Despite losing key playmakers from last year, the Lions of Cardinal Ritter are undefeated and have an 18-game unbeaten streak. The Junior Billikens, on the other hand, have been steadily rebounding from a 3-7 down year and are ready to take on the Lions in their regular season finale.
Champion Cardinal Ritter and upstart SLUH may be the best of city football programs this year
The high school football talent at the city private schools in St. Louis has never been more bountiful these days. St Mary’s is coming off back-to-back Missouri state titles in Class 3 in 2021 and Class 4 in 2022.
Likewise Cardinal Ritter is coming off an epic 14-0 campaign last fall, in which they only trailed in a game once at the half and went on to capture the Class 3 title without any real challenge throughout the playoffs. And then there’s overlooked, but usually steady St. Louis University High.
The ‘Junior Billikens’, as they are nicknamed, not to be confused with the Billikens of SLU, are rebounding from a 3-7 down year, in which they lost convincingly to both St. Mary’s and Cardinal Ritter. But don’t count on history repeating itself this year: The Junior Billikens avenged the St. Mary’s defeat with a 38-21 triumph in the season opener and followed that up with a 42-7 rout of Timberland, before a loss to area super power CBC, whose program with East St. Louis is on another level from the others in the metropolitan area.
But last weekend at neutral-site Gateway, the Junior Bills continued to roll by blanking perennial Public High League contender Vashon 33-0, despite missing the area’s number 1 college prospect in wide receiver -kick returner Ryan Wingo, due to an injury.. Quarterback Marco Sansone threw three touchdown passes and Jacobi Oliphant returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown, as the Junior Bills improved to 3-1 with the rout. Keenan Harris and Nathan Gunn were among the receivers who filled the void extremely well in Wingo’s absence. But to that end, SLUH coach Adam Cruz he found a few good men who help compensate in lieu of some temporary attrition issues.
“I was proud of guys stepping up to fill in from different sports with injury and sickness,” noted Cruz. “I was particularly proud of our defensive effort and how we tackled on the defensive side.”
The Junior Billikens will have to wait until the regular season finale, Friday Oct. 20 at their stadium to get their revenge on the Lions of Cardinal Ritter, however. But given their handling of both Vashon and St. Mary’s, it’s fair to surmise the Junior Bills are steady, even with key injuries, and are destined to be even better if they get healthier, starting with Wingo. Ryan Wingo is the third of the talented Wingo brothers from SLUH. His older brothers, Ronnie and Raymond Wingo still hold notable school records: Ronnie holds the mark for most points in a single season (152) and most in a career (290) by a Junior Billiken, starting in 2008. Raymond holds the mark for most touchdowns in a season (20 in 2012) and both hold the single-game touchdown mark of six each. But the Lions will clearly need a healthy and productive Ryan Wingo to have a chance against the roaring Ritter Lions.
The Lions improved to 4-0, while extending their unbeaten streak to 18 games by outlasting the visiting Jefferson City Helias Crusaders 30-29 last weekend. Ritter’s defense prevailed at the end, as the Lions stopped Helias on a potential tying two-point play after a touchdown with eight seconds left.
The Crusaders, a former state champion in recent years and a perennial title contender just like Ritter, had rallied from two touchdowns to make a game of it. Lions transfer receiver D.J. Miller caught two touchdowns and running back Jamarion Parker continued his emergence as a star, with a 39-yard touchdown romp. Malek Perkins also had a 90-yard kick return for a score .After the Lions graduated All-State playmakers in running back Marvin Burks and receiver Frederick Moore from last year’s state champ.
Lions quarterback Antwon McKay acknowledged while those losses were significant, the team knew there are other players on the horizon ready to contribute. He said both Miller and Parker are capable of stepping in.
“Those were great players but we’re confident in DJ Miller coming in as a transfer and Parker is proving he can fill Burks shoes as a running back,” said McKay, earlier this season.
The Lions 4-0 mark does not include a recent 76-0 wipeout of Kansas City University Academy in a formal game (see photos below) that was later declared an exhibition contest, only because it was a last-day makeup game after the week’s opponents for both teams had to forfeit. Parker, Miller and rotating quarterbacks McKay and Carson Boyd led an onslaught of touchdowns. Dominique Dixon and Cam Clayborn, among others, stymied the Kansas City team’s defense, moreover. Lions coach Brennan Spain said his team badly needed the workout, given that one opponent, the aforementioned Vashon Wolverines, had to forfeit because of a fight at its school earlier in the day, and Duchesne, had to forfeit one week because of a Covid-19 outbreak.
“What people don’t realize is we were already a week behind everybody else because we didn’t get to play the Vashon game, then we would have missed another week,” explained Spain. “We’ve been working our butts off and the kids deserve to play. Once we play, we have to go hard. We have to go full throttle because we’re in competition with ourselves. We don’t try to distinguish first string from second unit.”
Below left to right: Vashon’s Dorian Phillips (number 1 in the blue jersey) tries to break free from a St Louis University High defender Keenan Harris, then SLUH defensive back Jacobi Oliphant (number 7 in white jersey) is off to the races on a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. (Photos by Brian McDonald.) Meanwhile in a recent Cardinal Ritter game against Kansas City Academy running back Jamarion Parker (number 3 with ball) and quarterback Carson Boyd (number 2 with ball) led an all-out assault on the visitors. Photos by Leon Algee