Van-Far football piled on in district loss at St. Vincent

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 11/15/23

The deficit kept growing for Van-Far football on Friday night much like the belief grew for its players during the season.

Van-Far at St. Vincent District Photo Gallery

The Indians lost …

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Van-Far football piled on in district loss at St. Vincent


The deficit kept growing for Van-Far football on Friday night much like the belief grew for its players during the season.

Van-Far at St. Vincent District Photo Gallery

The Indians lost 42-6 at Class 1 District 2 top seed St. Vincent in a district semifinal game in Perryville, following three first-half turnovers that led to a 28-0 halftime deficit. Van-Far didn’t have its best night but had many good nights throughout its 6-5 season to follow 18 years of losing seasons.

Head coach Lucas Gibson said Van-Far couldn’t recover in the first half after falling behind 14-0. St. Vincent (8-3) scored its first touchdown after a short Van-Far punt put them 45 yards out and then drove down the field 72 yards for a touchdown. The Indians had already fumbled, with no adverse effects, but lost the ball again to set up a short field and scoring drive for St. Vincent.

“We were moving the ball to start but had two big fumbles in the first quarter,” Gibson said. “After that, they just piled on. We didn’t play our best game, and they were more physical than us. They beat us off the ball. We just didn’t have it tonight.”

Van-Far had to travel three hours after preparing with a shorter week. The Indians secured their first district victory since 2014 on Saturday at home in Vandalia with a 46-9 win against Chaffee. 

St. Vincent, which is a private Catholic school, had shorter fields most of the night while Van-Far regularly started either at or within its own 20. The first drive following the punt was a short field and the second fumble gave St. Vincent a 21-yard field. An interception gave Van-Far 57 yards of room before St. Vincent took a three-possession lead thanks to one of three rushing touchdowns by quarterback Christian Schaaf.

“They had short fields, it seemed like most of the game, and that’s our fault,” Gibson said. “We turned it over too many times in the wrong spots. We knew they were going to spread us out and throw the ball. They did a great job at it because they spread us out and then ran up the middle, and we couldn’t stop that either.”

Still, at times, Van-Far’s defensive line full of sophomores, including Evan Utterback and Jackson Fischer with their respective two and one tackle for loss, managed to stop St. Vincent behind the line of scrimmage at moments. The Indians’ defense wrapped up a season where it limited opponents to 22 points per game — their first season allowing under 30 points per game since 2015. Dalton Hays led the team with seven tackles followed by Pacey Reading’s 4.5, Fischer’s four and Utterback’s three.

Senior quarterback Nikos Connaway ran for a 28-yard touchdown after tip-toeing just within the front left pylon for the final touchdown of his high school career and to prevent Van-Far from being shut out for the first time in 23 games. Earlier in the second half, senior Blake Foster jumped up for an interception on an overthrown pass by Schaaf, and senior Gage Gibson led on the ground with 71 yards on 19 carries one week after his season-high 193 rushing yards against Chaffee. Bransen Salmon and Tyrece Cole round out the team’s seniors.

The second-year high school coach Gibson, who was named co-head coach of the year in the Eastern Missouri Conference along with Bowling Green’s Mark St. Clair, is thankful for the seniors leading the team out of its low past. Gibson remembers coaching them in youth football then junior high and now high school. He also took some time to hug his son, Gage, after he played his final high school game.

“They brought leadership,” Gibson said. “Nikos and Gage were basically four-year starters so they’re going to be missed dearly. The five seniors, I’ve coached them since they were in third grade. Those are the only five that stuck with it.”

Much excitement was generated in the Van-Far community this season as the Indians had a full visiting cheering section of students and fans three hours away in colder temperatures that usually accompanies playoff football. The Indians gave them plenty of reasons to be excited for this year after going on a five-game winning streak going into Friday.

First, Van-Far defeated conference rival North Callaway for the first time since 2003, then knocked off then-district No. 1 Crystal City after a fourth-quarter comeback, won their first road game since 2019 with a victory in Louisiana, hoisted its second ever Farmers’ Cup against Mark Twain and finally snapped its district-winless streak. In four of those victories, the Indians finished with at least 150 yards on the ground and didn’t allow more than 14 points in any game.

“I want to say thanks to Vandalia and the community because we had a lot of people here, and this is a long ways,” Gibson said. “I want to thank everybody for coming down to watch us.” 

Gibson said there will be plenty of players back that were instrumental to Van-Far’s success this year, and they should use this season’s ending to motivate them much like they were motivated by the ending of last season. The Indians had to forfeit their district game last year due to low roster numbers.

“Last year, we didn’t get to play a district game because we only had 13 kids left by the end of it,” Gibson said. “I feel like that drove them to work hard in the offseason and that score is going to do the same thing.”