Covenant football coach Seth Wilson calls Jonas Sanker a “human cheat code.”
The junior quarterback showed why on Saturday night in the VISFL state championship game.
Sanker accounted for eight touchdowns as he led the Eagles to a 64-44 victory over St. Anne’s-Belfield to secure the program’s second-straight championship.
“The kid just has next-level moves,” Wilson said. “He just makes plays that you just don’t draw up, it’s just Jonas being Jonas and it’s just become commonplace for him to make these kinds of plays.”
Sanker ran for 325 yards and five touchdowns as Covenant (10-0) improved to 21-0 since making the jump to eight-man football last fall. He also threw for 224 yards and a pair of long touchdown passes to his brother, Nic Sanker. On defense, Sanker returned a fumble late in the second half for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Despite those robust numbers, the Covenant quarterback wasn’t totally pleased with his performance.
“I looked at this performance and realized I still have a lot of work to do.” Sanker said. “I didn’t throw the ball well. Tomorrow, I’m going to be out working for next year. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Eagles’ journey to back-to-back titles wasn’t easy, as STAB once again pulled out all the stops against its area rival. Nick Reese matched Sanker score for score for most of the first half to give the Saints an early lead.
Following a Covenant fumble, Reese scored from 12 yards out on a fourth and 2 play to open the scoring. He also added the two-point conversion to give STAB (8-2) an 8-0 lead.
Jonas Sanker responded on the next possession by connecting with Nic Sanker on a 37-yard scoring strike to tie the game at 8-8 with 6:16 left in the first quarter.
Reese found the end zone again when he returned the ensuing kickoff 76 yards for a score to stretch the lead to 14-8. The Sanker brothers responded with a 63-yard pitch and catch on the Eagles’ next possession to tie the game at 14-14.
STAB regained the lead on Gabe Decker’s one-yard touchdown run, then Reese hit Bobby Anderson on a two-point conversion to give the Saints a 22-14 lead with 6:41 left in the half.
Then Jonas Sanker took over, scoring on runs of 59 and 46 yards during a four-minute span to give Covenant a 28-22 lead at intermission.
Despite trailing for most of the first half, Covenant linebacker Cole Finley said the Eagles were confident that they could regroup in the second half.
“We went in the locker room and decided what was going right and what was going wrong and we capitalized on that,” Finley said. “We figured out ways we could get around and make plays defensively.”
The adjustments worked for the Eagles, who turned turnovers into touchdowns in the third quarter. Following an interception, Sanker scored his third rushing touchdown midway through the third quarter on a 47-yard run to extend the lead to 36-22.
The junior got into the act defensively on the next possession when he scooped up a loose ball and rumbled 61 yards for a touchdown to make it 42-22 Eagles.
The Covenant defense wasn’t done.
Nic Sanker picked up a fumble and scored from 48 yards out to make it a 52-28 game.
STAB tried to make a game of it late. Quarterback Nolan Bruton hit Decker on a 40-yard touchdown strike, then the Saints recovered the onside kick, which led to Amani Woods’ two-yard touchdown run that trimmed the lead to 56-38 with 11:55 left in the game.
That would be as close as STAB would get. Jonas Sanker tacked on two more long touchdown runs to put the game out of reach.
“It’s a great feeling,” Jonas Sanker said. “We started slow, but everyone on this team worked their butt off. This is a good team effort, probably one of our best team efforts that we’ve played all year, at least in the second half.”
Nic Sanker had five receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Asher added six catches for 94 yards. On the ground. Finley churned out 125 yards in the win.
For STAB, Woods finished with 192 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Reese added 95 yards on the ground before leaving the game with an injury early in the third quarter.
Wilson said this process started four years ago when this group of players was still in eighth and ninth grades.
“They just have something deep down in their hearts and they love to compete and they love one another and they come and work hard,” Wilson said. “I’m just really proud that we were all able to do it together. Not rely on the past year’s success and come out and just be hungry and laugh and love one another and just play really good football.”
For Finley, walking away with the state championship trophy was surreal.
“It’s amazing,” Finley said. “It’s the one thing you want when your playing high school football. You don’t ever want to end your season on a loss. Ending your season on a win is the greatest feeling you could ever have.”