Judging from the celebration on the field after No. 10 Woodward Academy beat No. 5 St. Pius X with a last-minute touchdown Friday night for a 20-14 win, the War Eagles surprised even themselves.
Terry Googer’s 39-yard-touchdown pass to Conor Pilch with 20 seconds left not only kept Woodward Academy (7-2, 4-1 Region 6-AAA) in the region race, it helped the War Eagles forget about the way the Golden Lions dominated for the first 45 of 48 minutes.
“I think it goes back to our guys never quitting because Pius was driving right down the field and they had first-and-goal inside our 5. For us to come up with a turnover, that’s just huge,” said Woodward Academy coach John Hunt. “To be honest with you, I was just trying for a field goal, and I’ll be danged if we weren’t able to get a touchdown.”
St. Pius lost five fumbles in the game, none more important than the second to last.
SPX fullback Ryan Braswell lost the ball at the Woodward 1 with less than three minutes left, and the War Eagles recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
To that point, the Lions (6-2, 3-1 Region 6-AAA) had out-gained Woodward Academy 356 yards to 132. St. Pius rushed 56-times for 344 yards overall.
The War Eagles were tied at 14 only because of a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter by Jollyce Myrick, and because they stuffed SPX earlier in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-1 from the Lions’ 29.
Googer, who accounted for 207 of the War Eagles’ 212 yards of total offense Friday – including all 80 on the game-winning drive – converted two third-and-long situations on the final drive by running from the pocket.
When he hit Pilch over the middle, the senior wide receiver had plenty of room to run. He crossed all the way to the sideline in front of the Woodward bench, and scored untouched.
“It was a drag route with the slot receiver. It just opened up. It’s a hit-or-miss play,” Pilch said. “Usually, if you can hit that play, it’s going to be a home run.”
Woodward Academy sacked SPX quarterback Jack Spear on the Lions’ last two plays, forcing a fumble to end the game.
The War Eagles tied the game earlier in the fourth quarter shortly after stuffing Braswell on fourth-and-short.
“We were 17-for-17 on that last year,” said SPX coach Paul Standard. “If you can’t get a foot . . . we can’t make that many mistakes and beat a good team.”
Two plays later, Googer scored on a 12-yard draw with 9:08 left in the game for the tie.
Googer completed 8-of-13 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown, and rushed 20 times for 81 yards.
The scoreboard didn’t show it when SPX carried a 14-7 lead into halftime, but the Lions dominated the first half with 216 rushing yards and 10 first downs while Woodward Academy mustered just 62 yards of total offense and one first down.
The Lions drove 80 yards in eight plays on their first possession, taking a 7-0 lead on Brandon Mitchell’s 16-yard sweep.
Woodward Academy countered minutes later when Myrick went untouched on the punt return – the first time St. Pius X had to punt in four games.
Soon after the teams traded punts in the second quarter, Braswell busted over left guard 63 yards, carrying the ball to the WA 4-yard-line. He scored two plays later from the 1 to give the Lions a 14-7 lead with 4:38 left in the second quarter.
SPX wingbacks Mitchell, Nick Ruffin and Kevin O’Toole swept around the edges for 111 yards on 13 carries in the first two quarters. The Lions were missing backs Jack Pelt, who is out for the year, and Georgia commit Nick Glass, a two-way starter who may return next week.
Both teams have big games next week. Woodward Academy closes its regular season against Cedar Grove at Panthersville Stadium. St. Pius will play host to Blessed Trinity.
SPX – 7 7 0 0 – 14
Woodward Academy – 7 0 0 13 — 20
SPX – Brandon Mitchell 16 run (Thomas O’Leary kick).
WA – Jollyce Myrick 54 punt return (Alex Robinson kick)
SPX – Ryan Braswell 1 run (O’Leary kick)
WA – Terry Googer 12 run (Robinson kick)
WA – Conor Pilch 39 pass from Googer (kick blocked)