It was a tale of two halves for St. Amant in their 31-14 district loss to Catholic High in The Pit Friday night.
They enjoyed control of the game for much of the first half—leading by as much as 11 at one point.
But in the second half, behind an opportunistic defense and their consistent three-headed rushing attack of quarterback Nick Coomes, tailbacks Derrius Guice and Khalil Thomas, Catholic outscored them 21-0 to pull away.
St. Amant head coach David Oliver thought much of his offense's ineffectiveness in the second half could be attributed to penalties and poor production on first down.
"A lot of times, it's a lot easier for the defense to battle when you're first and 20 or second and 18, and we stayed behind the chains—which was a big thing in the second half," Oliver said.
Catholic struck first after picking off Beau Nickel late in the first quarter. It set up a 24-yard Jack Gonsoulin field goal to put the Bears up 3-0.
The Gators responded quickly as Trey Washington broke free on a 31-yard touchdown run to give St. Amant a 7-3 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Gator defense then stepped up and forced Catholic to turn the ball over on downs inside the St. Amant 5-yard line.
After taking over offensively, the Gators were faced with a big third and long situation from their own 3-yard line.
That's when St. Amant took the whole stadium by surprise. Instead of playing it safe and conceding a punt to avoid a crucial turnover, the Gators took a huge gamble that paid off with a touchdown that ignited the St. Amant faithful.
Washington got the ball, pulled up and launched it downfield while getting hit. He connected with a wide-open Jamal Vaughn who broke a tackle and sprinted away from everyone for a scintillating 97-yard touchdown that put the Gators up 14-3.
It would be the last points St. Amant scored all night.
Catholic got the ball back and went on a methodical drive before the half that was kept alive by big timely runs by Coomes.
To finish it off, Coomes connected with Landon Flowers in the corner of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown with only 28 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to 14-10 at the break.
With new life, the Bears went to their bag of tricks in the third quarter to keep the Gators on their heels.
On fourth down, Catholic punter Connor Whalen made an underhand throw high in the air that many St. Amant players mistook for a punt. In a last-second panic to foil the conversion, the Gators drew a pass interference call that kept Catholic's drive alive.
The reprieve was costly for St. Amant as the Bears marched downfield and grabbed a 16-14 lead when Coomes kept it himself for a one-yard score.
The Gators had the perfect opportunity to regain the lead late in the quarter when they recovered a muffed punt at the Catholic 44-yard line. However, the Bear defense stood tall and didn't heed a single first down.
And still hanging on to the two-point lead in the fourth quarter, Guice gave Catholic some breathing room as he knifed up the middle for a hard-earned 11-yard touchdown run. The score put the Bears up 23-14 with nine minutes to play.
With the two-score deficit and grounded passing game, the Gator offense couldn't respond.
To end the game with an exclamation point, Thomas exploded up the middle for a nine-yard score to ice away the 31-14 victory.
"They did the little things right," Oliver said. "They kept us behind the chains, kept us on our own end and controlled the ball and the field position, and those are recipes for winning."
The Gator defense did a good job of containing the explosive Bear rushing attack—not heeding any big plays. However, Coomes, Guice and Thomas combined for 193 yards and three scores. Coomes led the way with 76 yards and a touchdown.
The St. Amant offense had their troubles. Nickel was held to just 2-8 passing for 26 yards and was picked off three times while Washington was held to 72 yards on 17 carries.
Besides the 97-yard catch by Vaughn on the halfback pass, the Gators could only muster 135 additional yards.
The win was huge for Catholic. They now sit at 6-2 with a perfect 4-0 district mark. They'll meet Dutchtown Friday night for the District 5-5A championship.
The 6-2 Gators won't be winning a district title this year, but there is much to be salvaged.
It's that time of year. They'll make the short drive this Friday night to Spartan Stadium to face their hated rival East Ascension for revenge and bragging rights.