St. James Academy stunned Eudora with 17 points in the final 5 minutes, 14 seconds and spoiled the Cardinals’ homecoming Friday night in a battle of unbeaten teams.
Despite five interceptions thrown by senior Jansen Keyes, four in the second half, the Thunder rallied for a 17-14 win and stayed perfect in 2012.
“We have spirit, and we just kept fighting for it,” said junior Jake Bade, who had 19 carries for 117 yards and tied the game with a 30-yard touchdown run with 1:01 remaining. “We wanted to be 6-0 bad. We’ve proven in the past that we’re not a team that ever gives up.”
Eudora’s only turnover came on the ensuing kickoff after Bade’s game-tying score, when senior Garret Elston, who chewed up St. James’ defense for 116 yards in 20 carries, got stripped at the Cardinals’ 38.
It proved costly as Keyes connected with senior Tommy Huppe a play later and moved the Thunder, ranked fourth in The Star’s small-class poll, into field-goal range with 40 seconds left.
Four plays later, junior Alex King drilled a 36-yard game-winner as time expired, delivering an improbable victory.
“We’d have let him try a 50-yarder,” second-year Thunder coach Tom Radke said. “We practice that scenario once a week, where I start counting down and we run the field-goal unit on, so it was second-nature for them to do that.”
Until that point, the Cardinals, 5-1, the No. 2 team in The Star’s small-class poll, seemed to be in control.
After a scoreless first half, Eudora junior quarterback/safety Andrew Ballock picked off Keyes twice in the opening minutes of the third quarter, returning the second interception off a tipped pass to the St. James’ 6.
Ballock, who finished with three interceptions and also racked up 137 yards in nine carries, plowed in two plays later from 2 yards out for the game’s first score.
Senior Markis Hill capped the next drive with a seven-yard touchdown — set up by Ballock’s 91-yard run — to make it 14-0 with 3:51 remaining in the third quarter.
Cardinals junior JT Howell and senior Tanner Torneden ended the next two Thunder drives with interceptions, but it wasn’t enough to seal Keyes and company’s fate.
“I got pretty down, but my quarterbacks coach (Matt Joshi) kept me up,” Keyes said. “He kept telling me, ‘It’s going to come down to you having to make a play, so you’re going to have to keep your head in the game. You’re going to have to lead us back.’ ”
Midway through the fourth quarter, St. James seized the momentum when King scored on a five-yard run with 5:14 remaining to cap a seven-play, 45-yard drive.
The defense forced a three-and-out, then the Thunder went no-huddle and tied the game on Bade’s scoring burst.
“This is the biggest win in our history obviously, but every win this season has been the biggest win, because we’re 6-0,” Radke said.
The game was delayed 15 minutes as medical personnel tended to Thunder sophomore Connor Moore, who was injured on the kickoff after St. James’ first touchdown.
“His neck hurt really bad, and he was smart just to lay there,” Radke said. “Everything was precautionary, and hopefully he was OK.”
Radke said Moore lost consciousness but had feeling in all extremities.