Thrilling championship weekend ends with upset of Kentucky’s No. 1 team

·7 min read

How do you cap one of the most tightly contested weekends of state championship football in recent memory? With an upset, naturally.

This weekend, as most KHSAA/UK Orthopaedics State Football Finals weekends do, ended with two Louisville powerhouses squaring off in the Class 6A bout to see which would add another piece of hardware to a crowded trophy case. This year the spoils went to St. Xavier after it handed previously unbeaten Male its only loss of the season, 31-21.

Male (13-1) was the only team to top the Tigers (14-1) in the regular season, dealing them a 28-21 loss in Brother Thomas More Page Stadium. That duel played a role in Saturday’s result, though; St. X held Male scoreless in the second half the first time around, fostering confidence for a rematch at any point in the postseason. The Tigers were even more encouraged by that first game because they were without several defensive linemen and starting cornerback Jackson Poma.

“Even though we don’t have everybody back, we had some people back by this time we felt like would help us match up a little bit better up front,” St. Xavier head coach Kevin Wallace said. “ ... We got enough stops and did a good job taking care of the football, and we turned them over a little bit, which nobody had really been able to do.”

Male quarterback Nic Schutte entered the game having thrown just one interception all season; St. Xavier picked him off twice on consecutive possessions, the first at the end of the third quarter and the second early in the fourth. The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out following the first pick, but St. X pushed a four-point lead to double digits after nabbing the second at Male’s 41-yard line. Jack Sivori found Mekhi Smith in the end zone to make it 24-13 with 8:02 to play.

Male responded quickly. It drove 96 yards on eight plays, highlighted by a 41-yard touchdown pass from Schutte to Vinny Anthony. A successful two-point conversion trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 24-21 with 5:21 left.

St. X delivered the dagger a few minutes later. After Male used its final timeout with the Tigers facing third-and-4 from the Male 45, Sivori again hit Smith for a touchdown with 1:52 remaining.

“I’ve known Mekhi since fifth grade,” said Sivori, who was named MVP of the game after throwing for 306 yards and three TDs and rushing for 64 yards and a score. “We play basketball together. We’ve always had a connection on the court and on the field. I’m gonna give him a chance and he’s gonna make the play nine out of 10 times.”

“This is my dog,” said Smith, who had a game-high 10 receptions for 128 yards. “We know. We just know.”

St. Xavier’s Mekhi Smith (7) celebrates after scoring on a 45-yard touchdown reception with 1:52 left in Saturday night’s Class 6A state championship game.
St. Xavier’s Mekhi Smith (7) celebrates after scoring on a 45-yard touchdown reception with 1:52 left in Saturday night’s Class 6A state championship game.

Kevin Wallace

When it won its last state title in 2009, St. Xavier was third in the state with 12 championships. In the time since then, Mayfield had matched it and Beechwood (16) had passed it.

In that same span, Wallace won five state titles as the head coach at Bowling Green, a Class 5A stalwart. He was hired by the Tigers ahead of the 2018 season.

“I left a great place and a lot of great people,” Wallace said. “The whole reason I did it was because of the challenge. At some point in my career, I wanted to see if I could be part of a team that won a state championship at the top level. This is why I came here.”

Wallace said he wasn’t sure, during his first few seasons, that St. Xavier’s culture was where it needed to be in order to succeed. Its body of work seems to reflect that: 9-4 in 2018, 8-5 in 2019 and 6-3 in 2020. The first two campaigns ended in the region finals, and the 2020 season featured two lopsided defeats at the hands of fellow Catholic heavy-hitter Trinity.

This year, though, Wallace sensed a renewed level of commitment from his group.

“We did an awful lot of team building, an awful lot of leadership building, an awful lot of work that these guys probably thought was, you know, stupid at the time,” Wallace said. “But I think it’s built a culture that resulted in what happened tonight.”

The St. Xavier Tigers finished their championship season 14-1, avenging their only loss, to Male, in the Class 6A title game.
The St. Xavier Tigers finished their championship season 14-1, avenging their only loss, to Male, in the Class 6A title game.

Notes

Total attendance through the six games played Friday and Saturday finished at 40,607. That was up from last year’s total (26,681), which was restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but down about 12,000 from the 2019 finals (51,844). It was slightly higher than the 39,452 who attended the six finals played in 2018.

The all-time attendance record, 52,796, was set in 2017, the first year the finals were staged at Kroger Field.

Four of the highest-scoring offenses in the state — Lexington Christian Academy (46.9 ppg, 1st), Beechwood (45.9, 3rd), Male (42.2, eighth) and Frederick Douglass (41.2, 11th) — were held to 26 or fewer points over the weekend. Beechwood, which beat LCA, was the only champion of the foursome.

Only two of the six champions crowned — Boyle County and Belfry — prevailed as the highest-ranked team still playing in their respective class according to the KHSAA’s RPI data. Boyle County was No. 1 in Class 4A while Belfry was rated No. 14, one spot ahead of Paducah Tilghman.

St. Xavier players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Class 6A state championship at Kroger Field in Lexington.
St. Xavier players celebrate with the trophy after winning the Class 6A state championship at Kroger Field in Lexington.

Recapping the 2021 Kentucky high school football state championships

South Warren’s big-play offense too much for gritty Frederick Douglass in 5A title game

Belfry’s belief, and unrelenting ground game, deliver Class 3A state football title

‘You gotta have belief in your team.’ Early risks pay off for Boyle County in 4A title.

Beechwood lands final blow in another thrilling state title win over Lexington Christian

‘I’ll miss him.’ Father-son duo helps Pikeville outlast Russellville in Class A finals.

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