ST. JOSEPH — Holding the host squad to its second-lowest point total of the season was not enough for the Sturgis football team Friday night in a Division 3 pre-district playoff game. A heavy dose of running back Jack Turak put the Bears over the top with a 16-0 victory at Dickenson Field.
The senior carried the ball 43 times for 394 yards and two touchdowns for a seventh-ranked St. Joseph (9-1) team that lost starting quarterback A.J. Montoya late in the first quarter with a foot injury. The Bears had no intention of trying to win the game through the air with or without Montoya, throwing just 10 times (one completion).
Though Turak’s numbers were gaudy, the yardage was mostly hollow as the Trojans defense tightened up at crucial moments to halt most of St. Joseph’s drives. The Bears converted a 35-yard field goal by Cullen Hoffman in the first quarter and Turak, who got free for a 55-yard gain, finished off the late second-quarter drive with a five-yard touchdown run. The snap on the extra point was botched and St. Joseph took a 9-0 lead into halftime.
The two teams traded long punts to start the third quarter and Sturgis got the break it was looking for on St. Joseph’s second possession when junior defensive back Jack Scheske intercepted a Hoffman pass at the Bears’ 33-yard line.
On the next play Trojans senior quarterback Chance Stewart was picked off by Turak. It was that kind of night for Stewart, who struggled in the wind and rain and in the face of growing pressure from the Bears. He finished just 4-of-25 passing for 59 yards and two interceptions in his final game before moving on to play for Western Michigan University.
“He’s a competitor. When you come out here and throw the ball as much as we do, especially the last month or so, there were times I want him to put more passes on a rope,” Sturgis head coach Jimmy Lamb said. “I know the ball is slick, so it’s not going to be as easy. He got pressured tonight; we didn’t protect him well. I’m going to evaluate some film tonight [to see where] it came from. I see four, maybe five max [rushers], and we have five lineman.
“He stepped up and made some key passes, but we had some key drops, too. He is a player that has the potential to be very, very good at the next level. There are just some small things that he’s got to continue to work on.”
Click here for the photo gallery.
Turak added a 12-yard TD run to start the final frame that gave the Bears a 16-0 advantage. Sturgis’ Luke Summey blocked a St. Joseph punt on its next possession and the Trojans took over at the opposition’s 25-yard line.
The Trojans (5-5) later had a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line with under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but St. Joseph didn’t give up a yard and tackled Stewart on a fourth-down scramble four yards shy of the goal line.
“I thought we had a tremendous game plan for St. Joe,” Sturgis coach Jimmy Lamb said. “We forced them into a lot of different things where they didn’t really move the ball. I thought we played a tremendous first half. We gave the next team to play them the blueprint on how to stop some things. Now, they did lose their quarterback … but in my program the next guy better step up.
“What we did offensively is what hurt us. We didn’t capitalize on opportunities. Shoot, we had that blocked punt down here and come up empty. We had an opportunity for a score after an interception by [Jack] Scheske and we came up empty again. We shot ourselves in the foot tonight. Weather or not, there are things we just didn’t execute on.”
Senior linebacker Matt Phillips, who Lamb praised earlier this week for a noticeable step up in leadership, paced the Trojans with 12 tackles. Jack Caywood finished with six and Tristen Stewart added 5.5 stops.
“I think our biggest issue was just how much we were on the field,” Phillips said of St. Joseph’s grind-it-out attack on the ground. “Of course the guys are going to start the game with a lot of energy and then [St. Joseph] just kind of wore us down.
“A lot of people are hanging their heads right now, but I’m happy with the way we performed for the most part. Obviously the rain kind of went against us. We played a hell of a game on defense and that’s all we can ask for. It’s a good final game for me.”
“Competitor to the very end,” Lamb said of Phillips. “He made plays; he’s just a worker. There are other guys that were working. I watched Kalvyn [Bowdish] work tonight. Max Maher came in and got some good reps. The seniors on defense played really well.”
The Bears were penalized 15 times for a whopping 125 yards — mostly procedural infractions and one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Sturgis played clean and was flagged just four times for 25 yards.