Cardinals pass attack comes alive to beat Sacred Heart
GIDDINGS - Shiner St. Paul quarterback Dakota Kresta experienced one of the worst stinging pains a football player can have. But also one of the sweetest ones.
And they came within seconds of each other.
Despite taking the crown of a helmet to the knee on the clinching touchdown, Kresta completed 10-of-12 passing for 217 yards and two touchdowns while senior running back Adam Hollenbach added four rushing touchdowns to help St. Paul (9-3) beat rival Hallettsville Sacred Heart (9-4) 49-35 in the TAPPS Division III state semifinals at Buffalo Stadium.
"It's sweeter than anything you can buy or anything you can get, it's the best thing I've ever felt," said Kresta about the playoff win against Sacred Heart. "It's amazing."
The win sets up a state final matchup between St. Paul and Frisco Legacy on Friday at Baylor's Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco. The loss ends any hope Sacred Heart had for a TAPPS Division III state title after the Indians won it all in Division IV last season.
Hollenbach rushed for 136 yards on 28 carries while senior wide receiver Dylan Barton caught six passes for 173 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
After Sacred Heart cut the St. Paul lead to six points with five minutes remaining, the Cardinals milked the clock and went on one final emphatic drive to end Sacred Heart's season.
Facing a fourth and 13 from the Indians' 20, Kresta looked down field for a pass, but with every receiver covered, he tucked the ball in and ran off tackle to the left side, where there was plenty of room.
"Kresta's just an athlete; he's going to make plays," said Sacred Heart coach Pat Henke. "We knew that coming in, and they had a great game plan for us. I thought we both had great game plans; they just outscored us."
Kresta hesitated for a second, likely debating whether to score or fall at the one and take more time off the clock. The senior fell into the end zone and, after a timeout, kicked the extra point that put the game away with less than a minute remaining.
"I didn't know what the heck I was doing," Kresta said with a smile. "I kind of freaked out right there when I got to the goal line, then I figured, 'I'm this far, I might as well go in.'"
Junior running back Jonathan Vanek led the Indians offense with 195 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries, while senior quarterback Leightin Pilat had 188 yards and two touchdowns on the ground but was sacked five times.
The Cardinals avenged a 28-21 loss during the school's TAPPS District 5, Division III regular season game.
St. Paul flipped the script from the 2011 season when it beat Sacred Heart during the regular season then lost in the state final.
"We just won the game that counts," Hollenbach said.
The game figured to be a showcase of running backs with Vanek and Hollenbach. But the first half belonged to the quarterbacks.
Kresta's first completion to Barton for 33 yards helped set up Hollenbach's first touchdown from one-yard out and give the Cardinals an early 6-0 lead.
Pilat responded quickly with touchdown runs of 65 and 78 yards less than three minutes apart to put the Indians ahead 14-6.
"It boils inside of me," Kresta said. "I think 'Oh man, I can do better than that guy.' I do my best to get a score, get yardage, anything."
Kresta quickly cut into the lead. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Kresta hit Barton on a 64-yard touchdown connection that cut the Sacred Heart lead to 14-12 late in the first quarter.
Hollenbach's four-yard touchdown run capped a 13-play, 64-yard drive for St. Paul and put it back ahead late in the first half.
The Indians appeared poised to regain the lead and drove to the Cardinals eight-yard-line, but Mitchell McElroy intercepted Pilat's pass at the four and ended that threat.
"I'm never going to fault Pilat," Henks said. "He's just a competitor, and he was trying to make a play," "If he had to do it all over again, he'd throw it out of bounds and we'd have two more plays. That's the way it goes. That's football and you're not going to win them all."
Sacred Heart turned the ball over again on a Pilat nine-yard run in the second half.
Hollenbach capped the ensuing drive with his fourth touchdown of the game, this one from a yard out to extend the Cardinal lead to 41-38 early in the fourth quarter.
"Those turnovers were the difference," said St. Paul coach Jake Waschmuth. "We stopped them from scoring and the one thing we didn't do, we didn't turn it over."
Kresta's 60-yard connection with Barton midway through the third quarter put St. Paul ahead 35-28. After two ties and four lead changes to that point, the Cardinals wouln't relinquish that lead.