DUBLIN — With about 1:30 left to play in the game, it looked like West Bladen would seal off a hard-fought 22-16 win over St. Pauls on Friday night when Edward Owens picked off a Bulldogs pass.
All that was left was for the Knights to run off their three plays and celebrate.
But a yellow flag on the ground in the Bulldogs’ backfield suddenly put a hush on the West Bladen sidelines, and the Knights were called for roughing the passer — giving the ball back to St. Pauls and moving it to the West Bladen 20.
From there, it took less than 30 seconds and just two plays for St. Pauls to punch the ball into the end zone to knot the game at 22-22, then tack on the two-point conversion to steal a 24-22 non-conference win.
“This is a hard one to swallow,” West Bladen coach Russell Dove said. “Penalties, couldn’t drive and finish … that’s all I can think of right now.”
The Knights, playing without starting quarterback Colby Lewis, who suffered a concussion in the previous week’s game, put together a long drive on its first possession with Nijeal Williams at the controls. West Bladen marched from its own 33 to the St. Pauls 34 using 11 plays before fizzling.
St. Pauls threatened late in the quarter, marching to the West Bladen 12, but Frankie Moultrie came up with a sack for the Knights to stop the drive.
But the Knights ran two plays to end the first quarter, then nine more to start the second quarter — finished off with a 1-yard touchdown run by Malique McDowell. The point after was no good, but West Bladen had a 6-0 lead.
The two teams traded turnovers midway through the second quarter — a fumble stopping a West Bladen possession at its own 19 and an interception in the end zone by Donald McCullum stopping a St. Pauls possession at the Knights’ 15. West Bladen then used just two plays to score, with Malcolm Vaught getting the touchdown on a 79-yard run. De’quan Lennon added the two-point conversion and West Bladen took a 14-0 lead.
But the Bulldogs didn’t fold. With 1:30 left in the half, St. Pauls got a 58-yard touchdown pass on their first play, added the two-point conversion and cut the deficit to 14-8.
Dove’s message at intermission was simple.
“I just told asked them if they wanted to come out and play good football and go 3-1?” he said. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
The Knights took the opening kickoff and drove to the St. Pauls 33, thanks in part to a roughing the kicker penalty against the Bulldogs. But Williams’ first pass of the game was intercepted and the Bulldogs ate up all kinds of clock with a 64-yard, 16-play drive into the end zone with 4:15 left in the third quarter. St. Pauls added the two-point try and took its first lead of the game, 16-14.
West Bladen then put together a long scoring drive of its own, moving 60 yards in 11 plays and featured two fourth-down conversions — the last one a 23-yard scoring strike from Williams to Vaught with 11:03 left in the game. Lennon ran in the two-point try and West Bladen regained the lead at 22-16.
The two teams traded a pair of short possessions before St. Pauls began a drive at its own 18 and, after the Owens’ interception was waved off, punched in the game-winner.
This team fought hard and grew up a lot since that Whiteville game,” Dove said. “I hurt for them, but I’m proud of these kids.”
Vaught led the West Bladen ground game with 113 yards on three carries. McDowell added 108 yards on 25 carries.
Williams was 1-for-4 for a 23 yards, a touchdown and one interception.