ST. LOUIS • St. Mary’s didn’t look like a a bunch of wide-eyed rookies playing in their first state quarterfinal game Saturday.
Instead, the Dragons looked like experienced veterans.
Led by senior running back Brandon Polito, who rushed 24 times for 227 yards and three touchdowns, host St. Mary’s rolled to an impressive 37-14 win over Hillsboro.
“We were pretty nervous,” said St. Mary’s quarterback Kevin Hennessy, who ran 12 times for 105 yards and two scores. “Coach (Jake) Parent does a really good job making us feel calm and ready to go.”
The Dragons (11-2) advance to play two-time defending Class 4 state champion Webb City in the semifinals next Saturday. Hillsboro finished the season 10-3.
“I love it,” Parent said. “We didn’t expect it, but we knew we had a chance to be here.”
Polito scored on runs of 24 and 25 yards as the Dragons moved out to a comfortable 30-14 lead at the half. He then added a 49-yard touchdown run with 8:34 in the fourth quarter to put the game on ice.
“(The line) did a terrific job blocking, Kevin made the right checks for their setup and I just ran my holes,” Polito said.
Hennessy, meanwhile, scored on runs of 47 and 30 yards in the first half, the second of which came on an option play.
“I was supposed to read out and run outside of it,” Hennessy said of the play. “Polito was inside -- it was messed up -- and he was getting tackled from the outside. I just ran to the inside.”
The Hawks, who scored on a 40-yard pass from Justin Horn to Brennan Martin and on a 27-yard run from Nick Baumgartner in the first half, were hampered in the second half by injuries to Baumgartner and Chris Walsh.
“I’m really proud of our kids to get to this point,” Hillsboro coach Brian Robins said. “They exploited some things we knew we were a little deficient on throughout the season.”
The St. Mary’s defense had a couple of breakdowns in the first half but pitched a shutout in the final two quarters. Charlie Coghill had two sacks to help lead the Dragons on that side of the ball.
“For me, I’ve had a lot of family issues -- my grandparents died -- and it’s all for them,” Coghill said of his success. “Everything I do is for my family.”
The Dragons now will take aim at Webb City, which beat Salem 35-6 in another quarterfinal game Saturday. The Cardinals are undefeated this year and have won 43 games in a row.
“We just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Polito said. “Keep going with St. Mary’s football, keep pounding the ball. Just keep working hard.”