Their domination was epic. They didn’t just beat teams, rather they dismantled them. They trailed in only one game after the third quarter all season, before winning that game over then-unbeaten (8-0) and dominant large-school power Hillsboro, before pulling away 26-13.
Meet the 2022 edition of the Cardinal Ritter Lions, your Missouri Class 3 state football champions, who made it look easy, who appeared to have no challenges all season.
“I disagree,” said Lions head coach Brennan Spain, just moments after Cardinal Ritter had overwhelmed the Reed Spring Wolves 46-7 in the title game early last month at Faurot Field in Columbia. Spain went on to point out that while fans and media alike may only judge the results by the final lopsided scores his Lions registered, they don’t see the hard work, challenges and sacrifices that took for his club reach such a dominant level. In other words, it didn’t come easy.
However, bucking part of an old adage that “practice makes perfect”, the Cardinal Ritter Lions did it their way. Sure they practiced, but not in the traditional sense of tough, mid-week, full-scale scrimmages.
“We haven’t put on any pads all season,” said Spain , a few times during the season, emphasizing that the focus was on being physically ready for game action, as they dedicated practices to walk-throughs and film-study.
Be that as it may, the Lions were truly in a league of their own in 2022 in their Pursuit of Perfection, which they nailed with a perfect 14-0. Along they outscored 616 -112, which slightly over 50 points per game, while yielding an average of an even-8 points per contest.
The offense boasted two, count them two, 1,000-yard receivers in Michigan recruit Frederick Moore (67 catches for 1,504 yards, 24 touchdowns) and Missouri State (formerly known as Southwest Missouri) recruit Ryan Boyd (53 catches for 1,035 yards), two quarterbacks who passed for 1,500 or more yards in Carson Boyd (1,510 yards, 28 touchdown passes and just three interceptions) and Antwon McKay (1,654 yards, 16 touchdown strikes and just four picks), both of whom are underclassmen, and a 1,700-yard rusher in Mizzou recruit Marvin Burks (1,717 yards, 26 rushing scores and a phenomenal 10.1 yards per-average carry).
Burks, who scored 30 touchdowns total, was a highlight reel waiting to happen and helped make talented, colorful, Cardinal Ritter public address announcer, Jarryn Blackshear-Bryant, an even more entertaining announcer than he already shown himself to be. There were countless instances when Burks, who’s 6-foot-2 and only 170 pounds, not only outran and faked out defenders, but also ran through them and shook them off effortlessly.
“The man. The myth. Marvin Burks!”, Blackshear would shout.
But upon being crowned champions, Burks, who rushed 21 times for 118 yards and scored four touchdowns in the title game, put he and his club’s season in perspective.
“Putting our individual goals aside this year and just playing as one, I feel like that’s what really got us over the hump this year,” said Burks, referencing the fact that Ritter had been eliminated in the state semifinals the past two seasons .
Spain expounded on that even more so. His club had come up short in the state semifinals two seasons ago, in losing to Blair Oaks in a wild shootout 55-46 at home. Then last season they lost on the road in the state semifinals, 21-20 to St. Pius X of Kansas City.
“The last two years put us in position to be successful this year,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t realize it. Sometimes the previous senior class doesn’t realize it. Sometimes somebody has to be the sacrificial lamb. This offseason these guys bought in. This offseason these guys understood that the feeling we had (of coming up short), we didn’t want to feel anymore.”
Small wonder, the Ritter defense left nothing to chance all season. Also sparked by safety Burks, with 95 total tackles, linemen Cameron Clayborn and Joseph Reed, linebackers Lawrence McConnell, Lester McKinley and Mekhi Mixon and among a host of others, the Lions defense posted six shutouts, which was nearly half of its victories of course. For all of his offensive prowess and skills, though, Burks was received an honor of distinction on the other side of the ball. He was named the Class 3 ‘Defensive Player of the Year by the Missouri Football Coaches Association.
Small wonder it was quite the task for even the state runner-up, the Reed Spring High Wolves in the Branson, Missouri area, to keep up with Ritter.
“It was a challenge,” said Reed Spring coach Andy McFarland. “They’ve got a Division 1 athlete they can hand the ball to (Burks), a Division 1 athlete (Moore) they can throw the ball to. They did a great job of getting athletes the ball in space. Definitely a handful.”
The Cardinal Ritter game is when the Wolverines discovered, or unveiled a new star running back in junior Marquis Gleghorn, who started his high school career at Career Academy, which now merges with Vashon in football since the Phoenix shuttered its program a couple of seasons ago due to a lack of players. Gleghorn stunned the Lions defense with a 68-yard touchdown with 9 minutes, 35 seconds left in the third quarter, as the Wolverines avoided the shutout. Starting offensive lineman Danico Clauson added the extra-point kick.
Gleghorn would go on to rush for 939 yards on 108 carries and 10 touchdowns, which allowed Franklin to move former 1,100-yard freshman flash Dierre Hill Jr to a receiver slot on at least half the downs. Hill still averaged 10.0 yards per carry, in rushing for 480 yards on just 48 carries. Meanwhile, he caught 29 passes for 462 yards as a receiver, which ranked him second behind veteran big-play target Zachary Smith’s 35 catches for a robust 648 yards.
“A lot of people didn’t know anything about me,” said Gleghorn. “I wanted to show the fans and my teammates what I’m capable of doing.”
Meanwhile, Clauson’s story is more than that of a starting lineman who kicks extra points for the Wolverines. By day, he is a student at the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience magnet school, who is allowed to play football at his regular neighborhood school, Vashon, because his school doesn’t field a football team. That alone takes a sacrifice: to attend classes at a demanding science-centered school then play football at another school.
Clauson’s school, shares the building on in South St. Louis with Central Visual and Performing Arts High, which was the scene of a mass-shooting back on October 24, which resulted in three deaths (student Alexzandria Bell and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka, as well as the gunman Orlando Harris, a former student.).While the shootings took place in the VPA section of the building, the Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience section was in imminent danger and eventually had to evacuate as well, before closing down for a couple of weeks. (Collegiate re-opened before the Thanksgiving break, but construction delays due to the damage from the shootings have still postponed VPA’s return to in-person classes. Clauson suited up and played for the Vashon Wolverines in their rout of Confluence Academy on October 29, despite the psychological and logistical problems from the tragedy.
“I’m still in shock,” Clauson said after that game. “I didn’t practice this week before coming out here and playing this game. It’s still been effecting me. I don’t know if I’m still ready to go back into the building.”
The Wolverines would finish the campaign with an 8-3 record and a 17-7 loss at Parkway Central in the Class 4 district championships. But the one-two punch of Gleghorn and Hill could provide Vashon with its own potential superstar duo next season.