By Mike Tenney
For The Leader
The St. Pius X football team can keep this TAPPS Division 1 District 3 championship race from being one big cluster. Meanwhile, the St. Thomas football team can ensure this journey becomes chaotic.
The two teams will meet 7:30 p.m. Friday night for the district title at what will be the newly-named Gary Kubiak Stadium, and it is very simple right now. St. Pius X, which is 2-0 in the district and 6-1 overall, can clinch an undefeated district crown outright and a probable first-round bye in next week’s opening-round of the TAPPS state playoffs with a win over the Eagles. The Panthers remained perfect in the league last Friday night with a 61-12 whipping of Beaumont Kelly in the Golden Triangle.
Meanwhile, St. Thomas slipped into a second-place tie with Tomball Concordia Lutheran last Friday night with a 38-31 loss to the Crusaders, putting them both 1-1 in league play behind St. Pius X. However, with a victory over the explosive Panthers, both teams would finish 2-1 in league, but the Eagles would own the tiebreaker, possibly giving them a bye during the first round.
And should the Eagles pull off the big road win Friday, there will be a three-way tie for first place if Concordia Lutheran beats Kelly, which is very likely. But if the red-and-white loses, they will likely finish third in the district and probably start the postseason next week with a road game.
St. Pius X definitely looked playoff-ready on both sides of the football in their win over Kelly. The Panthers accumulated 423 yards in total offense while the defense surrendered just 62 yards on 42 plays from scrimmage by the Bulldogs. With junior quarterback Grant Gunnell completing 16-of-20 passes for 272 yards and seven touchdowns in only one half of play, the Panthers scored 54 points by halftime to lead Kelly, 54-7, after two periods of play. Wide receiver Jalen Currie caught three of those scores while Trenton Waggoner and Chase Lane each hauled in two scoring receptions from Gunnell. Besides the strong passing attack, the Panthers also ran the ball well with junior Kaleb Ducros picking up 58 yards on just six carries while freshman Jace Wilson had 55 more on eight rushes.
For St. Thomas, its best defense might be its offense and its ability to keep the Panther offense off the field. The Eagles have been hit by injuries on the defensive side the past few weeks, forcing them to test their depth. St. Thomas took a 21-14 lead over the Crusaders last week and made it 28-14 on a touchdown that was called back midway through the second quarter. But from that point on, the visitors outscored the Eagles, 24-10, the rest of the way for the come-from-behind win.
Like Gunnell, who had just one rush against Kelly but it was a 23-yard pickup, the Eagles have a dual-threat quarterback in junior Peyton Motocha, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for one more against Concordia Lutheran. Motocha has been the team’s leading rusher in a few games this year and doesn’t hesitate to tuck the ball in and take off when he sees a possible opening.
Senior wide receiver Parker Nelms has been the Eagles’ top receiver and he along with junior Hunter Cheek, have given Motocha a couple of reliable targets to throw too when he isn’t extending a play with his running ability.