BOGART – Second-ranked St. Pius beat No. 9 North Oconee 28-23 Friday night in quite a high school football game, but it was an even better matchup of former college teammates as the Golden Lions built a big lead and had to hang on desperately.
North Oconee head coach Terry Tuley played quarterback at Eastern Illinois in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when St. Pius defensive coordinator Jerry Stewart blocked for him as a guard.
Late Friday at North Oconee, they matched wits and the ol’ quarterback had the ol’ guard and his defenders on the run.
St. Pius junior quarterback Joey Connors ran for a score and passed for 139 yards and two touchdowns to Jack Pelt as the Golden Lions (2-0) built a 28-10 lead late in the third quarter.
But the visitors barely won, as Tuley started spreading his receivers out and rolling quarterback Tate Adcock. Only when St. Pius stopped the Titans (0-1) on five goal-to-go tries in the final minute were the Lions victorious.
North Oconee junior quarterback Tate Adcock completed 21-of-29 passes for 197 yards, and junior running back Kawon Bryant rushed for 162 yards and three scores. The Titans, though, fell just short of an amazing comeback when Adcock’s last pass – a screen to Bryant on fourth-and-goal from the 7 – saw Bryant stuffed for little gain.
“With formations and [rolling out Adcock], Terry was negating our stunts,” Stewart said. “They slowed our rush down, and we didn’t do a good job on Bryant.”
The teams combined to throw 13 passes in the first half and not one hit the ground.
Connors completed all three of his tosses, for 126 yards and a 79-yard scoring strike to Pelt, and Adcock completed 9-of-10 for 85 yards. His only misfire came when Pelt intercepted a ball in the end zone late in the half.
The Titans drove 65 yards in six plays to the St. Pius 18, but when Adcock threw to the end zone Pelt intercepted and brought it out to the 6. From there, a 36-yard rumble by fullback Daniel Crochet and a 26-yard passing play fueled a scoring drive than ended with a 23-yard sweep by senior wingback Branden Mitchell. St. Pius led 21-3.
North Oconee pulled to within 21-10 just before halftime when Bryant broke multiple tackles on his way down the left sideline for a 43-yard touchdown with 1:57 left.
The Golden Lions jammed Bryant on fourth-and-2 in the middle of the third quarter, and took over at their own 43.
Again, Connors and Pelt hooked up for a payoff a few plays later.
Connors was under heavy pressure rolling right on third-and-12 when he dumped a short pass just a few yards ahead to Pelt. He gathered, planted hard, and cut back across the grain and dove just inside the pylon to complete a 13-yard scoring play on which he may have run 40.
With 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, the Golden Lions had a comfortable 28-10 lead that looked even cozier as St. Pius forced a punt in the waning seconds of the period.
Pelt, however, muffed a fair catch and North Oconee’s Derrick Green recovered at the 16. Bryant scored three plays later from the 4 to pull the Titans within 28-16 with 14 seconds left in the third.
Bryant added another 4-yard scoring run with 5:09 left in the game to make it 28-23, and the Titans got the ball back one more time.
They drove to first-and-goal from the St. Pius 6 before back-to-back incompletions by Adcock. Then, Crochet and linebacker Kevin O’Toole sacked Adcock on third down, and after a North Oconee timeout, end Ian Flinn sacked Adcock again.
A defensive holding call went against St. Pius, though, and on fourth-and-goal from the 7, Bryant was unable to convert the screen pass as a host of Golden Lions tackled him with 25 seconds left to turn over possession.
Connors completed 4-of-5 passes as St. Pius ran just 38 plays for 328 yards to 67 plays by North Oconee for 352 yards.
“Our guys were tired there at the end, and several were playing both ways,” said St. Pius coach Paul Standard. “But that was something right there.
“For teenagers to go through the emotions of making what they thought was the last tackle to win the game, and then, to have to go play again and they throw it to maybe the best player on the field and we stop him . . . I’m so proud of our guys.”
St. Pius X – 0 21 7 0 – 28
North Oconee – 3 7 6 7 – 23
NO – 44 field goal
SPX – Jack Pelt 79 pass from Joey Connors (Thomas O’Leary kick)
SPX – Connors 4 run (O’Leary kick)
SPX – Branden Mitchell 29 run (O’Leary kick)
NO – Kawon Bryant 43 run (kick good)
SPX – Pelt 13 pass from Connors (O’Leary kick)
NO – Bryant 4 run (pass failed)
NO – Bryant 4 run (kick good)