WARDSVILLE -- Mistake after mistake plagued the Lutheran North Crusaders in each of their first three meetings against the Blair Oaks Falcons.
On Friday, the Crusaders played as close to a mistake-free game as possible.
Lutheran North was turnover-free on offense and scored the first points of the game off Blair Oaks’ only turnover, taking an early lead it would not relinquish in a 38-30 win against Blair Oaks at the Falcon Athletic Complex.
“They didn’t do things to hurt themselves,” Blair Oaks coach Ted LePage said. “You didn’t see an interception, you didn’t see a fumble, they didn’t put the ball on the ground. It was a really good effort for them, because they didn’t beat themselves.
“This wasn’t a Week 2-type game. It was an elite game.”
The loss snaps a 15-game winning streak for the Falcons, but they took it in stride after the game.
“We turned around and we never quit,” LePage said. “We kept fighting. I said if we can learn from our mistakes and keep fighting, we have a chance to be something special.”
The Falcons fumbled a pitch on their second offensive play of the game. Lutheran North’s Kion Gibson recovered the loose ball and quarterback Dakarri Hollis scored on an 8-yard keeper on the next play to give the Crusaders a 6-0 lead with 9:32 to go in the first quarter.
“We only had one turnover in the game, and that happened to be the one,” LePage said.
Blair Oaks also had three red-zone chances come up empty-handed in the first half against Lutheran North.
The Falcons got to the Lutheran North 10-yard line on their next possession before settling for a 36-yard field-goal attempt that was wide left. The next time down the field, Blair Oaks made it to the 4-yard line and then had a 24-yard field-goal try that went wide left.
On the final possession of the first half, Blair Oaks advanced the ball to the 3-yard line but couldn’t get any closer. This time, a 24-yard field-goal try was blocked as time expired and Lutheran North went to the locker room with a 22-14 advantage.
“There are two things you can’t coach, one is size and the other is speed,” LePage said. “Their size inside, we just couldn’t move it. When you’re dealing with 360- and 390-pound linemen, if you have not seen a person that weighs 390 pounds, that’s a large human being. Both of those guys can move.
“We were trying to pick our poison going in the middle, we were trying to get some stuff outside, but then they’re able to run you down with speed. We had some great drives, we’ve just got to be able to finish.”
Lutheran North Jevon Blackman scored a 5-yard touchdown run on a direct snap on the third play of the second quarter. He then ran in the first of his four 2-point conversions to extend the lead to 14-0.
Blair Oaks scored a pair of touchdowns on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. Eli Luckett scored on a 3-yard touchdown run, then Nick Closser caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bax.
The Falcons picked up momentum on offense when Bax completed a 37-yard pass to Closser downfield in double coverage.
“You look for seniors in big games, you’ve got to have seniors make plays,” LePage said of Closser, who finished with four catches for 107 yards.
However, Blair Oaks failed to score on its first two possessions of the second half, going three-and-out and then turning the ball over on downs at the Lutheran North 40-yard line.
Lutheran North not only minimized mistakes, but it came up big in crucial downs. The Crusaders were just 3-of-11 on third-down conversions, but they went for it on fourth down four times and moved the chains three times.
The fourth-down conversions were a 27-yard pass from Hollis to Martez Stephenson, a 28-yard touchdowns pass from Hollis to Mike Clark and a 12-yard scramble by Hollis. All three conversions led to touchdowns.
“You have to give a lot of credit to their quarterback,” LePage said of Hollis, who was 12-of-21 passing for 231 yards and added nine carries for 60 yards. “We have some really good defensive players and we had some fourth-down opportunities where we had him, and we just couldn’t tackle him. He was able to scramble out and either make a throw or make a run.”
Stephenson led the Crusader run game with 18 carries for 93 yards. He had a touchdown run of 19 yards.
Blackman only had 7 yards on five carries, but he scored two touchdowns -- adding a 1-yard run in the second half -- and accounted for 20 of Lutheran North’s points.
Trailing 30-14 entering the fourth quarter, Blair Oaks got back in the game with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Bax to Hayden Lackman, then Lackman scored on a 1-yard run.
Blair Oaks forced a turnover on downs at its own 37-yard line with 2:09 to play and trailing by eight points. The Falcons got one first down, but three incomplete passes and a 9-yard pass yielded a turnover on downs back to the Crusaders with 1:04 to play.
“We needed that one play, one time, and we didn’t get that play all night,” LePage said. “I’ve got to find a way to put our guys in a better position.”
Blair Oaks outgained Lutheran North by eight yards, finishing with 396 yards of total offense.
“That was probably as good of a defense as we’ve seen in a couple years,” LePage said.
Bax completed 17-of-38 passes for 261 yards and Wilde caught seven passes for 89 yards. Luckett led the running attack with 13 carries for 63 yards.
After the game, LePage brought up the Falcons’ 2020 regular-season loss at Valle Catholic, a 35-28 decision. He noted the loss came against a good team, didn’t deflect Blair Oaks away from its big goals and the Falcons still went on to win a state title.
“Nobody likes to losing, but losing a game like this doesn’t define you if you learn from it,” LePage said. “As coaches, we’re going to learn from it. As players, we’re going to learn from it.”
Blair Oaks (1-1), ranked No. 1 in Class 3 in the Missouri Media Rankings, plays Friday at School of the Osage (0-2) to start Tri-County Conference play. Osage lost 21-14 this weekend at home to Moberly.
Lutheran North (2-0), ranked No. 2 in Class 4, plays Friday at Class 6 No. 4 Francis Howell (1-1), which is coming off a 42-35 loss at Jackson.