ATLANTA – When St. Pius X football coach Paul Standard opted to kick off short to open the second half against North Hall, he wasn’t necessarily trying to recover an onside kick. He was just trying to minimize the Trojans’ chances to get the ball in good field position in their second-round Class AAA playoff game at George B. Maloof Stadium in Atlanta.
Instead, the ball bounced just right for the Golden Lions (12-0). After a high hop down around the 35, St. Pius was in perfect position to recover the kick and score on a field goal four plays later en route to a 17-3 win over the Trojans.
"He kicked it just perfect and had a perfect bounce for them," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said.
"The start to the second half was certainly critical to the outcome."
Even though it only resulted in a field goal for the Golden Lions, a field goal was a big deal in a game that lasted only two hours between two grind-it-out, run-based offenses.
St. Pius took a 10-3 lead on a 37-yard field goal by Joey Garguilo on the same drive after recovering the onside kick. Later in the third quarter, Cole Moon (25 carries, 105 yards) scored on a 2-yard score to give the Golden Lions a 17-3 lead.
St. Pius finished the game with 56 rushes for 298 yards. George Kennedy had a game-high 16 carries for 124 yards for the Golden Lions.
"That’s kind of been our mode of operation all season," Standard said. "This game was really a mirror image of two very similar teams.
"North Hall had an outstanding team and was the best defensive front we’ve seen all season."
The Golden Lions never moved the ball in big chunks. They methodically took 4 and 5 yards on every carry and took the ball downfield. St. Pius’ longest carry all night was for 34 yards by Kennedy on their opening drive. However, North Hall got by unscathed on that drive when a field goal attempt sailed wide to the right.
On North Hall’s opening drive they scored on a 24-yard field goal from junior Shane Doster, the Trojans’ points of the night. A few plays after a 60-yard pass completion from Nathan Jones to Trevor Ross, the Trojans were set up with the ball on the 1. However, a false-start penalty pushed the ball back to the 6 and forced North Hall into a field goal.
North Hall had trouble establishing a running game all night. The Trojans only put together 29 offensive plays and had 108 rushing yards.
"I don’t know how many plays we had on offense, but we didn’t have nearly enough snaps," Christmas said.
"Our defense played an amazing game tonight and played with a tremendous amount of heart," Standard said.
The other critical point in the first half for the Trojans came on a fourth-and-10 at the St. Pius 40. Instead of kicking, North Hall tried a halfback pass to the quarterback, who was open. But the pass missed the intended target who fell to the ground trying to make the catch for a first down.
The Golden Lions took a 7-3 lead with 5:51 left in the first half when Moon scored from the 1. The drive 12 plays and all the yards came on the ground except for a 15-yard pass completion from sophomore quarterback Trey White to wide receiver Alden Homrich. Homrich had the only two catches on the night for the Golden Lions.
St. Pius scored its other touchdown in the third quarter on a 12-play drive that ate 7:08 off the clock. The Golden Lions converted on all three third-down attempts on the drive.
Robert Humphrey was North Hall’s leading rusher with 10 carries for 43 yards. The Trojans’ season is now complete.
St. Pius faces Peach County in the state quarterfinals next Friday. The site will be determined by the winner of a coin flip.