Oh so close.
That’s how close Country Day came to pulling off its second straight football playoff upset Saturday.
Country Day, a No. 10 seed, stood toe-to-toe with No. 2 St. Thomas Aquinas before falling 42-35 in double overtime in a Division III quarterfinals thriller.
“We didn’t want it to end like this,” senior running back Jase Griffin said. “We had a good season and proved a lot of people wrong. But credit to them. They came out and battled. We took them to double overtime. A game doesn’t get much better than that. But it just didn’t come out our way.”
Country Day, which went on the road and knocked off No. 7 Ouachita Christian in the opening round, finished the season 8-4.
“I wish it could have been a happier ending with these guys,” Griffin said.
And at times, it seemed like maybe it would be.
Country Day had an answer every time St. Thomas Aquinas seemed to surge ahead.
But the Cajuns were unable to answer in the second overtime, moments after Falcons quarterback Cameron Dantzler scored on a 3-yard run that proved to be the game-winner.
Country Day had one last possession, but Dantzler, a two-way star for the Falcons, stopped Cajuns quarterback Christian Zerut on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line to win it.
“I couldn’t be any more proud,” first-year Country Day coach Joe Chango said. “They fought like hell all day. They weren’t ready to go home, and they gave everything they had to stop it from happening. Sometimes the better team just gets you.
“We took the better team to the wire today.”
Dantzler, who is committed to Mississippi State, gave the Cajuns fits all day.
He accounted for five of his team’s six touchdowns, including two touchdown runs in overtime. He also had a touchdown run in regulation and threw two touchdown passes.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest game I’ve played; I can do better,” Dantzler said. “But I’m just glad we came away with victory.”
St. Thomas Aquinas (12-0) advances to the semifinals for the first time in school history and will play No. 3 Notre Dame on Friday.
Getting there wasn’t easy, though.
Country Day made it tough, scoring on the opening play of the game on Kerut’s 76-yard touchdown pass to McColl Simons. It was one of four touchdown passes on the day for Kerut, who completed 22 of 45 passes for 466 yards. A large chunk of those yards came on big plays. In addition to the game-opening touchdown, he threw a 62-yard touchdown to Trey Harrell and an 85-yarder to Griffin. The one to Griffin tied the game 21-21 in the third quarter.
Then, after St. Thomas Aquinas regained the lead 28-21 in the fourth, Country Day responded again. The Country Day defense, solid all game long, came up with a big stop on fourth-and-goal at the 1. It was one of three stellar stands by the defense, which kept St. Thomas Aquinas out of the end zone on three occasions into the red zone.
Country Day then marched 99 yards to knot the game at 28-28 with 3:32 left. Michael Hickey capped the drive with a 1-yard run.
Kerut threw his fourth touchdown on the opening possession of overtime, connecting with Price Petagna on fourth down to take the lead in the first extra session. But it was the last score of the season for the Cajuns, who were unable to pull out any last-second heroics like they did in the opening round when they scored the game winner in the final seconds.
“Last week was the best game I’ve been in,” Kerut said. “This one, as exciting as it was, feels worse.
“We just couldn’t get the win this week.”