DUBLIN — Twelve seconds. Seventy-eight-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Six points. That’s all it took Friday to give visiting St. Pauls the first lead in a football game all season long. But the next 47:48 was pretty much all West Bladen, as the Knights rolled to a 43-20 non-conference win over the Bulldogs.
West Bladen is now 3-1 with an open date coming up and, the following week, the opener of the Four County Conference against Union awaits. St. Pauls falls to 0-4.
The Knights were a bit discombobulated in the game’s first quarter and never penetrated deeper than he St. Pauls 24 — but that’s where they found themselves in the midst of a drive as the quarter ended.
On the first play of the second quarter, Jeremiah Purdie ran the ball 24 yards for a touchdown and Ray Jones booted the extra point for a 7-6 West Bladen lead with 11:54 showing on the clock.
A squib kick gave the Bulldogs the ball at their own 49, but they could progress no further than the West Bladen 43 before turning the ball over on downs.
The Knights then began an 11-yard drive that featured a fourth-down conversion, 12-yard pass from Stefon McDonald to Jonathan Ashworth, 9-yard run by B.J. Drake and a 1-yard touchdown run by McDonald. Jones added the point after to give West Bladen a 14-6 edge with 4:26 left before halftime.
On St. Pauls’ first play from its own 21, the Bulldogs’ pass was intercepted by Ricky McLaurin and run back for a touchdown. The snap on the PAT was botched, but McDonald scooped up the ball and scampered into the end zone for the two-point conversion and a 22-6 Knights lead.
Another squib kick gave St. Pauls possession at the West Bladen 41, and a five-play march found pay dirt with 2:14 left in the half. The two-point conversion pass was good to cut the Knights’ lead to 22-14. It was as close as the Bulldogs would get.
Neither team threatened again before halftime.
“I’m pretty happy with the first half,” said West Bladen coach Russell Dove. “We’re up, so I’m happy. The biggest thing is we’re a MASH unit over here — two running backs (Malique McDowell and De’quan Lennon) out, a defensive back out, a tackle out …”
The second half for the Knights helped soothe some of those wounds, as West Bladen outscored St. Pauls by a 21-6 margin the rest of the way.
The Knights took the opening kickoff and, starting from their own 33, marched the 67 yards in 11 plays — highlighted by a 17-yard run by Drake, 12-yard run by Drake, 10-yard run by James Moore and a 2-yard touchdown run by Trequan Horne. Jones kicked the extra point for a 29-14 lead with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs got a huge 35-yard kickoff return to set up at the West Bladen 41. That began a bizarre series that included four penalties — including an unsportsmanlike penalty against West Bladen when the Knights’ linemen were told to do pushups after jumping off-sides — and St. Pauls soon found itself on the West Bladen 10. But that’s where things stalled when the Bulldogs’ fourth-down pass fell incomplete.
The Knights then marched 90 yards in just six plays — the big one coming when a fumble bounced right into the hands of Drake, who raced 55 yards for the touchdown. Jones added the point after and West Bladen led 36-14 with 2:17 left in the quarter.
St. Pauls took possession at its own 48 and began a drive that carried into the fourth quarter and finished with a touchdown. The two-point effort failed, but the Bulldogs had pulled to within 36-20 with 11:51 left in the game.
West Bladen answered quickly. Starting at its own 36, the Knights needed just five plays and 2:07 of clock to find the end zone. It all started with a 20-yard pass from McDonald to Fred Walters and finished with a 13-yard touchdown run by Moore. Jones’ kick was good and gave West Bladen a 43-20 lead with 9:44 left to play.
Mason Skipper squashed St. Pauls’ next drive with an interception, and neither team sniffed the end zone the rest of the way.
“We had a couple of big interceptions and the defense played great,” Dove said. “On offense, the kids really stepped up for us. B.J. ran hard all night, and he had to.
“This is the way we can play,” he added. “I think we learned from last week (a 35-6 loss to Whiteville).”
Drake led West Bladen’s ground game with 175 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Moore added 84 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Through the air, McDonald was 5-for-6 for 62 yards; Hunter Prevatte caught three passes for 33 yards.
If there was an odd side to the game, it’s the fact that there were 25 penalties for 187 yards — pretty evenly split between the two teams.
“There were some tough calls made out there,” Dove said. “But for us, that’s what you’re going to have when you have injuries like we do and some of the younger players have to play.”
— W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.