The Hastings Raiders football team's storybook season came to an end Friday night in Mendota Heights as they fell to the St. Thomas Academy Cadets 41-6 for a chance to go to state. It was the Raiders first chance for a section championship in football since the early 2000s and after a rough start, things snowballed quickly due to several turnovers. With the loss, Hastings finishes its season 8-2 overall, with both losses coming to the Cadets. The Raiders are Section 3AAAAA runners-up after dominating east metro during the fall.
A rough start gets out of hand
The key to this game, just like the the first meeting between the two teams, was whoever could control the line of scrimmage. Both squads rely heavily upon the running game and when Hastings hosted the Cadets for the Raiders' homecoming, St. Thomas Academy won that battle for a 24-6 win. After the win over Park last week, Hastings' senior defensive back Amar Thomas acknowledged that the Raider defense would have to play tougher and more physically the second time around if they wanted to win.
St. Thomas Academy set the tone early as they started the game at their own 20 yard line and promptly marched 80 yards in seven minutes, all on the ground, capped off by a 11-yard touchdown run by workhorse running back Brendan McFadden. The Cadets faced just one third down on the drive and led 7-0 with 5 minutes left in the first quarter.
Hastings went three-and-out on its first possession and St. Thomas Academy immediately hit on a 47-yard pass down to the Raiders 9 yard line, which set up McFadden's second touchdown of the quarter to put the Cadets up 14-0 with 1:23 left in the first quarter.
Hastings had the ball to start the second quarter and senior running back Corbin Leflay did what he has done all season-make plays. Leflay broke a 71-yard run down to the St. Thomas Academy 5 and set up himself for a 3-yard touchdown run. However, something went wrong with the extra point and Hastings trailed 14-6 with 10:28 left in the first half.
St. Thomas Academy proceeded to go on another long drive and another McFadden, Danny McFadden, scored from 8 yards out and the Cadets led 20-6 with 6:03 left in the first half. The Raiders next possession saw a shotgun snap hit the motion man on the foot and St. Thomas Academy recovered at the Hastings 24, which set up Brendan McFadden's third touchdown of the game to make it 26-6 after a failed two-point conversion with 2:54 left in the second quarter. Things continued to get out of hand for Hastings when they fumbled for the second straight possession with just under two minutes left in the half. This time, however, the Raider defense responded with an interception at their own 5 by senior defensive back Noah Kullmann. But Hastings wasted that opportunity by fumbling for the third time in the quarter, which this time the Cadets capitalized on for Brendan McFadden's fourth touchdown of the half and a 34-6 St. Thomas Academy lead with 1:38 left. Hastings' attempt to score at the end of the half ended when senior quarterback Sully Levos was intercepted on a tipped ball for their fourth turnover of the quarter. A disastrous first half ended with the Raiders trailing 34-6.
The start of the second half was just a continuation of the first as Hastings went three-and-out on its first possession and St. Thomas Academy scored with a 6-yard touchdown run-set up by the Cadets' passing game-and the Raiders trailed 41-6 with 6:31 left in the third quarter. Hastings had a 63-yard touchdown pass called back on their next drive due to offensive pass interference, which then killed their drive. St. Thomas Academy punted for the first time in the game at the end of the third and Leflay broke another long run, this time 34 yards, to put the Raiders in the red zone but they turned the ball over on downs at the Cadet 7 yard line. The fourth quarter saw a running clock and the final was 41-6.
End of the season
After the game as his team coped with the end of their season, and for some their football careers, head coach Dana Strain had nothing but praise for what they accomplished this fall.
"It was an outstanding season, a fun group of kids to work with and compete with," he said. "They've been great all year, a very even-keeled group that the more I was with them the more I was impressed by them throughout the season."
Strain also highlighted what he called a very talented and close senior class.
"It's a pretty complete group and they're very close to one-another, and that's evident when you're around them," he said. "They love playing together and kind of have that special bond, they're a deep class and they've got a lot of good football players up and down the roster in that senior group. They certainly carried us this year, and the juniors certainly did a nice job too of blending with them. So it was a hell of a thing we had this, as it was just a great marriage between two classes, but that senior group is special."