ST. PAUL — St. Paul head coach Keith Wiatrak has had far less stressful birthdays than the one he celebrated Friday night.
Facing the Waverly Bulldogs in the second round of the KSHSAA 8-Man II playoffs, the Indians survived a four-turnover night to advance to the quarterfinals for the fourth straight year with a 28-18 win. It was just the second time this year St. Paul played four full quarters, with the first coming in Week 1 against Sedan.
“It’s one of those games you’d like to erase out of your memory,” Wiatrak said. “But our kids kept fighting back. That was a good challenge for them. And we found a way to win a playoff game. It doesn’t matter how much you win by at this time of year.”
Turnovers were the prevailing storyline on Friday night. St. Paul had four turnovers, all fumbles, while Waverly had five giveaways with three fumbles and two interceptions.
St. Paul star running back Adam Albertini, who had just one fumble all season prior to facing Waverly, coughed the ball up three times.
“We haven’t fumbled the ball all year long,” Wiatrak said. “I just knew we couldn’t get down and stay down … I don’t know if it was nervousness. Adam never puts the ball on the ground and it happened. But they’re 17-year-old boys. They still found a way to win the football game.”
Still, Albertini broke off enough plays to be the driving force in St. Paul’s survival. The senior tallied 195 yards on a season-high 23 carries with two touchdowns. He also hauled in a game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter to finally quell a pesky Bulldogs squad.
“A lot of his big plays were called back on holding penalties or something like that,” Wiatrak said. “He still played really well and was a big part in finding a way to win.”
Easton Dent added two touchdown runs on his own season-high 16 carries totaling 67 yards.
“He’s a good, hard, downhill runner,” Wiatrak said. “Adam can’t carry the ball every play. Adam was still having some leg issues and we need him on the field. Easton is a heck of a football player. If he was on any team but ours, he’d be a 1,000-yard rusher.”
Waverly quarterback Damian Foster had perhaps the best single-game performance of any player against St. Paul’s defense this year, rushing for 124 yards and scoring three touchdowns — one rushing and two passing.
“We gave up some yardage on the run, but we were trying to protect against the pass,” Wiatrak said. “We took an extra guy out of the box. We couldn’t let them go over the top for big plays. We live off big plays, didn’t get many of those tonight and you see what happened.”
St. Paul’s win advances the Indians into the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. The Indians will host the three-time defending state champion Hanover Wildcats (9-1) next week with a berth to the semifinals at stake.
“We can’t turn it over against them,” Wiatrak said. “We have to play with the same emotion that Waverly played with against us. We have to bring energy the whole game and control the wave at the start. Once we settle into the game, we can’t make mistakes.”
While the Indians were pushed to the limit at times against Waverly, even trailing at one point in the second quarter, St. Paul remains undefeated with homefield advantage in the postseason.
“There’s a lot of teams in this state that would love to be 10-0,” Wiatrak said. “They’re having a great season and get to keep playing football in November.
“It’s down to the final eight teams in the state. That means we’re one of the best teams in the state. All we can do now is get after it.”
KSHSAA 8-Man II Playoffs
Second Round — Regionals
St. Paul 28, Waverly 18
St. Paul: 8 8 6 6 — 28
Waverly: 6 6 6 0 — 18
SP: Easton Dent 5-yd run, 11:35, 8-0
WA: Damian Foster 6-yd pass, 4:31, 8-6
WA: Foster 7-yd run, 8:53, 8-12
SP: Adam Albertini 31-yd run, 0:34, 16-14
SP: Albertini 2-yd run, 9:00, 22-12
WA: Foster 15-yd pass, 3:00, 22-18
SP: Dent 9-yd run, 4:57, 28-18