WARDSVILLE, Mo. - Blair Oaks football coach Brad Drehle summed it up pretty succinctly following the Falcons' 28-12 loss to the Lawson Cardinals in Saturday's Class 2 semifinal contest.
"Pretty good football team, aren't they?" he said.
They are. The Cardinals showcased a big, strong, fast team on both sides of the ball while jumping out to a 21-0 lead before going on to the win.
Lawson held Blair Oaks to just 86 yards of offense during the first three periods and limited the Falcons to just 1 rushing yard on 22 carries for the entire game.
"They've got some big old linemen and they were able to dominate the line of scrimmage, which really hadn't happened to us (this season)," Drehle said. "We've been able to find ways to get things done, even with that happening at times. Today, they did a great job. They beat us."
The Cardinals did it in large part to two impressive drives - their first of each half.
Blair Oaks got the ball first and went three-and-out - a 48-yard pass from Jordan Hair to Mikel Drehle that could have given the Falcons a huge momentum boost was negated due to a penalty - and Lawson took over.
The Cardinals then marched 71 yards in nine plays, scoring after four minutes on a 1-yard run by Preston Smidt. The kick failed, but Lawson had a lead it would never relinquish.
"It was huge coming out and getting that first score," Lawson coach Todd Dunn said. "It doesn't seem like we've scored first very often in the playoffs."
After that, the defenses took over. Neither team mounted a serious scoring threat the rest of the half and at intermission, Lawson had an edge in total yardage of 130-65.
"I'm not sure that we played at our highest level," Drehle said. "I think we got a little nervous today. But you can't take anything away from them. My goodness, they're good."
The second half started like the first, with Lawson scoring the first time it touched the ball. This time, the Cardinals drove 64 yards in just six plays - all runs. Quarterback Garrett Titus did most of the damage, carrying it three times for 41 yards, before Smidt scored on a 4-yard run. The ensuing 2-point pass made it 14-0.
"We thought we saw a couple things we could do at halftime," Dunn said. "(Blair Oaks) stuffed us on a lot of stuff we like to do (in the first half). We came out and found a couple different things."
Drehle said it was a case of mature players making plays.
"It was a statement drive by them," he said. "They came out with their senior quarterback, behind their senior linemen, and they just flat ran over us. They did a really good job."
The Cardinals then effectively ended the game later in the period when a Blair Oaks interception - one of three on the day for the Falcons - gave them a short field. Six plays later, Titus rumbled in from 12 yards out to make it 21-0.
A stiff wind blew all game during the cold, blustery contest. After having little success going into it during the third quarter, the Falcons' passing game finally took flight with the wind at their back in the fourth. The Falcons threw for 163 yards in the final period and got their only two scores of the game.
"It's tough when you're playing the field-position game with the wind, but that's playoff football," Drehle said. "We've been fortunate enough to take advantage of that at times. It's one of those things where I may have made a mistake coming out after half and not taking the wind. We've always kind of rolled the dice and done that."
On the Falcons' first drive of the fourth quarter, a 63-yard pass from Hair to Haydn Lock got them down to the Cardinals' 3-yard line. Caleb Bischoff nearly got in the end zone on a run on the next play, then did score on a 1-yard run right after that. But a mishandled snap kept the Falcons from even trying the point after, leaving it at 21-6.
The Falcons stopped the Cardinals on the ensuing drive and took over the ball deep in Blair Oaks' territory. After one pass attempt and two runs netted minus-2 yards, the Falcons were forced to go for it with time winding down on fourth down on their own 18. An incomplete pass turned it over to Lawson and the Cardinals scored when Titus hit Smidt with a 19-yard pass on fourth-and-11.
That exchange would turn out to be even bigger when the Falcons once again marched down the field for a score. The 59-yard, eight-play drive ended when Lock capped off a great senior season with his 18th touchdown catch of the season, this one from 9 yards out on a pass from Hair.
The Falcons did get the ball back one last time, with 2:11 left, but the drive stalled at Lawson's 23 with :45.3 left. The Cardinals took a knee twice and the Falcons' postseason run was over.
"It's hard, because our seniors have given us so much," said Drehle, whose team ends the season with a record of 12-2. "At some point, they'll be able to step back and look at what they've acomplished. It's hard right now.
"But if you step back and look at it, they've been to three consecutive Final Fours. A lot of teams would love to be able to do that. They were picked to do nothing and everybody told them, "You can't do this or you can't do that,' and all they did was prove them wrong.
"For our underclassmen, hopefully this a challenge. I hope this feeling is something that sticks with them through the offseason and forces them to work a little bit harder."
Lawson, which improves to 12-2, advances to Friday's championship game against Lamar, the two-time defending state champions.
"Our defense is just playing with so much confidence right now," Dunn said. "To be totally honest, I thought (before playing Blair Oaks), "We're going to go in there and give up some points. We may have to outscore them.' We knew we were probably not going to shut them down and we did a real good job of that in the first half."