By Mark Schremmer
Globe Sports Writer
ST. LOUIS —
Lamar Tigers coach Scott Bailey told his players at halftime that a turnover in the second half would be the difference in the game.
“I told them, ‘So let’s get that turnover and make it the difference for us,’ ” Bailey said.
In a game where neither offense appeared ready to blink, the words at halftime turned out to be prophetic.
Clinging to a one-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, Lamar defensive end J.T. Tucker batted a pass attempt by Blair Oaks quarterback Daniel Castillo and Tigers linebacker Chad Rice intercepted it. Three plays later, Lamar quarterback Levi Petersen recorded a three-yard touchdown run to give the Tigers their first comfortable lead of the game with 9:31 remaining.
The Tigers added three more interceptions — including two returned for touchdowns by Cedric Gartman — as they beat Blair Oaks 69-41 in the Class 2 state championship game on Saturday at the Edward Jones Dome. The win marked Lamar’s second consecutive state championship.
“We’re pretty emotional, because I’m going to miss football a lot,” Lamar senior linebacker Jade Morgan said as the tears began to fill his eyes. “But to end it like this, I’ll never forget it.”
It was a game that was much closer than the final score indicates.
Blair Oaks (13-2) compiled 429 yards of total offense — 301 through the air — in a game that set a Show-Me Bowl record for most points in a state championship.
“That Blair Oaks football team is pretty dang good,” Bailey said. “They would compete very well in our conference. Very well.”
The Falcons were finding success with their passing game as Castillo completed 9 of 17 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
Blair Oaks took its first lead of the game — 28-27 — at the 7:07 mark of the third quarter when Eli Roberts ran in a seven-yard touchdown.
After that, the Tigers and Falcons exchanged touchdowns to put Blair Oaks up 34-33 entering the fourth quarter.
Lamar (13-2) responded with one of Petersen’s four touchdown runs to put the Tigers up 41-34 with 9:46 remaining.
On Blair Oaks’ first play after the touchdown, Tucker got a hand on Castillo’s pass attempt and Rice caught it and returned it four years to the Falcons’ 32. Lamar took a 48-34 lead three plays later.
“We had to get pressure on the quarterback,” Bailey said. “We had to make him uncomfortable. And I think getting that first batted interception that Chad got, we started to get to him a little bit.”
Things started to roll for the Tigers’ defense after that.
Trailing 48-34, Blair Oaks went back to the air and Gartman picked off Castillo’s pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown. On the Falcons’ following possession, Gartman intercepted Castillo again — this time for a 95-yard touchdown.
Just like that, the Tigers held a 62-34 lead with 5:23 remaining.
“I never had an interception in my life,” Gartman said. “These are my first two ever.”
Lamar senior defensive back Joshua Baird later picked off Castillo for the Tigers’ fourth interception of the half.
The Tigers’ offense also deserves plenty of credit. Lamar compiled 576 yards of offense — including 501 on the ground.
Petersen rushed for 254 yards and four touchdowns, while running back Jared Beshore ran for 147 yards and one touchdown. Both players finished the season with more than 2,000 yards rushing in Lamar’s two-quarterback misdirection offense.
However, a lot of the credit goes to Lamar’s offensive line.
“It’s more of the size of what they have up front than it is the scheme,” Blair Oaks coach Brad Drehle said. “The thing that makes what they do so difficult is that their kids up front are so big. Not to take anything from their scheme. Obviously, it’s very good. They’ve won a lot of football games with it. But you can run a lot of schemes with those guys. They are tremendous up front.”
Lamar scored 36 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
“We knew we were better than we were playing,” Gartman said. “They got the best of us, and we just came out flat. We knew we needed to pick up the emotion in the second half.”
The Tigers finished their season with 12 consecutive victories.