St. Joe beats Mattawan, SMAC showdown next.

ST.  JOSEPH —A looming showdown in week 9 for a conference title may cause some teams to look past their next opponent.  That wasn’t the case for St. Joe as the Bears defeated Mattawan 34-14 to set up next week’s winner take all final game at Battle Creek Central for the outright SMAC championship.

Mattawan’s games this year revolved around the triple threat of quarterback Ryan Van Liere, along with running back Connor Daggett, a game plan the Wildcats ran to perfection on the games’ opening drive. 

The Wildcats 13-play 80 drive found the endzone on a 5 yard run by Van Liere as the visitors grabbed a 7-0 lead. 

St. Joe looking to respond, instead turned the ball over two plays later, but the Bears defense stood tall, forcing Mattawan to turn the ball over on downs.   Mattawan had the ball for 11:12 of the first quarter.  St. Joe had the ball for just :48. 

St. Joe would get on the board to tie the game after a long drive of their own in the 2nd quarter.  Quarterback Matt Lanier shook off his first quarter fumble and led the Bears on a 15 play, 81 yard drive, which ended on an 8 yard touchdown run by Thomas Moore.

After the Bears forced Mattawan to a 3 and out on the following drive.  St. Joe would take their first lead of the game.  Another 81 yard drive, but this in only half the number of plays.  Thomas Moore would again cross the Mattawan goal line and put St. Joe on top 14-7.

Unfortunately another St. Joe turnover would set up Mattawan to tie the game when Matt Lanier’s pass was intercepted, 8-plays later Van Liere ran on a 1 yard run to knot the game at 14-14, which is how the 3rd quarter would end, but St. Joe was already in the Mattawan red zone.

On the first play of the final quarter, Joron Brown gave the Bears a 21-14 lead on a 14 yard touchdown run.

The Bears defense would again hold off the Wildcats, and Joron Brown would light up the crowd and the scoreboard, scoring on a 52 yard touchdown run.  The Bears now had a 28-14 lead with just under 5 minutes left in the game. 

Trailing by two scores, Mattawan would have to take chances, going for it on a 4th and 14 inside of their own 20 yard line. Van Liere completed a pass to Connor Daggett, but was stopped well short of the line to gain. Giving St. Joe the ball back at the Mattawan 23 yard line.

A Joron Brown run set up Matt Lanier to complete a 19 yard touchdown pass to Jordan Bell.  The Bears now had a 34-14 lead.

St. Joe would have to stop Mattawan one more time. And it came down to St. Joe 1 yard line.  Van Liere fumbled the ball on a 4th and 1 at the St. Joe 2.   The ball popped into the endzone, which was picked up by Hunter Lange, who returned the ball to the St. Joe 25 yard line.  St. Joe would then kneel one time to run out the final 25 seconds and the 34-14 win.

Brown finished the game with a season high 30 carries and 181 yards and two touchdowns, Thomas Moore had 13 carries for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Matt Lanier ran for 81 yards on 7 carries. 

St. Joe improves to 7-1 on the season and 6-0 in the SMAC.  An identical record to their next opponent Battle Creek Central.   St. Joe will travel to Battle Creek Central for a 7:00 p.m. kickoff at C.W. Post Field, the winner will claim the SMAC Conference Championship outright.