Second-half woes plague Tolton in third loss of season
COLUMBIA - As a baby blue and navy hot air balloon slowly rose over the crowded stands of the Tolton football field before the Trailblazers' home opener Friday night, the fans bowed their heads.
Blessing the players and all those in attendance, school chaplain Fr. Mike Coleman asked that the athletes “play their hearts out” during the game.
That's the message Tolton head coach Michael Egnew gave his team, too, before the game.
" ... I told them they had to go out and take the things they wanted. They had to go out and play hard,” Egnew said. “And they did. I honestly think the guys played as hard and for as long as they could.”
In the end, though, it wasn't enough for Tolton. After a back-and-forth first half that ended with Tolton leading St. Francis Borgia 8-7, the Trailblazers struggled in the second half, allowing the Knights to break through repeatedly and score on their way to a 35-14 win.
St. Francis Borgia junior running back Tyler Stiefferman sneaked through the Tolton defense on multiple occasions to move the knights downfield and score, while junior quarterback Sam Heggemann recorded two trips to the end zone himself.
It was Tolton's third straight loss to begin the season.
“In the second half, we were gassed,” Egnew said. “And that’s my fault. I have to prepare our team to play four quarters.”
With a smaller roster and many players taking on both offensive and defensive roles, finding the solution to exhaustion later in the games will be key for the upcoming weeks, Egnew said.
While many Tolton fans left the stadium proud of the Trailblazer’s early success, many of the players felt the sting of a hard-fought game ending in a loss.
“I’m very disappointed because in the first half, we came out really strong and the second half we came out sluggish,” freshman Landon Block said. “We weren’t ready to fight back, because we knew they were going to come out and kick us in the mouth, and we didn’t come back with the fight.”
The trio of Block, C.J. Campbell and Connor Fogue shined offensively despite the loss, making difficult catches or breaking away from St. Francis Borgia defenders to pick up extra yards.
Fogue broke through the Knights' defensive line and scored the season's first Trailblazer touchdown on their home turf during the first half. Campbell secured Tolton's second touchdown later in the game after catching a long pass from quarterback Gabe Pfenenger.
Impressed with Block’s effort on the night, Egnew said he was proud of the way the freshman wide receiver, running back and safety performed up and down the field.
“He does a good job with the ball in his hands,” Egnew said. “He’s going to be a really, really good player, especially as he is right now as a freshman. He’s only getting better. He’s got a high ceiling and it’s almost like this sport was made for him.”
Now 0-3, the Trailblazers are continuing to search for ways to improve game-by-game and earn that first win.
In the coming weeks, the team will up its work ethic, Block said, so that the games will reflect the level of sustained intensity of the practices.
“We’ve got to play better,” Egnew said. “Honestly, that’s the story of this team. We’ve just got to find a way to play a little bit better and fight a little bit harder.”
Tolton will return to action at 7 p.m. next Friday in St. Charles to take on the St. Dominic Crusaders.