STE. GENEVIEVE - With star running back Matt Burnett on the sidelines in street clothes, the Dexter Bearcats knew they would need to play a near flawless game to defeat the No. 7 ranked Ste. Genevieve Dragons in Wednesday's Class 3 Sectional.
But it didn't happen as the Bearcats turned the ball over five times in the first half in a 36-7 loss to the Dragons.
Ste. Genevieve (10-1) moves on to the Class 3 quarterfinals where it will travel to play St. Francis Borgia on Monday at 7 p.m.
Dexter's best season since 1987 ends at 8-3.
"We didn't play well but they caused us not to play well," said Dexter head coach Aaron Pixley. "I mean that's a very good football team. I feel like they're going to go a long way."
The Dragons were unstoppable in the first half as they staked a 36-0 halftime lead.
Tailback Adam Schwent scored four touchdowns in the first half before leaving the game with an injury.
Brad Arnold, the Dragons' precision quarterback that has completed 72 percent of his passes this year, demonstrated why he is held in such high regard.
In the first half alone, the 5-foot-10 senior completed 12-of-16 passes for 229 yards with two touchdown. He only attempted two passes in the second half, both incompletions.
"He's kind of followed suit as he has all year," said Ste. Genevieve head coach Bob Stolzer. "He's a helluva quarterback, very smart and he's got good receivers that catch the ball as well."
Dexter meanwhile, without Burnett, couldn't get any offense going for most of the night. Fumbles and interceptions didn't help the cause.
The Dragons took their opening possession and scored in four plays capped by Arnold's 52-yard touchdown pass to tailback Adam Schwent.
Dave Armstrong provided the two-point conversion run to make it 8-0 with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
Dexter fumbled on its first play from scrimmage, giving an ominous sign of things to come.
Although the rest of the first quarter was a defensive stalemate, the tone had already been set.
The Bearcats seemed to be in good shape when the Dragons had 3rd-and-16 from their own 43, but on the first play of the second quarter, Arnold found fullback Aaron Browne for a 31-yard completion.
The play proved to be demoralizing for Dexter.
A 29-yard pass to Kyle Palmer set up Schwent's 2-yard TD plunge with 11:10 left in the first half to make it 14-0.
"They do a great job of sticking their fullbacks out in the flat or up the field and that's what they really killed us with more than anything," said Pixley.
Dexter fumbled its ensuing kickoff, setting up the Dragons at the Bearcat 47. Four plays later, Schwent scored his third touchdown of the game on an 8-yard run with 9:14 left in the half.
Matt Bader caught the two-point conversion to make it 22-0.
"It just kept steamrolling on us there," said Pixley. "I believe at one time our defense was on the field for 11 or 12 straight minutes, and that's in the first half. You can't win football games that way."
The Dragons made it 28-0 when Schwent tacked on his fourth score on a nifty 27-yard run down the right sideline.
One of Dexter's best drives of the first half ended on an interception by the Dragons' Derrick Wolk, who returned it 81 yards for an apparent touchdown with 1:17 left in the half.
But a personal foul behind the return brought the play back to the Dragon 18.
But Ste. Genevieve didn't take long to get the score back. Aided by a personal foul late hit out of bounds on Schwent, an unsportsmanlike conduct and a pass interference penalty, the Dragons eventually scored on a 9-yard pass to Seth Fallert.
Fallert then caught the two-point conversion to make it 36-0 with 33 seconds left.
But it came with a price as Schwent left the game with a leg injury. Schwent had 89 yards rushing on 11 carries, 53 yards receiving on two catches and had a fumble recovery on defense.
"He was running the ball very well until the injury happened," said Stolzer. "I'm pretty upset about that. I won't say anything about it. It's just an unfortunate thing the way it happened. I'm hoping he'll be back for Monday. It's just gonna be a day by day thing. You talk about Burnett being out hurting them, if Schwent's out it's going to hurt us equally as much as Dexter missed Burnett tonight."
The mercy rule kept the clock running for most of the second half until Dexter's Garrett Williams broke free for a 56-yard TD run with 5:31 left in the game. Tyler Grovenor's extra point made it 36-7 to reach the final margin.
"We got them spread out there and got some good blocking," said Pixley. "It was a good offensive play, but I wish there was more."
Dexter managed just 199 yards of offense, but only 92 came via rush, the Bearcats' usual strength.
Clark threw for 102 yards, but completed just 7-of-19 with two interceptions. Willie Dooley caught six of the passes for 91 yards.
Williams finished with 86 yards rushing on 12 attempts in Burnett's place.
"It's definitely a factor," said Stolzer of Burnett's absence. "You take probably 50 percent of their offense out like that. We figured they would start throwing more because Burnett was out. And turnovers are big in these ballgames. It certainly took any wind out of their sails."
Ste. Genevieve finished with 379 yards of offense. Browne was the top receiver, catching four passes for 85 yards.
"First of all they do a real good job of pass blocking," said Pixley. "It's very difficult to get a pressure on the quarterback. We got pressure on him a few times but not near enough obviously. They're very good, period. They have a very good offense, their defense is very solid and I believe they're going to go a long way."
Burnett finished the season as the career rushing leader in Dexter history. He broke the single-season rushing record last year.
He will graduate along with 12 other seniors.
"They have done a great job in helping turning this program around and putting it where it needs to be -- where it used to be," said Pixley. "There were tears after that game. They knew they had a great season and they didn't want it to end. This group will be remembered for the season they had for years to come."