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CRAWFORD | St. X rides "r-factor" to 31-21 state championship win over Male

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Jack Sivori

St. Xavier quarterback Jack Sivori won MVP honors in the Tigers state championship win over Male.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – It wasn't overwhelming talent that led St. Xavier to an upset of top-ranked and undefeated Male in the KHSAA Class 6A championship game on Saturday night at Kroger Field. And it wasn't a business-as-usual game plan for the Tigers.

It was something the team likes to call its "response factor." And it was tweaking its attack just a bit.

Knowing they weren't going to be able to amass a dominant ground game against the Male defense, St. Xavier coach Kevin Wallace turned to the air, to senior quarterback Jack Sivori and senior wideout Mekhi Smith. And that turned St. X into state champions, with a come-from-behind 31-21 win over the Bulldogs.

It was the school's first football state title since 2009.

"I've said all along during the entire season that this is a group of young men that is unusual in their commitment, unusual in their work ethic and unusual in how they respond to adversity," Wallace said after the game. "The number of quality players that we've lost during the year to injury would have probably taken most teams and put them under, but all our guys have done is respond, come back and fight. It didn't matter what person was on the field. We truly have exhibited an above-the-line behavior and above-line attitude during the entire season. We don't have an awful lot of Division I prospects. There wasn't anybody on the field tonight that has, you know, really a Division I offer. But we have a team. We have a great team that I'm so proud to be associated with."

Adversity hit early after St. X fumbled on its first possession and Male scored on the ensuing drive. But the Tigers matched up more solidly against the powerful Bulldog offense than they did in their earlier meeting this season, a 28-21 Male victory on Sept. 3. Male raced out to a 28-7 first-half lead in that game, but the Tigers shut the Bulldogs down 14-0 in the second half, and felt like they could be effective defensively in Saturday's title game.

They didn't stop the Bulldogs – who piled up 414 yards of total offense to St. X's 370 – but they got timely takeaways with a pair of interceptions, and they kept Male out of the end zone in the third quarter when they turned a 13-7 halftime deficit into a 17-13 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.

"We thought we could play defense against them a little bit," Wallace said. "Because what we did the second half (in the first meeting), we quite honestly, that was a game where we were really without a lot of defensive line personnel. . . . So it gave us a sense of confidence because even though we don't have everybody back, we had some people back by this time that we felt like would help us match up a little bit better up front. We didn't stop them. You know, you know nobody's gonna stop them. That's the best offense in the state of Kentucky. But we made enough stops and we did a good job taking care of the football and we turned them over a little bit, which nobody's really been able to do. And I'm really proud of that."

Sivori completed 22 of 36 passes for 370 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also ran 26 times for 64 net yards and a TD. He hit Michael Duddy for a 26-yard TD pass late in the third quarter to put St. X up 17-13, then hit Smith for TD passes of 6 and 45 yards in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

The second of those came on a big third-and-4 call with two minutes to play and the Tigers lead down to 24-21 after a 41-yard touchdown pass from Nic Schutte to Vinny Anthony.

Instead of keeping the clock running and forcing Male to call a timeout with a running play, Wallace decided to take a shot, and Sivori found Smith downfield and let his receiver do the rest, wrestling away from a defender and darting untouched into the end zone to seal the game.

"Look, I believe in (Sivori)," Wallace said. " I've seen him make plays since the day I walked in that place. If we were going to go down, you want to go down with your best players. And honestly, you know, you can be the smartest guy calling plays in the world. But it's more about calling plays for players rather than just calling plays. And these guys made plays."

Sivori said he felt confident from the moment the play was called.

"I've been knowing Mekhi since the fifth grade when we played basketball together," Sivori said. "We always had a connection on the court and on the field. So I'm gonna go give him the chance. He's going to make the play 9 out of 10 times. . . . I just threw it up to our best player, and go let him make a play."

Smith, who finished with 10 catches for 128 yards, said he was confident the ball would be there.

"I had a lot of trust, a lot of trust that Jack was going to make that ball, and I was going to do what I did," Smith said.

The loss blemished another fantastic season for Male, which had rolled through the regular season in dominant fashion. And it came at the end of a very difficult week for the team, which was dealing with the death of Schutte's father on Tuesday at the age of 49. Brian Schutte was an operations coach for the Bulldogs.

The emotions, of course, were there all week for Nic, and for the team. Schutte had thrown 29 touchdown passes all season with only one interception coming into the game.

"It's been a wild week for us and a lot of emotion this week and my hat goes off to St. X. They played outstanding," Male coach Chris Wolfe said. "I think they made the plays when they needed to make the plays, particularly the one-on-one plays. And we had a couple turnovers and I haven't seen any stats so I thought we did decent against the run. And then I think their quarterback Sivori did a really good job of finding some matchups and hurting us with his arm. I think that's what it came down to from the sideline where I was -- I thought we did a good job against the run but weren't able to stop (Smith) and that was the difference."

Schutte, playing through all the emotions that come with losing a parent, and through some injury in the second half, completed 11 of 19 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns.

"It was tough," Wolfe said. "Brian was, you know, part of our operations staff. I told the guys that I think I've coached 53 games and therefore tonight was a 54th game with these guys and I've given Brian the iPad before the game 53 times, including last week. And it's been tough."

Male was making its fourth straight appearance in the state title game. It won the title in 2018, and has fallen short the past three seasons. Wolfe said his senior class will appreciate its legacy in years to come, but it's tough right after a loss.

"It's tough after a game like this and they all wanted it so bad for that senior class," Wolfe said. "Particularly this week, with everything that we had to go through. But like I told them, it doesn't always play out the way you want it to play out. It's not always, you know, we got to deal with the adversity in life. And here's another one. And that's part of what the big thing about sports is, it does teach you how to deal with some of this and we have, and they'll be better for it. But legacy-wise this class has four straight state championship games, and nobody can take that away. . . . So that's something they can certainly look back upon at some time. Probably not right now. But they'll be proud of that."

After the game, St. X players poured out onto the field, sprinted the stands to greet their fellow students, posed on the field with the championship trophy.

"It feels great," said Sivori, who was named the game's most valuable player.

"The first couple years I'm not sure that the culture was where we wanted it," Wallace said. "But we did an awful lot of team building, an awful lot of leadership building, an awful lot of work. These guys probably thought was, you know, stupid at the time, but I think it's built a culture that resulted in what happened tonight.

"We talk about event plus response equals outcome -- and you can't control the event. The only way you're going to control the outcome is your response. We've lived that we've lived that E plus R equals O, and what's our R factor? We've talked about that over and over and over. And I think, you know, we've got a great R factor, that we don't we don't give in, we're going to keep working."

For St. X on Saturday, R = State championship.

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