When win-or-go- home time came for St. Pius X Friday night, the Golden Lions leaned heavily on their beloved running game to beat Decatur 41-14 to sew up an eighth straight playoff berth as junior fullback Dalton Wilson rushed for 160 yards and a score.
The main math was simple at St. Pius: the winner would go to the playoffs, and the loser would not. Decatur (7-3, 3-3 Region 6-AAA) lost out to Cedar Grove (6-4, 3-3) for the fourth region spot by virtue of Cedar Grove whipping Decatur earlier this season.
St. Pius (7-3, 4-2) entered with a rare two-game losing streak after losses to Woodward Academy and Region champion Blessed Trinity.
Wilson said that a lack of confidence was not an issue. Absence of attitude, on the other hand, had been a problem.
“If anything, it was motivation. We knew we should have won those games, and it was a chip on our shoulder that Pius usually plays with but hadn’t really had,” Wilson said. “It took that punch in the mouth for us to really step up and play like we should.”
Something was amiss early Friday as St. Pius broke the game open with its rarely-used passing attack.
Sophomore quarterback Reed Egan, who replaced starter Joey Connors briefly on the Golden Lions’ first possession and then again after Connors returned but lost a fumble on a bad pitch, threw deep middle for the game’s first score.
Senior wide receiver Fred Dorsey worked his way behind the entire Decatur defense and easily completed a 75-yard scoring play in the first quarter.
Decatur moved the ball well on several occasions, but stalled at key points. St. Pius had a modest 379-356 edge in total yardage, but made more key plays on both sides of the ball.
The Bulldogs drove to fourth-and-2 from the St. Pius 12 on the game’s opening drive only to suffer a delay penalty and then have Golden Lions Branden Mitchell and Garrett Gooden break up passes.
Moments after Dorsey scored, he recovered a Decatur fumble at the Bulldogs’ 41. Thomas O’Leary gave pushed the lead to 10-0 with a 46-yard field goal.
Decatur closed to 10-7 when St. Pius left freshman wideout Dennis Bell uncovered, and Devontae Carter threw an easy 27-yard pass with 9:07 left in the first half. Carter completed 12-of-20 passes for 196 yards.
Connors returned, and when he threw sophomore running back Ransom Klinger outjumped Elijah Rachell for a ball at the goal line to give St. Pius a 17-7 lead. Connors rushed for 60 yards and competed 2-of-3 passes for 43 yards as St. Pius passed for 118 yards overall.
Again, the Bulldogs drove back, this time to the St. Pius 15.
They initially lined up to try a field goal, but after St. Pius called time out, Decatur went for it. Gooden broke up the pass over the middle with less than a minute left in the first half.
The second half was all St. Pius. The Golden lions scored the first three times they had the ball, including a 50-yard run by Wilson.
“I’m so proud of these seniors, who’ve struggled these last two weeks,” said St. Pius coach Paul Standard. “Everyone has, but they bear the brunt of whatever happens, and I did not want them to be the first class in eight years to not make the playoffs. I’m proud of how they battled. That’s the team that beat Blessed Trinity.”
Wilson broke several tackles Friday, but he had help getting into the clear on plenty of occasions as the Lions’ depth wore down the short-staffed Bulldogs.
“With the plan that our coaches implemented, I was going to be a big part of the offense,” Wilson said. “Our offensive line played out of their minds . . . and once we got to the second level, receivers had everybody blocked; it was a walk in the park.”
Decatur’s final score came on a 1-yard run by senior Nick Bentley. Gooden added a score on an interception return.
Decatur – 0 7 0 7 – 14
St. Pius X – 7 10 14 10 – 41
SPX – Fred Dorsey 75 pass from Reed Egan (Thomas O’Leary kick)
SPX – O’Leary 46 field goal
Dec – Dennis Bell 27 pass from Devontae Carter (Nathan Tampuri kick)
SPX – Ransom Klinger 25 pass from Joey Connors (O’Leary kick)
SPX – Connors 19 run (O’Leary kick)
SPX – Dalton Wilson 50 run (O’Leary kick)
SPX – O’Leary 21 field goal
Decatur – Nick Bentley 1 run (Tampuri kick)
SPX – Garrett Gooden 30 interception return (Michael Matthews kick)