Senior fullback Ryan Braswell scored two touchdowns and St. Pius X beat Hart County 31-15 Friday night to return to the state Class AAA quarterfinals for the second straight year and for the third time in four seasons, but Golden Lions head coach Paul Standard had a suffer a few surprises on the way.
Braswell, the Lions’ leading rusher and scorer with 1,359 yards and 25 touchdowns, left the game with a sprained shoulder late in the first quarter, and once his pads came off there was anxiety among SPX fans George B. Maloof Stadium.
Add the fact that the Lions (10-2) couldn’t keep Hart County quarterback Dakota Mitchell in check, and this game was more tense than the final score would indicate. Mitchell finished with 124 rushing yards, two rushing scores and 134 passing yards and Standard was mildly surprised so see him play so much because he’d been limited recently by injury.
Ultimately, the Lions’ ground game won out as they went on to rush 52 times for 349 yards. SPX junior Branden Mitchell rushed for 55 yards on the first play of the game, and went on to rush for 126 of his 141 yards in the first half.
This game was tight for a while.
The Lions took a 7-0 lead when Braswell scored from 1 yard out to cap the first drive of the game, but the Bulldogs (6-6) drove 56, 50 and 57 yards on their first three drives.
Hart County’s first drive ended when SPX junior Nick Ruffin blocked Andrew Wilder’s 41-yard field goal attempt, and the second drive ended at the SPX 2-yard-line when Hart County running back Mikeontay Simpson was stuffed on fourth down.
“After we scored, then we fumbled [the next possession] and the next possession we were backed up deep [and had to punt],” Standard said. “If we didn’t make two big stops – with the blocked field goal and the goal-to-go – who knows?”
Hart County tied the game on the third try when Dakota Mitchell scored on a 3-yard run with 10:54 left in the second quarter.
Soon, Braswell left the field in pain and with the Bulldogs running a no-huddle offense similar to that of the University of Oregon in that they spread the field and signaled plays in from the sideline with cards, SPX was having difficulty gauging its opponent.
The Lions, though, figured it out from there and scored the next 17 points in the second quarter to lead 24-7 at halftime.
Braswell, in fact, returned to score the tie-breaking touchdown on a 9-yard run in the middle of the second quarter. As SPX forced back-to-back three-and-outs by Hart County, the Lions moved further ahead on Branden Mitchell’s 24-yard scoring run and a 44-yard field goal by Thomas O’Leary.
Each team added a score in the fourth quarter, the Lions scoring when Braswell’s backup – sophomore Dalton Wilson – scored from 9 yards.
Dakota Mitchell scored from 1 yard late in the game to close the scoring. He rushed 20 times for 124 yards despite suffering 30 yards in lost yardage on sacks and a grounding penalty. He completed 9-of-20 passes for 124 yards and Hart County amassed 355 yards of total offense. Simpson added 72 yards on 13 carries.
“That guy was pretty good,” Standard said. “He was the leader of their offense. He made that team go.”
St. Pius had 370 yards of offense as senior quarterback Jack Spear completed 2-of-3 passes for 21 yards and rushed for 39 yards on seven carries. Wilson had 57 yards on seven carries.
Hart County – 0 7 0 8 – 15
St. Pius X – 7 17 0 7 – 31
SPX – Ryan Braswell 1 run (Thomas O’Leary kick)
HC – Dakota Mitchell 3 run (Andrew Wilder kick)
SPX – Braswell 9 run (O’Leary kick)
SPX – Branden Mitchell 24 run (O’Leary kick)
SPX – O’Leary 44 field goal
SPX – Dalton Wilson 9 run (O’Leary kick)
HC – D. Mitchell 1 run (Mikeontay Simpson run)