the story of the first half. Turri's scamper was the only scoring play and St. John the Baptist held Kellenberg scoreless despite committing three turnovers. The Cougars also helped Kellenberg convert a 3rd-and-12 with a roughing the passer penalty and had a 60-yard run by Bryan Sinclair called back because of another penalty.
"We made a lot of mistakes that we haven't made all year and they seemed to happen at the worst times," St. John the Baptist coach Keith Schweers said. "We were able to bend and not break and our defense played phenomenally, and to be able to answer the mistakes that we made and come back and capitalize on their mistakes was key."
The first big mistake by Kellenberg came when it fumbled away the opening kickoff of the second half.
On the next drive by Kellenberg, St. John the Baptist's Wiswall recovered a fumble that set up his own 40-yard touchdown run to give the Cougars a 12-0 lead.
"We went into the locker room thinking we had to step it up, that we weren't doing our jobs to the extent we needed to," Wiswall said. "We came out and got fired up with the turnover on the kickoff and we just came out and did our jobs the rest of the way."
Kellenberg (3-7) answered the Wiswall TD with an 81-yard strike from Kyle Driscoll to Brendan Fitzgerald. The pair hooked up for a 51-yard scoring pass later that quarter.
"They're a spread-throwing team and our defensive coaches had a phenomenal game plan all year but especially the last few weeks," Schweers said. "We knew we had the answer and they were going to throw the ball and the kids knew if they did their job we'd be able to get it done and we proved it today."
The Cougars have spent all season proving themselves. Their nine wins this season are the second most in program history -- they won 10 in 1981 and also had nine wins in 1980 -- and they also defeated two 'AAA' teams in the complicated playoff system before getting to this semifinal.
"Our ultimate goal is always to play at the next level," athletic director Ralph Dalton said. "We were 'A' and now we're 'AA' and we want to be 'AAA.' To beat two 'AAA' teams back to back in the playoffs is a huge boost for our program. I'm proud of all the kids."